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Arizona’s 1st Hispanic governor, also a US ambassador, dies

April 10, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) — Raul Hector Castro, Arizona’s only Hispanic governor and an American ambassador to three countries, died Friday. He was 98.

Family spokesman James Garcia said Castro died in his sleep in San Diego, where he was in hospice care.

Castro was a self-made man, the embodiment of the American dream. Born in Mexico, he overcame poverty and discrimination to graduate from university and launch a successful career in politics and diplomacy.

“America is the land of opportunity,” Castro told The Associated Press in 2010. “Here, one can accomplish whatever they want to be. But you’ve got to work for it.”

Growing up on the U.S.-Mexico border near Douglas, Arizona, Castro saw discrimination around him. He said he wondered why the Hispanics were laborers and none delivered the mail or worked in offices.

It didn’t seem right that the Hispanic children had to walk miles (kilometers) to school every day while the white kids would wave from a passing school bus, he said.

He set out to beat the odds. When he couldn’t get a job as a teacher — schools didn’t hire educators of Mexican descent back then — he became a drifter for a while, working as a farm hand and boxing here and there.

He landed a job with the U.S. Consulate in the border city of Agua Prieta, Mexico. After five years, a senior official told him he was doing a great job but had no future in the foreign service — he had a Hispanic name and no Ivy League education. Castro quit and moved to Tucson.

A law school dean at the University of Arizona told Castro he wouldn’t be accepted because Castro couldn’t afford to quit a job teaching Spanish. Besides, the dean said, Hispanic students didn’t do well in law school.

Undeterred, Castro went to the university president, who convinced the dean to give Castro an opportunity to prove himself. He excelled and went on to be elected the first Hispanic county attorney and later the first Hispanic judge in Pima County Superior Court.

Born in Cananea, Mexico, in 1916, Castro grew up in Arizona. He was the second-youngest in a family with 12 children — 11 boys and one girl. His father was a union leader forced out of Mexico for organizing a strike at the mine in Cananea.

His father died when Castro was 12, and his mother became a midwife to feed the family. She delivered babies for the Mexican families around Douglas in exchange for flower, corn, beans and other staples.

Castro served as U.S. ambassador to three Latin American countries under three U.S. presidents. Lyndon Johnson sent him to El Salvador, where Castro became known as “Yankee Castro” to differentiate him from the other Raul Castro — the brother Fidel Castro.

Johnson later sent him to Bolivia, and he stayed for a short time under Richard Nixon before returning to Arizona and making the first of two bids for governor.

Castro was governor for 2½ years before resigning when President Jimmy Carter appointed him ambassador to Argentina.

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