Adversity is my Angel: The Life and Career of Raul H. Castro

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Raúl H. Castro was the first Hispanic governor of Arizona, ambassador to El Salvador, Bolivia, and Argentina, lawyer, judge, and teacher. Born in Mexico in 1916, he moved with his family to a small mining community in Arizona in 1926. His earliest memories include collecting cactus fruit in the desert for food. His childhood served as a metaphor for Mexican and American attitudes of mutual suspicion and distrust. Castro, nevertheless, defied the odds and, thanks to an athletic scholarship, entered Arizona State Teachers College where he graduated in 1939. By then an American citizen, he worked for the U.S. State Department as a foreign service officer at Agua Prieta, Sonora and then entered the University of Arizona College of Law. He was admitted to the Arizona bar in 1949. After practicing law in Tucson for several years, he became deputy Pima County attorney. In 1954, he was elected county attorney and served until 1958, when he became a Pima County Superior Court Judge. President Lyndon Johnson appointed Castro U.S. ambassador to Salvador in 1964 and to Bolivia in 1969. Castro was elected governor on the Democratic Party ticket in 1974 but an appointment as ambassador to Argentina interrupted his term. Raul Castro's story suggests much about the human spirit, the ability to overcome institutional and personal prejudice, and the hope inherent in the American dream.
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Editorial Reviews

Joseph Stout

"I honestly believe this man's story should be read by any thinking person in the country. That might seem a bit strong, but this manuscript seems so relevant and interesting that I feel strongly about it." -- Joseph Stout, author of Schemers and Dreamers: Filibustering in Mexico, 1948-1921 and Border Conflict: Villistas, Carrancistas and the Punitive Expedition, 1915-1920.

Joseph Stout

"I honestly believe this man''s story should be read by any thinking person in the country. That might seem a bit strong, but this manuscript seems so relevant and interesting that I feel strongly about it." -- Joseph Stout, author of Schemers and Dreamers: Filibustering in Mexico, 1948-1921 and Border Conflict: Villistas, Carrancistas and the Punitive Expedition, 1915-1920.

Library Journal

This is not the autobiography of Fidel's brother—Raul Castro Ruz—but of the former diplomat and governor of Arizona. It would be easy to dismiss this brief work—Castro's short term as Arizona governor was uneventful—but it would be a mistake. Castro was born in Mexico in 1916; his family moved to Arizona when he was ten, and he became a U.S. citizen in 1939. Graduating from Northern Arizona University at the height of the Depression, he survived as a boxer, hobo, and picker before beginning a career as a lawyer, diplomat, and teacher. He was elected governor of Arizona in 1974, having previously served as an ambassador to El Salvador and then Bolivia in the LBJ and Nixon administrations, and he later served as ambassador to Argentina. VERDICT Role model Castro's story is one of hardship and perseverance, his commentary on discrimination against Mexicans and Mexican Americans insightful, and his courage to achieve admirable. This book is important not only to Arizona but to U.S. history and will be especially appreciated by anyone interested in the recent history of the Southwest.—Boyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Lib., AL

—Boyd Childress
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780875653785
  • Publisher: Texas Christian University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,509,361
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Adversity is My Angel

The Life and Career of Raúl H. Castro

By Raúl H. Castro, Jack L. August Jr.

TCU Press

Copyright © 2009 Raúl H. Castro
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87565-378-5



* * *

My father was born and grew up in a small fishing village near the tip of the Mexican state of Baja California, called San José del Cabo. He was of Basque-Mexican origin, and most of the Basque male inhabitants were over six feet tall and came from Spain, so they had the unique characteristic of being taller than most Mexicans. Like the other Basques, my father was tall, about six foot two, and weighed about two hundred and forty pounds. He was a big man; not fat, but husky, and all muscle. He was a good swimmer, and as a young man he worked as a pearl diver for companies, retrieving pearls from oysters. As a result, he never went to school.

When he was a young man he moved about halfway up the Baja peninsula to the little town of Santa Rosalía, which is across from Guaymas on the mainland. There he met my mother, Rosario Acosta, who, like most Mexican women in the area, had a good deal of Indian blood in her. They fell in love and were married. My mother only made it through the third grade, but with that she was able to teach my father to read.

My father's name in Mexico was Francisco Castro Dominguez. As is the custom in Spanish-speaking countries, Francisco was his given name, Castro was his father's surname, and Dominguez was his mother's surname. In Mexico people called him Señor Castro or Señor Castro Dominguez. But later, when he immigrated to the United States, the family adopted the American custom of placing the father's surname last, and his name became Francisco D. Castro. When I was born, my name became Raúl Castro. However, when I graduated from high school in Douglas, Arizona, a line formed in the principal's office so he could get the correct full name of each graduate to put on the diplomas. All of the Anglo students had middle names. I had no middle name, and I wanted to be like them, so I chose the first name of a local basketball player in Douglas whom I admired, Hector Miranda. I told the principal my full name was Raúl Hector Castro. I just made it up, and since then it has always been with me. I often wish I had chosen a better name.

The French influence from the days of Maximilian I and his intervention in Mexico (1864–1867) persisted in Santa Rosalía. French was the second language used among the citizenry, and more than a few elites remained in the community. In fact, the French dominated the local economy; they owned and operated the local smelter, El Boleo, which was the major employer. As it turned out, Santa Rosalía provided few economic opportunities for my parents. Even though my mother was born there, the family decided to move to the mainland—to Guaymas, Sonora. They sailed across the Gulf of California, a trip that took seven days due to storms and rough seas. My mother claimed she feared for her life, but the family needed to broaden their economic horizons.

The move to the port city of Guaymas proved temporary. Soon my father and mother heard that new jobs were available to the north in the smelter and mines of an emerging mining empire in Cananea, Sonora. Colonel William Cornell Greene—a powerful and colorful cattle baron, copper mine owner, and self-promoter in Cochise County on the Arizona side of the border—owned the Cananea Consolidated Copper Company, or the "Four Cs." Cananea lies thirty miles south of the Arizona border, about halfway between Nogales, Arizona, and Douglas, Arizona. Not surprisingly, Greene exploited the Mexican workforce. Conditions and wages were terrible, but fortunately my father, who now had eight children to feed, found jobs in both the smelter and in the American owned mines in 1914.

Due to the exploitation and dreadful employment practices, my father became involved in the miners' union, called Sindicato Sesenta y Cinco (Union Sixty-Five). My father became a union leader and took part in setting up an unsuccessful strike. Greene responded by labeling my father a "rabble-rouser," and he convinced the Mexican authorities to arrest and jail him at the capital in Hermosillo.

My father spent six months in prison, and after several efforts to free him my sister, Enriqueta, smuggled crucial information to him. As an upshot of this and other entreaties, the Mexican government agreed to an amnesty and political asylum. Ironically they released my father from prison on the condition that he left Mexico. The entire family immigrated to the United States, to the little town of Pirtleville, Arizona, about four miles northwest of Douglas.

In early 1918 my family crossed the border at Naco, about fifteen miles south of Bisbee, in Cochise County, Arizona. By now my parents had eleven children, and we entered a new country with different customs and a different language. The immigration officer looked at us and said, "Castro family, you are now in the United States of America. The rest is up to you." It was up to us. So we went to work.

My father found work in the smelter in Douglas. The town was named after mining pioneer James Douglas and was founded as a smelter town to treat the copper ores of nearby Bisbee, Arizona. Two copper smelters operated at the site: the Calumet and Arizona Company Smelter, built in 1902, and the Copper Queen operated in Douglas from 1904–1931, when Phelps Dodge Corporation purchased the Calumet and Arizona Company and took over their smelter. The Calumet and Arizona smelter became the Douglas Reduction Works.

My father, upon bringing his family to the United States, enabled us to make an important choice. The leaders of the small but growing Mexican community in Pirtleville wanted him to register all of us as Mexican citizens. He refused and added that we deserved to make our own choices as to whether we wanted to register as either Mexican or American citizens. Ten Castro children lived to adulthood, nine boys and one girl. The birth order was Ramón, Enriqueta, Isidoro, Francisco, Angel, Ignacio, Alfonso, myself, Ernesto, and Romero. I was born on June 12, 1916, in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. While Pirtleville framed my childhood memories, on occasion my mother took us for extended visits to Cananea, Mexico, so I grew up in an international and border-regional context.

Anglo American mine owners established Pirtleville as a company town for the Mexican smelter workers. About two thousand people lived in the town, and only three Anglo families lived among us. The Balich and Herolich families hailed from Yugoslavia and the Corvallos were Italian. All worked, attended school, played together and, not surprisingly, spoke Spanish like natives of Mexico. Schools in Pirtleville and Douglas was segregated; Mexican children went to the Fifteenth Street School or the Seventh Street School in Douglas. I went to the Fifteenth Street School, and then the Seventh Street School until about the sixth grade. The Dunbar School on F Avenue was for African American children, and the two other elementary schools in Douglas, the A Avenue School and the Clawson School, were for Anglo students.

We walked four miles to school each morning from Pirtleville to Douglas and the four miles back again in the afternoon. The Douglas school system ran a bus to the perimeter of Pirtleville and the surrounding areas each morning and picked up the Anglo children. They rode to Douglas, but the Mexican children walked. The bus passed us on the dirt road, and our Anglo friends waved, but the bus driver never offered us a ride. I knew this practice was an injustice.

In the late teens and early twenties my father worked on the Bull Gang, which lifted and moved heavy objects in the smelter. They used a crane to do steelwork, yardwork, and related tasks, and without a union the most he took home was $3.20 a day. He died prematurely from pneumonia at forty-three years of age.

The copper smelting process was arduous, time consuming, and labor intensive. First a train transferred raw ore from the Bisbee, Ajo, and Nacozari mines. The ore was crushed and transferred to the roaster building on a conveyor belt. The workmen, using natural gas, heated the ore to about 1200° F, and after that process they took the ore to the reverbatories and uniformly distributed the ore and then smelted it at about 2400° F. This produced two materials: the waste, or "slag," which rose to the top, and the heavier "matt" material, composed mostly of copper metal along with some gold and silver, which settled at the bottom. My father, and other workers like him, skimmed the slag off the top, and took the matt to the converter. Here the matt, exposed to air blown at a very high pressure, became a charge of copper. My father and his co-workers then took the charge of copper to the anode machines and poured it into bars, or slabs, weighing about seven hundred and fifty pounds each, and shipped the slabs by truck to the refinery to separate the gold and silver from the copper. This was the long and grueling process that workers went through in order to make copper wire and other products.

The copper industry suffered a downturn due to changing technologies, and has only recently emerged into a renaissance. But during the first three decades of the twentieth century it played a major role in Arizona's economy, and my father and his co-workers labored mightily and at very low pay.

My father possessed several noteworthy personal qualities that left a deep impression on me. He maintained a sincere interest in people and their efforts to improve their lives. He had a natural ability to lead others, and wherever he worked he emerged as a leader of some cause or another. Further, he always expressed interest in political life, and I sensed he had a great deal of political acumen. He subscribed to two Spanish language newspapers, one from Los Angeles, El Diario La Prensa, and the other from San Antonio, Texas, La Prensa. He made me sit beside him while he read aloud the political news and the editorial pages about the labor movement and revolutions in Mexico. Although I wanted to go outside and play with my friends, he made me sit there and listen. I never understood why I was the only one of his children who experienced this type of parental attention.

In Pirtleville my father organized the community festivities for Cinco de Mayo and for El Diez y Seis de Septiembre (September 16), Mexican Independence Day. The adults constructed a wooden platform and floor so people could dance. In addition, local leaders made speeches, and vendors sold hot dogs, enchiladas, tacos, and drinks. My father, whom everyone called Don Francisco or Don Pancho, terms of respect, always delivered one of the speeches. He took part in the annual tug-of-war on the Fourth of July between the Calumet and Arizona Smelter workers in Douglas, where he worked, and the miners in Bisbee. Six people lined up on each side, and they pulled on a chain with a flag in the middle. On the other side there were usually big, strong, heavyset Yugoslavian miners from Bisbee, but my father was big, and he was always the headman for the Douglas smelter. They usually won because of his strength. It was a great rivalry, and the contests played a noteworthy part in building a sense of border community and culture.

Ten children required that both my parents worked, so my mother became a midwife. She had served as an assistant to a midwife in Cananea, and she utilized that practical experience to find her economic niche. Ultimately she took some medical courses in Arizona and secured her Arizona midwife's license. Her reputation in Cochise County grew, and whenever a new baby entered the world my mother answered the call. She delivered most of the children in Pirtleville, and years later, after we moved to Douglas, she delivered many Mexican babies in the community. On several occasions I assisted with her deliveries, and later this experience bore direct benefits when I owned a horse farm on River Road and Dodge in Tucson. When the animals were in foal, my job was to oversee the foaling process, and sometimes, during a particularly difficult birth, I rolled up my sleeves, pulled the legs on the colt, and managed to complete the job.

My mother also became a curandera, a person who treated people suffering from ailments. She developed expertise in herbs, potions, and medicinal plants. Everyone had great faith in her ability, and when anyone got sick, they called upon "Chalita," a term of endearment and nickname by which she was widely known in Cochise County. She became skilled in treating malaria, stomach problems, fever, and all kinds of other ailments and illnesses. She had her own home recipes, herbs, and teas, and her patients depended on her. She usually accepted a fifty-pound can of lard, a hundred pound sack of beans, or a chicken or two as payment for services. This form of barter system actually served her well because with so many children to feed, particularly after my father's death, she needed food. After my father's passing, for example, she sent me out into the desert to collect saguaro fruit, prickly pear fruit, and mesquite beans. I brought these fruits and vegetables home so she could prepare them to eat. She expressed great pleasure in never seeking welfare from the state or from the community at large.

My mother, like my father, was not overly affectionate with us children. She never kissed or hugged us when we went to bed at night. I know she loved us dearly, but she had her hands full with all of us. In order to survive and feed us, she ran our house like a marine boot camp, and everyone had to contribute to the household. Although she was diminutive in stature, she commanded respect. One of the outcomes of this lack of affection, perhaps, was my difficulty as an adult in showing affection outwardly, even to those closest to me.

My mother was also very much a part of the Mexican culture. When my father died, for example, she went into mourning for twenty-five years, wearing black for that entire time. She also had my sister, Enriqueta, wear black. My sister wore black for the first year or two of high school, and, noticing that the students ridiculed her, I told my mother that we lived in the United States, and my sister must have a life. My mother, fortunately, relented on this cultural issue.

Indeed, public education in the 1920s and 1930s served as a kind of social and cultural crucible for me. Between forty and fifty children crammed the classrooms in the Mexican schools. Few books or instructional materials were available. Teachers were young and inexperienced, and we always spoke Spanish on the playground. In the classroom, of course, we spoke English, which, to most of us, was a foreign language. My hands turned black and blue on several occasions as the teacher rapped my knuckles for speaking Spanish. In an environment not geared to optimum educational outcomes, most Mexican children remained in school for very short periods. My older brothers illustrated this point as they quit the public education system prior to entering high school. Like so many others of their ilk, they sought work in the mines or smelter, thus sealing their professional fates.

Somehow I survived grammar school, and when I went to middle school it was the first time I shared a classroom with Anglo children. The schools had adopted a tracking system, so students were divided into four groups—A1, A2, A3, and A4. A1 classes were for the top students, and A4 classes were for the least able. Predictably, as Mexican children were supposedly deficient in English, administrators placed us in an A4 class. Knowing the caste system, I was determined to move up and out as quickly as possible, and soon was moved to an A1 class. On one occasion in the sixth grade the bell rang for recess, and as I ran out of the classroom to the playground, I overheard two teachers in conversation. One asked the other how she liked her assignment that year, and the other replied, "I hate it. I've got one of the A4 classes with all of those dumb Mexican kids." I decided then that I would not be a "dumb Mexican kid," and that some day in the future I would have her job. From that day forward I always completed homework assignments, sometimes staying up until two or three in the morning. Often my mother advised me that it was late, and I should go to bed and then get up early to finish my assignments.


Excerpted from Adversity is My Angel by Raúl H. Castro, Jack L. August Jr.. Copyright © 2009 Raúl H. Castro. Excerpted by permission of TCU Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter I Ancestors and Immigrants,
Chapter II High School and the World Beyond,
Chapter III Crucible of Optimism: Higher Education at Arizona State Teachers College in Flagstaff,
Chapter IV Return to the Borderlands,
Chapter V The Law,
Chapter VI Pima County Attorney,
Chapter VII Superior Court Judge,
Chapter VIII Ambassador to El Salvador and LBJ,
Chapter IX Ambassador to Bolivia,
Chapter X Governor of Arizona,
Chapter XI Ambassador to Argentina,
Chapter XII Conclusion,
Selected Bibliography,

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