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Julián Castro gives Latinx Heritage Month keynote speech

Julián Castro- Kayden Hunt
Julián Castro, former secretary of housing and urban development, serves as Carolina's Latinx Center's keynote speaker for Latinx Heritage Month on Sept. 30.

Julián Castro, the former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former mayor of San Antonio, ended his Latinx Heritage Month keynote address in the Great Hall with one word: “Pa’lante!”

"Pa’lante," a common phrase in Latin American countries, comes from the Spanish words "para” and "adelante." It’s the 2021 theme for the Carolina Latinx Center. The rough translation of the saying is "moving forward."

The CLC, alongside Student Life and Leadership and the Carolina Union Activities Board, hosted Castro on Sept. 30 as a keynote to ongoing Latinx Heritage Month events — which continue through Oct. 15.

“He has encompassed a lot of the pa'lante theme that we’re talking about,” said one of the organizers, sophomore Irfaun Delgado Karim, student leadership coordinator for Student Life and Leadership. “He’s big on seeing the future that America has, not only for the common American citizen but especially for Latinos, so we thought it would be perfect for our keynote.”

In an interview with The Daily Tar Heel, Karim spoke about the importance of supporting and appreciating Latinx communities.

"Realize everything that’s going on, talk to your Latino friends, your Latinx friends," he said. "Just educate yourselves about the issues that are happening, not just here in the U.S. but all across the globe, that are affecting Latinx lives."

In accordance with the theme, Castro was joined by a variety of members of the UNC community, including Karim and Joseph Jordan, vice provost for academic and community engagement. The speakers placed an emphasis on the future, both for the Latinx community and everyone else.

In his remarks, Jordan celebrated the 2019 establishment of the CLC on campus. The CLC opened a decade after the creation of the Carolina Latina/o Collaborative, which was a program under the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. The collaborative was the first step toward creating a stand-alone center.

Among the event's lineup was Yuliana Rodriguez-Vongsavanh, clinical assistant professor of human development and family studies and applied developmental sciences and special education. She spoke about a new program at the School of Education called UNC DREAM, the Diverse and Resilient Educators Advised through Mentorship program.

“In line with this year’s Carolina Latinx Center's Latinx Heritage Month theme of Pa’lante and moving forward together, DREAM aims to move our Latinx and BIPOC communities forward by addressing North Carolina's shortage of teachers of color, ” Rodriguez-Vongsavanh said in an email. 

Ricky Hurtado, a member of UNC’s class of 2011 and the first Latinx Democrat elected to the N.C. General Assembly, introduced Castro.

After the enthusiastic introduction, Castro stepped on stage and praised everyone who spoke before him and began his speech. 

“You are the youth that powered not only idealism, but real change,” he said. 

He discussed a variety of themes, from his family history to the impacts of systemic racism. He also shared his advice for current students in the audience. 

“You never know which way the road turns in life, but you can do everything possible to affect your path by trying,” he said. 

Castro mentioned lessons he has learned from his political career — like his experience losing his first San Antonio mayoral election in 2005. 

“Don’t be afraid to try and fail," he said. "You learn when you lose, and it tests how much you care.”

Attendees shared moments of solemn reflection and laughter throughout his speech. Afterward, Castro answered questions from senior Julian Berger, a journalism major and president of UNC's chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

“After Julián Castro’s speech, I had a moment of reflection, in which he inspired, that helped me remember why I'm here,” junior psychology major Yamileth Santamaria Beiza said. “After a rough week of midterms, his words are what I needed to uplift myself and to continue forward — pa’lante. His words were a reminder of all the people, the dreams and the sacrifices I represent as I continue to pave my way in higher education.”

Julian Berger, UNC senior journalism student and president of UNC's National Association of Hispanic Journalists, leads the Q&A session with Julián Castro on Sept. 30.

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Aisha Baiocchi

Aisha Baiocchi is the 2023-24 enterprise managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer on the university desk. Aisha is a junior majoring in journalism at UNC and international comparative studies at Duke University, as well as a minor in history.