Margaret Castro first entered County politics this June when she ran against Assemblyman Wadie Deddeh in the 77th Assembly District primary. She took less than fifteen percent of the vote and even failed to carry her own precinct. The Mexican-American population of the district, however, is about twelve per cent and only six per cent were registered to vote. Add to those statistics the machismo among Mexican-Americans and her election loss is no mystery. After losing the election, she went east to New York to walk the Spanish-speaking precincts with Bella Abzug, the feminist Congresswoman.
A member of NOW (National Organization for Women), Miss Castro is not the typical feminist. She is neither Anglo-saxon nor Protestant, and when the blush of pink spreads over her cheeks, it spreads over an olive complexion, without freckles. She has none of the benefits of the typical women's libber: she did not come from a wealthy or middle-class family and she has not had the privilege of a finishing school. Possibly against the will of her culture, she has sprung from her people, the Mexican-Americans of San Ysidro.
She sat in her office, strewn with Spanish-language leaflets, posters, pink and blue Melmac cups and talked to the READER. The corners of her mouth turned up into a smile and her dark eyes danced along with her dangling earrings. She used her hands to express herself, revealing on her left hand a gold ring with a peace symbol.
READER: Did you find it difficult to run in the primary because you were Mexican-American, particularly because of attitudes about women?
MISS CASTRO: Yes, I did. Mexican men came to me and said, why didn't you ask me first if you could run? The women told me I should let men go into politics first.
READER: And what did you say to them?
MISS CASTRO: I told the men I didn't have to ask anyone's permission to run and that I was running for all the people. READER: What's the status of the women's movement among your people?
MISS CASTRO: Well, recently a book, The Women's Voice, was published by the women who met at a Texas convention of the Raza Unida. The women got together and discovered that no woman held a decision-making post. They were all secretaries and clerks. So about twenty of them got together and told the men that if it was necessary they would start their own group. They presented a list of 53 demands to the general assembly, telling the men that the women would no longer be used to go to bed with or be put in a secondary position.
READER: What happened then?
MISS CASTRO: The men passed the resolutions.
READER: What kind of resolutions did they make?
MISS CASTRO: They indicated that they wanted to get away from the usual Catholic principles: they wanted to be able to take birth control pills and they wanted to be allowed to have abortions.
READER: But these were women who were already politically aware. What about the women who aren't involved in politics?
MISS CASTRO: Well, we have to work to get the ordinary Mexican-American housewife involved in politics. It's so difficult to communicate with the white women who make up the up the women's movement. I can't get it through their heads that what they need is a movement representative of all women — white, Filipino, black and brown. They talk about civil rights, but I don't see minorities represented in their groups. I keep asking them, where are the blacks, browns and orientals? I don't see them on committees. If they're a movement, they should be for everybody.
I've written an article that will be in MS. in December which blasts the Democratic National Convention for its treatment of women and Shirley Chisholm delagates. I was tile spokesperson for Chisholm in the California delegation. At Miami, the North Carolina-delegation was approved by the convention, even though its representation of women was not high enough.
Also, the Chisholm delegates received bad treatment from convention officials and the Miami community. When we arrived at the Convention, we went to pick up our credentials and were sent to a country club eighteen miles away from the convention center. When we go to the club, we were sent back, only to be told that our credentials had been stolen. Eventually, we go in. The day Shirley was nominated I had to argue for eight solid hours to get passes that had been promised us by Larry O'Brien.
READER: What have you accomplished in working for McGovern?
MISS CASTRO: In the primaries, there were only about twenty-five per cent of the Mexican-Americans registered; now we're up to forty-five per cent. We found that our people thought they had voted when they registered. Right now we're registering 2500 people in a housing project. It's slow work because the people do not speak English. That causes a lot of problems. When I ran in the primary, there were four candidates for the office and people somehow got the idea that you could vote for two of the four. Their ballots were disqualified. Part of the reason that happened was that the Spanish-language ballot was posted only outside outside the voting booths. Spanish- speaking people had to use ballots written in English when they went inside the ballot box to vote. It's difficult to remember the sequence of more than ten propositions. Thank goodness ballots will be soon available in Spanish.
READER: Aren't the schools teaching Mexican-Americans English through bilingual programs?
MISS CASTRO: Yes, they are, but teachers are allowed to speak only English to children who speak Spanish.
READER: If you were to set up a bilingual program how would you organize it?
MISS CASTRO: Well, I think the teachers should be allowed to speak both English and Spanish, and the classes shouldn't be larger than 15, sot that the teacher could do a good job. The parents should attend class at least once a week to observe the child. That wily the parents would understand how difficult and how important it is for the kids to learn to speak English. The Anglos in the class should be required to learn Spanish, too, and their parents. That way the Anglos could talk to their neighbors that don't speak English. The bilingual program should extend not only from preschool to sixth grade; it is needed beyond that.
READER: How did you learn to speak English?
MISS CASTRO: In school. I never spoke Spanish after the fourth grade, I always spoke English. For a few years, I hardly ever talked, it got to a point where I could barely talk. Finally in the seventh grade, a teacher kept me after school and helped me to bring up my grades in English and chemistry. I said then that I wanted to become a social worker, but it wasn't until I came back from the Peace Corps (Margaret joined the Peace Corps after leaving and order of Catholic nuns in India) that I ever spoke another word of Spanish. I suddenly realized that I had been all over the world helping others and that right at home my own people were being suppressed: I didn't see any Mexican Senators or Assemblymen.
READER: Margaret. why was it that in the fourth grade you stopped speaking Spanish?
MISS CASTRO: I was in the back of a classroom speaking in Spanish to my friends. The teacher called me a dirty Mexican.