It was Rosie Castro who had reached out to Sosa; the two had met at a forum on the future of Latinos in America. Her boys, she told him, were planning to return to San Antonio and pursue some kind of public service after they graduated. Would Sosa mind speaking with them?
Joaquin and Julián sat down in the trailer, Sosa says, and began to pepper him with questions: Where do you think San Antonio is headed? Who should we know? After a while, Sosa turned the tables and asked them one: What did they see in their futures? The way Sosa remembers it, the brothers broke out into big grins and told him, in unison, "We're going to be mayor of San Antonio."
"We're going to be mayor?" Sosa said. "Which one?"
"One of us will," said one of the brothers.
Sosa, who's now semiretired, can recount little else about the conversation that day, or what counsel he gave the Castros. But their joint reply, he says, stuck with him: "That's the one thing that got seared into my mind. They knew what they wanted in life." And they knew that they wanted to attain it together.
Rosie Castro's Chicano activism inspired her sons, though they took a more centrist path. (Rick Kern/Getty Images for HBO)
I RECENTLY SPENT two months in the Castros' orbit, from just after Election Day to mid-January, interviewing and observing them in Washington and San Antonio, together and separately. They can be salty-tongued, charming, funny, and withering, especially when it comes to other politicians. Former campaign staffers attest to their fiery tendencies—particularly on the other's behalf. "Any mistake on Joaquin's campaign, and you are messing with Julián," says Christian Archer, who's managed races for both brothers. The same goes for Julián's campaigns, when Archer says Joaquin has been "as aggressive as I've ever seen him," demanding fundraising totals or email analytics.
But I also found the brothers exceedingly careful, even for political wunderkinds on the rise, to cloak their candid sides. In almost every conversation we had, they danced back and forth between being on the record and off the record—sometimes from one sentence to the next. By the end of our time together, I half-expected them to begin their lunch orders by asking the waiter, "Can this be on background?"
Maybe their reticence shouldn't be surprising; after all, they've now got a lot to lose. Fifteen years after visiting Sosa, the Castro brothers' political horizons have broadened well beyond San Antonio. Joaquin, after a decade in the Texas House, won a seat in Congress in 2012 and soon became a fixture on Sunday talk shows, a go-to surrogate for President Obama's immigration and economic policies. But the spotlight shines most intensely on Julián, the San Antonio mayor who vaulted into the national consciousness with his keynote address—the first by a Latino—at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Last year, when Julián left the mayor's job to join Obama's Cabinet as Housing and Urban Development secretary, the move stirred widespread speculation that he was being positioned as a potential 2016 vice presidential pick for likely nominee Hillary Clinton. Barring that, Texas Democrats have long envisioned Julián—or maybe Joaquin?—as the state's first Latino governor. Or as a U.S. senator. Or maybe both.