Julián Castro is probably not going to be president. The latest Morning Consult tracking poll had him at around on third of 1%, despite being one of only a handful of candidates to have officially announced his candidacy. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t worth talking about. He’s the first HUD Secretary to run for president, he’s by far the most prominent Latino to run for president, and it’s clear that he’s trying to juggle a lot of different elements in his run. And what better lens is there to observe his candidacy through than his logo.
In all honesty, it’s not much to look at. In fact, it may be one of most boring logos possible. As a result, looking at the pure aesthetics of it isn’t going to get us that far. However, there are plenty of small details that paint a larger story of what is going on in his campaign, and what makes it so interesting.
Courting the Hispanic Vote
When FiveThirtyEight did a write-up of how Castro could win the Democratic nomination, the answer could essentially be boiled down to one word: Hispanics. Or Latinos. They actually switch back and forth between the two words throughout the article. The distinction is subtle, but for the purpose of this article I will be using Hispanics, which essentially covers everyone who comes from Spanish speaking countries, though I’ll include Brazil but not Spain itself.
It is true that Castro’s best shot is through this group. He is by far the most influential Hispanic person to have ever run for president, if not the first outright. And his past electoral success has come from the Hispanic base in his home town of San Antonio, where he won three terms for mayor in landslide victories. Hispanics are also an increasing proportion of the population, especially in the Democratic base.
The only issue is that there is not really a definable Hispanic community. I should pre-empt this by saying that I am by no means an expert in any of the issues of Hispanic people in America. I will essentially going off of what I have been told by those who have more familiarity with Hispanic politics and what has been researched by organizations like Pew Research Center.
In 2017, Pew did an excellent report on Hispanic identity in the United States which laid out the specifics of why a solid Hispanic community didn’t really exist. The first important element is the tendency to identify as Hispanic/Latino less and less with every generation. Part of this is due to higher rates of interracial marriage, and part of it is due to a lack of closely-knit communities is large parts of the country. While there may be individual communities across the country, they share very few common characteristics. Now that domestic births are a larger driver of population growth among the Hispanic population than immigration, this loss of identity across generations is becoming more and more important.
The other big hurdle to a united Hispanic community is the fact that people from Latin American countries tend to identify with their home country specifically, rather than the region as a whole. It makes sense, especially for recent immigrants. Someone from Cuba will have had a much different experience than someone from Puerto Rico, and someone from Brazil will have had a much different experience than someone from Mexico. This becomes less prominent the further removed a generation is from that country, but it is true of basically any group that identifies as Hispanic. This lack of a unified identity also shows itself with a lack of political unity, as Hispanics vote less uniformly than any other minority group.
So if Castro wants to win with the Hispanic vote, he’ll have to be crafty. He’ll have to do things like, say, make the name CASTRO very small in his logo (Cubans tend to not want to vote for someone named Castro) while making Julián the most prominent part of his logo. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but to me this feels like the most blatant use of a first name in a logo since the infamous Jeb!
It is still early in the campaign, so it remains to be seen how hard Castro will try to work to generate a unified Hispanic base, but it seems that he is at least aware of that challenges that he might face, and has started working to meet them.
The Obama Legacy
Democrats love Obama. As he left office, he had over an 85% approval rating among his own party, a number which has almost definitely grown since then. As a result, many 2020 candidates, rather than spending time re-litigating the 2016 primary, are probably going to spend time directly appealing to the Obama legacy and their place in it. There are few more well-positioned to do that than Julián Castro.
Castro is the only potential candidate, apart from Eric Holder, who served directly in Obama’s cabinet. Just on the basis of distance, that gives him the strongest claim to that legacy. However, he goes even further than that. When watching him speak, it’s hard not to notice that he matches the tone and inflection of Obama almost perfectly.
This is seen in his logo to a certain extent. I was worried that he would do what every politician has done in the last ten years and rip off Obama’s visual style by using the font Gotham. Ever since it was used in his initial branding back in 2008, the font has found its way into hundreds of campaigns across the country, mostly because it looks nice. However, Castro was able to resist and instead used a slightly modified version of Mallory. That being said, the font is noticeably similar to Gotham in its general style. This is no coincidence, as Mallory was designed by Tobias Frere-Jones, the same man who designed Gotham. The two fonts may still be different from different type studios, but that’s a whole other story. So he may think he’s being clever by not directly using Gotham, but I know his game.
The font is not the only place where Castro’s branding is similar to Obama’s. While it was not explicitly in his logo, one of the foundational messages of Obama’s campaign was found in his 2004 speech to the DNC:
There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.
Obama excelled in marketing his brand of civic nationalism, and it was extremely effective, at least electorally. With his slogan “One Nation. One Destiny.” Castro attempts to achieve something similar, speaking of one America as a uniting force. While this may seem at odds with the goal of uniting the Hispanic community, it can be a part of the same strategy, if handled correctly.
In his announcement speech, Castro made several references to how America is a nation of immigrants, and how we all want to seek the American Dream. This is incredibly boiler-plate stuff. However, there is a kernel of a good strategy there. By showing a close connection between immigrant roots and the American Dream, Castro can potentially create a message that highlights both his Hispanic background and what he sees as an American future. And it is that, more than anything, that unites both the Hispanic community and the United States as a whole, the journey from immigrant roots to a new common future.
As I said before, Julián Castro is probably not going to be president. He is not particularly well-known, he doesn’t appear to be a uniquely skilled politician, and his launch has been wishy-washy on certain policy issues, while having some intensely cringe-worthy slogans. It’s hard to communicate a vision of an American future for everyone when you can’t even decide what that means for you.
However, Julián Castro is a more interesting candidate than one might expect, given his extremely boring logo. I hope that this gave a brief overview of the unique position that he is in, how he might be able to harness it, and what obstacles he’ll most likely face on that path.