From the San Antonio Express-News:
Comment: Castro’s age isn’t reason to brush him off
Web Posted: 05/15/2005 12:00 AM CDT
Sylvia Manzano Rivera
Politicians, pundits and media commentators frequently tell us that young people ought to be involved and engaged in politics. When presidential elections are in full swing, we typically hear laments regarding low rates of voter turnout among young adults and their apathy and general disinterest in politics.
The questions arise: Where are the voices of young voters? Why are young citizens so complacent, ill-informed and disengaged from the political process?
Here in San Antonio, we have Julián Castro, the mayoral hopeful who is 30 years old. He placed first May 7 among the field of candidates, winning 42 percent of the vote; now he advances to the June 7 runoff.
Interestingly, the most consistent and frequent criticism about Castro is his age. His opponents, political experts and media experts point to his “youth” as the most significant problem with his candidacy.
It seems the same people who criticize apathetic youth are the first to complain that Castro is too young to be mayor. The essence of these mixed messages is this: Young adults should vote but are not welcome to share in power and authority.
There are two issues associated with age and this election that merit further consideration. The first is related to young adults and political participation. The second deals with how we define “young.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of San Antonians is 32. Significant percentages of our local 18- to 30-year-old demographic are employed — many in two jobs. By the ripe old age of 30, most San Antonians are raising children as well as paying either mortgages or rent. Families, employment, households and taxes — all adult responsibilities by any measure.
The second issue is that for some, the words “young and politics” conjure up images of teenagers and people in their early 20s marching in protest. It is unfair to conceptualize youth politics in this narrow form. Individuals may choose from a wide range of activities to make their political preferences known. For example, one might sign a petition, attend a rally, mobilize others to vote, volunteer for a campaign or even run for office.
The point is that there is no reason why younger citizens should be relegated to specific modes of political participation.
Many young adults are indeed informed and interested in politics at the global, national and local levels. Some are sincere in their desire to lend a meaningful voice to the policy-making process or even pursue a career in public service. But are their life experiences, perspectives and commitments valued or welcome in the halls of power?
With respect to Castro’s age, the fact of the matter is that 30 is really not that young. However, this is not only about Castro, but all in their 30s who would have the same charges of limited life experience leveled against us. This begs the question: What is the age threshold for political maturity?
When one is 18, he or she is old enough to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, but at 30 is too “young” to serve in major elective office? At what age would the media and political commentators deem it appropriate for one to run for elective office?
Like it or not, by the age of 30 we are not playing grown-up. We are grown up.
Sylvia Manzano Rivera holds a Ph.D. in political science and teaches at St. Mary’s University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.