Ruben Navarrette Jr/

Just as the liberal media largely erased Latinos from coverage of the El Paso shooting — by excluding Latino commentators and focusing on guns — so too did the El Paso shooting nearly erase the White House hopes of Julian Castro.

As the first viable Mexican American candidate for the presidency in U.S. history, Castro was in an impossible situation. When a white male drove halfway across Texas to, as police later said he told them, “kill as many Mexicans as possible” — and wound up killing 22 people and wounding 24 more — a lot of people were anxious to see how Castro would react.

Mexican Americans in the Southwest were feeling sorrow, pain and rage — and still are. Which emotion would Castro tap into?

After all, this presidential candidate is also a Mexican American from Texas. He should easily relate to the people of El Paso.

But no matter how Castro reacted, he was guaranteed to get grief — from one group or another.

I know. I got grief. Since Aug. 3, the day of the shooting, I’ve been writing columns, doing media interviews, and posting on Facebook. No less than a dozen white readers have called me a “racist” and someone who “hates white people.” All for calling out anti-Latino racism and trying to hold white people accountable for letting it get out of hand.

Essentially, I said the same things that white journalists have been saying. But they can say those things. I’m not supposed to. As one of the few nationally syndicated Latino columnists, I’m on a short leash. Everyone has rigid ideas about what I should think, and how I should act, and they’re likely to be disappointed. I’ve heard that word a lot in recent days. “Disappointed.”

Same with Castro. If my friend had come out breathing fire after the El Paso shooting, he would have come across to white Americans like some Chicano radical from the 1960s with a brown beret and a knife in his teeth. It would have been Harvard Law School meets “Machete.” But if he went the other way and tried to be calm, reasonable and fair, he would have been shredded by the Latino Left. They would have tagged him a Tio Tomas (a Latino Uncle Tom), who is so afraid of alienating white voters that he swallows this indignity aimed at his people and becomes irrelevant.

It wasn’t unlike the situation Castro faced during the years that he was mayor of San Antonio. There, he had to inspire the two-thirds of the city that is Latino, without scaring off the quarter of the city that is white. Under the best of circumstances, that’s quite a magic trick. And this time, it’s playing out at the national level, where the stakes are higher.

What did Castro do? At first, he erred on the side of restraint. He went on the Sunday news shows and, in calm and subdued language, condemned the siren of white supremacy coming from the White House and proposed a plan to combat gun violence. He was a grownup.

Meanwhile, Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke went the other way. He scolded reporters for not connecting the dots between Donald Trump’s racist pitch lines and the bloodshed in his hometown. He threw up his arms and asked: “What the f---??!!”

And it was right. O’Rourke may not win the etiquette contest. But he spoke for millions of Latinos are, at this moment, looking at our country and likewise thinking: “What the f---??!!”

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

Another person who stepped up is someone who has known Castro since the womb — his twin brother, Joaquin, who got death threats when he shared on Twitter the publicly available names of Trump’s top donors from the Alamo City. All week, I’ve heard from Latinos who loved the stunt and said that the San Antonio congressman has the stones to lead.

His email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

This week, Julian Castro found his footing and pulled a bold stunt of his own — buying ad time on the Fox News morning program, “Fox & Friends” to deliver a personal message to Trump. In the spot, Castro tells the president: “Americans were killed because you stoked the fire of racists. Innocent people were shot down because they look different from you, because they looked like me. They look like my family. Words have consequences. Ya basta! (Enough!)”

That’s what I’m talking about. Campaign ads are like salsa. The best ones have bite and make you cry. This one satisfies.

Welcome back, Julian.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of The Washington Post Writers Group.

His email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app

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