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Julian Castro at NALEO: 'America Invested In Me'

by Suzanne Gamboa /
Caption: HUD Secretary Julian Castro addresses the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials 2015 conference in Las Vegas. Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

LAS VEGAS -- In what appeared to be an effort to tout his credentials as a potential vice presidential candidate, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro told a meeting of Latino officeholders “America invested in me.”

Castro addressed the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials one day before Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was scheduled to address the gathering.

He said he has his Stanford education and the success that has come as a result because he worked hard and his family worked hard, but also because Pell Grants and other federal financial aid were available to help him and his twin brother Joaquín pay for college.

“In other words, I’m here because you invested in me. America invested in me,” he said.

Castro has been tagged as a potential vice presidential candidate who could help Democrats rally the Latino vote and set the country on the course to a Latino in the White House one day. But his inexperience on the national stage has opened him to questions about whether he is running mate material. Castro served as mayor of San Antonio before he was tapped by President Barack Obama to lead HUD.

In a recent article, Politico quoted an unnamed “Clinton ally” saying he would not help the ticket because of his Spanish, which Castro speaks but is not a native speaker.

In his speech, Castro gave some justification for his Spanish skill level, though did not describe it as such. His grandmother came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 6, as an orphan, he said.

“She grew up at a time when storefronts in Texas and other signs that read, ‘No Mexicans or Dogs Allowed,’” Castro said. “Her daughter, my mother grew up, when speaking Spanish in school meant a ruler to the wrist.”

Related: Can You Be a Latino Politician If You Don't Speak Fluent Spanish?

Castro, who has not addressed the criticism of his Spanish speaking skills previously, addressed the issue in an interview with NBC News following his speech.

“I speak some Spanish. I’m not fluent at it but I do speak some and understand it fairly well," he said. "Everybody understands that some folks in the Latino community do speak some Spanish, some speak none at all and some speak like I do: some, but aren’t necessarily fluent,” he said.

He said he does not find it difficult to be a Latino officeholder without fluency. “I believe people from whatever background are going to be judged by the quality of their ideas and their ability,” he said.

But just in case, Castro was sure to mention that he would be attending his daughter’s first talent show tomorrow morning in Washington, D.C., where she planned to sing “Let It Go,” the popular song from the movie “Frozen.”

“Except she’s going to sing it in Spanish,” he said to applause. “I hope she does well. Ojalá que gane.”

As he has before, Castro would not say whether he wants to be vice president or discuss the possibility.

His dismissed the idea that his speech was meant as a prelude to Clinton’s Thursday speech. His intent, he said, was to “ensure that Latino elected officials understand the powerful role they play today and will play in years to come in shaping America’s future."