Joseph I. Castro is president of California State University, Fresno. Before taking part in a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation panel in Sacramento entitled “Is the Central Valley Finally Embracing Its Urban Future?” he talked about learning to swim in the Kings River and savoring the springtime colors along Fresno County’s Blossom Trail.
Was there a teacher or professor who changed your life?
James March at Stanford, my doctoral dissertation adviser. He had some pretty unconventional ideas about leadership, and so we would read classical literature like Don Quixote and Saint Joan and Othello, so I learned a lot about leadership from him.
What leadership lesson did you draw from Don Quixote?
He would say, “Yo sé quién soy”—I know who I am. And it would relate to the moral compass that a leader needs to possess as they’re dealing with different challenges, and to be themselves, and the importance of ethical behavior.
Do you have a favorite season?
Spring. We have a lot of fruit trees and you see all the blossoms. There’s a Blossom Trail in Fresno County, for many miles, and you can see the different colors of blossoms. Almonds are white, nectarines are kind of pinkish. There’s this beautiful color all across the Central Valley in springtime. With all the rainfall, the fruit this summer is going to be probably the best we’ve had in decades.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I learned a lot from being a paperboy and having to collect from my customers. I’d get into these strange situations where people would try to evade me and I’d have to go at certain times of the day or evening to catch them! Most people were really great and paid on time. I remember a few times they were surprised, “What are you doing here at 8:30 at night?!”
What kind of car do you drive?
A Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, my second one. It’s like a sand dune color.
Where and when did you learn how to swim?
My grandparents were farmworkers and they didn’t swim, so my mother didn’t learn, but she wanted me to know, and my sister. Well before I was eight or nine years old I swam often. I swam in the Kings River quite often, which runs through Hanford. It’s one of my favorite things to do. When I’m on vacation I swim pretty much the whole time.
What musical instrument would you like to play?
I played the trumpet when I was a kid, but I haven’t played in many years. I have this dream that when I retire I will learn to play the ukulele, somewhere on a beach.
If you could travel to any time, past or future, what would you pick?
I was raised by my grandparents. My grandfather came over from Michoacán, Mexico with my great-grandparents when he was two years old. My great-grandfather helped to build the railroad through the San Joaquin Valley, and they lived in tents along the train tracks, and eventually they made it to Hanford. I had them until my grandfather was 90 and my grandmother was 96. So if I could go back and spend some time with them, I would.