Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

For political candidates, having roots in Mexico is now a plus

Who would have thought just a couple of decades ago that having Mexican-born grandparents could be a boon to otherwise white politicians? It's not Mitt Romney and his Chihuahua roots this time, but a Los Angeles elected official with a background that's similar in many ways.

Los Angeles City Council member Eric Garcetti, who is considering a run for mayor, has been playing up his Italian-Mexican (on his father's side) and Jewish (on his mother's side) roots, reports the LA Weekly. It's an interesting story. Much like Romney, the descendant of Mormons from the U.S who migrated in the late 19th century to the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, Garcetti is the descendant of an Italian immigrant who did the same. From the piece, which gets beyond Garcetti's story into Mexican American identity and its public/political evolution:

His paternal grandparents were born in Mexico and came to Boyle Heights in reaction to the Mexican Revolution. His great-grandfather was an Italian who settled in Mexico to mine silver in the state of Chihuahua.

The typical Mexican is "mestizo," a mix of Indian and Spanish. While Romney's linage doesn't appear to include any indigenous or Spanish blood, a spokesman for Garcetti tells us his does.

But Maria-Elena Martinez, associate professor of history and ethnicity at USC, tells the Weekly that it doesn't matter anyway.

"Mexican" is not a race or an ethnicity, but rather a melting pot of a nationality, she says.

(That's often lost on us here in L.A., which has a long and deep history of viewing Mexicans as a dark-skinned service class. In fact, there was a time when Mexican was a bad word and it was uttered in hushed tones. Some people of Mexican descent called themselves "Spanish." Some still do. The fact that someone like Mitt Romney is cool with it says volumes about the evolution of Latinos in America).

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