Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Garcetti proves there's no litmus test for Latinos

Mayor Race - Eric Garcetti

Grant Slater/KPCC

Eric Garcetti at a fundraiser for Latino supporters during his mayoral campaign.

Eight years ago, when I was editor-in-chief of Ciudad Magazine, we heralded the election of Antonio Villaraigosa as L.A.'s first modern-day Mexican-American mayor.

At another junction during the magazine's three-year life, we published a cover story titled: "The New Angelenos Are Half-Latino: How They're Changing the Face of Our Wildly Diverse Metropolis." The story examined how Latinos in L.A. are increasingly the children or partners of people from other ethnicities and races.

And now L.A. has a mayor who fits that bill.

Some Latinos quibble with Eric Garcetti's pedigree. His mother is Jewish, and his Italian surname comes from a European ancestor who emigrated to Mexico. But he is firm about his ethnic bona fides. 

“Both of my father’s parents were proudly Mexican-American, both spoke Spanish as their first language," Garcetti told KPCC last year. "My grandfather was born in Mexico, my grandmother’s parents were from Mexico.” He's also spoken of his grandparents' former house in Boyle Heights being his second home.

Still, it doesn't carry enough weight with some Latinos, particularly some politicians who have questioned his background. 

Before the March primary, Assembly Speaker John Pérez of Los Angeles told KPCC: “There isn’t a Latino candidate running for mayor that I know of.” And L.A. City Councilman José Huizar said of Garcetti: “He says he’s Latino but, you know, that’s for the voters to see or the constituents to see.”

Other Latino politicians weren't as vocal, but a virtual who's who of them backed Greuel — from L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina to Congressman Tony Cardenas and State Senator Alex Padilla. Also in Greuel's camp was former Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, who on July 1 will join Huizar on the L.A. City Council. I don't suppose we'll see them at a Garcetti Cinco de Mayo party. 

As for Huizar's comment, well, the voters have spoken and Garcetti — according to an exit poll from Loyola Marymount University's  Center for the Study of Los Angeles — won 60 percent of the Latino vote. That's well shy of the percentage that Villaraigosa garnered in his historic 2005 election, but Garcetti's performance with Latino voters was a major factor in his victory.

The comments from Pérez and Huizar can't be attributed to generational differences — those leaders are no more than two years older than Garcetti, who is 42.

Instead, it seems to have more to do with the notion that Garcetti, who grew up in Encino and Brentwood and attended prestigious private schools, has a privileged background that doesn't include the struggles that many Latinos have experienced. 

But the Latino experience in this country — and particularly in this city — is in constant evolution. Eric Garcetti represents the 2.0 model of Latinos in L.A. 

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