By Tony Castro, Voxxi
Eric Garcetti was elected mayor of Los Angeles on Tuesday, sweeping into office with a slew of new expectations, not the least of which is what he will mean for Hispanics, not only in his hometown, but beyond.
For Garcetti is the new face of being Latino in America — even as some of his critics charged that he wasn’t Hispanic enough — and he is raising a more serious question in this nation’s multi-ethnic society: Who is or who isn’t Latino?
As for Garcetti, Los Angeles’ new 42-year-old mayor elect’s grandfather was born in Mexico. His great-grandfather, Massimo Garcetti, was a Mexican judge who was hanged during the Mexican Revolution. Garcetti speaks perfect Spanish. He not only considers himself Hispanic, he has also called himself Chicano.
His critics, though, may have been judging Garcetti as much on his skin coloration. He is as huero as they come in a city and in the Southwest, where caramel brown-skinned Mexican Americans make up the majority of Latinos.
Perhaps those critics don’t watch Spanish televisions novelas which is full of hueros speaking Spanish — and on which Garcetti would easily fit.
Just as easily, he passed the test among Latino voters in Los Angeles, where they largely went for Garcetti and not his runoff opponent Wendy Greuel — though she had a lion’s share of endorsements from Hispanic politicians and leaders, including United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, County Supervisor Gloria Molina and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s cousin, Assembly Speaker John Perez.
Villaraigosa, who didn’t endorse in the race, leaves office June 30 as the city’s consummate Latino politician — the first Hispanic elected mayor in modern times and at one time the hope of Latino aspirations to higher office.
But he will be leaving with those hopes dashed, as least for the moment, and replaced both in office and in promise by Garcetti, who undoubtedly soon will be embraced by all the Latino organizations, especially those that lean Democratically, looking for a fresh face for national leadership.
In Garcetti, they have an ideal candidate: A former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, one of the few American Latinos so honored; a graduate of Columbia University, who also studied at the London School of Economics; the son of a former district attorney; a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserves; and scandal-free, married to Amy Wakeland, with whom he has a daughter — Maya Juanita, a name after any Latino’s heart.
Add to that a built-in political asset that few other Latino politicians have.
Eric Garcetti’s background was a great asset in Los Angeles mayoral race
Garcetti is Jewish. Jews in Los Angeles today are celebrating that he is the city’s first Jewish mayor.
“Weekends involved bowls of menudo at my grandparents’ and bagels at my cousins’ house,” Garcetti says of his childhood with a Mexican and Jewish background. “I think if you’re Latino, you’re very comfortable with the idea of mestizo, being mixed.
“So I kind of joke that I’m mestizo double, double mixed.”
It enabled Garcetti to fashion a coalition built around two of the most powerful political elements in Los Angeles — and in America today — Latinos and Jews.
It is also a natural native constituency for Garcetti that now has almost elevated him to a recognizably national level and the precipice of even higher office in California.
The Golden State’s three top elected officials — Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer — are in their 70s. And Garcetti has joined the pool of younger blood around them.
And in upsetting preconceived notions about what being Hispanic and what Latino power is today, Garcetti has shown he may have a unique understanding that Latino voters want more than just pandering to their ethnicity.
“My grandparents were from northern Mexico, Chihuahua and Sonora,” Garcetti told a Latino group in Spanish at one of his last campaign stops. “But I don’t want your vote just because I speak Spanish.”
This article was first published in Voxxi.
Los Angeles based writer Tony Castro is the author of the critically-acclaimed “Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America” and the best-selling “Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son.”
[Photo by Eric Garcetti]