Who Is Eric Garcetti? The 2.0 Latino Model

The young Eric Garcetti, the future mayor-elect of Los Angeles with dad, Gil, who became district attorney.

The young Eric Garcetti, the future mayor-elect of Los Angeles with dad, Gil, who became district attorney. (From Garcetti’s Facebook page)

AMONG THE ESTIMATED 2.1 million violent deaths during the decade-long Mexican Revolution a century ago were the brutal hangings of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of supporters and officials of the longstanding government of dictator Porfirio Diaz that was overthrown.

They have long been forgotten, unearthed only in the memories of their families, many of them long since emigrated to safety in the United States.

One of those who was hanged was Massimo Garcetti, an Italian immigrant who had risen to some success in his adopted homeland, becoming a judge in the northern state of Chihuahua

“I assume,” says Garcetti’s great-grandson, Eric, “that means he was on the wrong side of the revolution.”

History may show it to be one of the few times that a Garcetti has been on the wrong side of anything dealing with politics, certainly the biggest stamp on that being Eric’s surprisingly easy election as mayor of Los Angeles last week.

In a bitterly-contested campaign whose winner some feared wouldn’t be known possibly for weeks, Garcetti last year stunned two of the city’s most dominant forces – organized labor and the Hispanic leadership – by whipping opponent Wendy Greuel among virtually every voter bloc, including Latinos.

Garcetti’s triumph makes the story of his great-grandfather’s hanging, believed to have taken place in a square in Chihuahua, that much more significant because it hasn’t been one that the mayor-elect has trotted out in a narrative of tragedy and hardship as politicians are known to do.

He could have claimed, if he wanted, that his family has shed blood for Mexico – that he is a mejicano in more than just ancestry and ethnocentric political hyperbole.

The 2013 mayoral campaign in which critics – many of them the city’s Latino leadership — and even the Los Angeles Times questioned whether he was Hispanic enough, were opportunities for Garcetti to make a stronger case for himself as to his Latinoness.

Not that he avoided it. But he didn’t wear his ethnicity on his sleeves.

As he told a group of Latino voters in one of his last campaign stops, “I don’t want your vote just because I speak Spanish.”

And that, in addition to being perhaps Garcetti’s shrewdest move of handling his ethnicity in politics, appears to signal a shift on the pubic thinking of what and who is a Hispanic as Latinos in Los Angele in recent days have rushed to celebrate his victory.

Oscar Garza, who edited the now-defunct Ciudad magazine recalled this week how his publication had once trumpeted “how Latinos in L.A. are increasingly the children or partners of people from other ethnicities and races.”

“And now,” he says of Garcetti, “L.A. has a mayor who fits that bill.

“Eric Garcetti represents the 2.0 model of Latinos in L.A. “

Garcetti’s election has also brought into question the credibility of the city’s Latino leadership, which heavily endorsed his opponent – some of them openly questioning whether the now mayor-elect was really Hispanic.

There was the Italian last name and the ancestry from Italy, which is not that unusual among Hispanics in Latin America but seems to rankle some Mexican Americans buried in provincialism.

“He says he’s Latino,” City Councilman Jose Huizar, himself a Mexican immigrant. “But, you know, that’s for the voters to see or the constituents to see.”

On Election Day, an overwhelming number of Latinos apparently saw Garcetti as one of their own. Garcetti won 60 percent of the Latino votes, according to an exit poll from Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles.

So much for the pull and power of all those self-inflated Latino leaders, as Garcetti now seems to have emboldened those who voted for him.

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