Who Is Eric Garcetti? The 2.0 Latino Model

“Eric Garcetti embodies the new L.A.,” says Harvard-educated Los Angeles attorney Vibiana Andrade, possibly underscoring the sentiments of the 2.0 Latinos. “MEChA meeting over? This guy has got a city to run!”

So who is Eric Garcetti, this 42-year-old, three-term City Councilman with Columbia and Oxford University pedigrees who is redefining being Hispanic in American public life?

For starters, when looked upon objectively, there appears little doubt about Garcetti not only being Hispanic but, as the Times in 2000 wrote about his father – former District Attorney Gil Garcetti, “if it weren’t for his Italian name, it seems unlikely that he would be accused of being a ‘phony’ Latino.

“Gil Garcetti was raised in an unmistakably Mexican American household. Three of his four grandparents were Mexican; the fourth, Massimo Garcetti, immigrated to Mexico from Italy about 1890.”

Eric’s grandparents, Juanita and Salvadore, lived for a good while in the city’s traditionally Hispanic Eastside, which accommodated the future mayor-elect in another important aspect.

In the 1940s, the Eastside was also heavily Jewish. The Breed Street Shul, a historical Jewish synagogue, remains one of the treasures of that community. And Eric Garcetti, through his mother Sukey Roth is Jewish.

“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.”

Garcetti’s grandmother Juanita was one of 19 children born to Mexican immigrants in Arizona. His grandfather Salvadore was a barber and, according to Gil Garcetti, a small-time gambler and numbers runner who claimed to have known gangster Mickey Cohen and to have worked briefly for Los Angeles mob boss Bugsy Siegel.

Today that is a far cry from Eric Garcetti, Juanita and Salvadore’s Rhodes Scholar grandson who has risen to surprising heights, could climb to even greater places and is changing the way people look at Hispanics.

About the wildest thing you can say about Eric Garcetti is that he plays jazz piano to let off steam and that the only thing he fears is the chupacabra.

Yes, the chupacabra. How much more Latino could he be?

“I don’t know if it’s out there,” he says. “But if it is, that frightens the heck out of me.”

 

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