By McGrath, Roger D.
The New American , Vol. 21, No. 12
On Tuesday, May 17, Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor of Los Angeles. When he takes office in July, he will become the first person of Mexican descent to do so in more than 130 years. He will not be the last. Although there were several factors figuring in his victory, the changing demographics of the City of the Angels stand out prominently. Los Angeles is now 48 percent Hispanic (the term favored by the U.S. Census) and only 31 percent white (now generally used to mean non-Hispanic whites)--and the Hispanic percentage is increasing while the white is shrinking.
Unlike James Hahn, the incumbent mayor, Villaraigosa had no family legacy to rely on. His father crossed the border from Mexico in 1950 and abandoned the family when Villaraigosa was five. What Villaraigosa has going for him is loads of energy and political savvy and La Familia de La Raza--The Family of The Race. The Mexican population of Los Angeles, and more generally the Hispanic population, is growing by leaps and bounds. Moreover, much of that population is not assimilating. Whites aren't encouraged to cast votes simply on the basis of their ethnic identification, but Mexicans are. Exit polls suggest that Villaraigosa won 85 percent or more of the Hispanic vote. While the voter turnout citywide barely exceeded 30 percent, on the virtually all-Hispanic Eastside, where Villaraigosa was reared, it reached nearly 40 percent.
Politics Based on Race
Antonio Villaraigosa was known as Tony Villar when he was growing up on the Eastside. (He combined his surname with that of his wife, Corina Raigosa, to create the last name he uses now.) As Villar, he attended East Los Angeles Junior College and then transferred to UCLA in 1972 under an "affirmative action" program. By the time he left UCLA in 1975, he had not graduated but had risen to a position of leadership in the campus chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, better known by its acronym, MEChA. The group was organized in 1969 by Mexican-American college students, for the most part, who preferred to call themselves Chicanos and Chicanas. MEChA proudly proclaims that its mission is to reclaim California and the rest of the Southwest--an area MEChA calls Aztlan--from "the foreigner 'gabacho' who exploits our riches and destroys our culture.... [W]e declare the independence of our mestizo nation. We are a bronze people with a bronze culture. Before the world, before all of North America, before all our brothers in the bronze continent, we are a nation, we are a union of tree pueblos, we are Aztlan."
MEChA's motto makes it clear that its movement is all about race: Por La Raz, a todo; Fuera de La Raza nada--"For the Race Everything; Outside the Race Nothing." l wonder how long campus chapters of a white group with similar aspirations and a similar motto would be tolerated. Not only has MEChA been tolerated, it has flourished--with the help of academic radicals and tax-exempt foundations. MEChA now controls "Chicano Studies" centers and departments on many campuses in California and elsewhere.
At UCLA, Tony Villar was one of the MEChA leaders who led the takeover of the Chicano Studies Center. The media does its best to ignore Villaraigosa's membership in MEChA during his years at UCLA, while a white politician with similar baggage would be forced to make repeated confessions of his youthful errors, repudiate his membership in a white racist organization, and denounce the group continually. But in Villaraigosa's case, he has not denounced the racist group to which he belonged, as well he should have. When asked if he still supported MEChA's mission and goals during an interview on a talk-radio station in Los Angeles, Villaraigosa refused to answer.
In Newsweek's May 30 puff-piece article on Villaraigosa, there is no mention of his membership and activism in MEChA. "He's proud of his Mexican heritage," reports Newsweek, "but, he says, 'I don't wear it on my sleeve. …