Los Angeles City Councilmember Eric Garcetti experienced a homecoming of sorts on Feb. 16 while speaking at the UCLA Lab School,where he attended elementary school.
Hosted by the UCLA Latin American Institute and the UCLA Csar E. Chvez Department of Chicana/o Studies, Garcetti’s talk focused on cultural diversity, education and civic participation, beginning with his student memories of the Lab School, which he credited for making him the person he has become. The diversity of his classmates at the school greatly informed and shaped his worldview, Garcetti said. Diversity in the classroom — whether ethnic, racial, economic or otherwise — is something that he believes every student should have the opportunity to enjoy.
Garcetti’s history, like that of many Angelenos, is rooted in immigration. Three of his great-grandparents, fleeing war in their homelands, came to United States. His paternal great-grandfather was killed during the Mexican Revolution. His great-grandmother later walked over the border with Garcetti’s then one-year-old grandfather into El Paso, TX.
Garcetti represents the 13th Council District and is running as a mayoral candidate. His district — home to more than a quarter of a million people, 60 percent of whom are foreign-born — is the most culturally diverse area in L.A., with more than 100 languages spoken in its neighborhoods. The diversity in his district and throughout L.A. makes the city a destination for people across the globe, he said, adding that there are 35 countries whose largest populations outside of their borders are found here.
"You can be, like I am, a fourth-generation Angeleno or somebody getting off a plane tonight, and within minutes you can find something that’s intensely familiar, no matter where you come from in this world," said Garcetti, whose family grew up in Boyle Heights and subsequently moved to the San Fernando Valley. "You can also be here your entire life and go two blocks in a new direction and find something you’ve never seen before. That combination of cultures, of being able to see both the familiar and the completely unfamiliar and the challenge that it gives to you — whether you’re a new student or if you’re in the golden years of your life — is really a unique opportunity for Angelenos."
He also said that L.A. is at risk of fragmentation — a city in which public policy is not as informed by research as it should be and where "the political structures don’t really reflect something coherent and workable."
Garcetti said he hopes that investments in community building and education will foster a better sense of unity and understanding among people. He also discussed the importance of reaching out to people of all ethnicities and cultures and encouraging them to get involved with government and the political process.