By Scott Galindez
Twenty-five years ago, two young community organizers, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Antonio Villaraigosa, formed the African-Latino roundtable aimed at bridging the differences between two of the cities’ largest ethnic groups. Twenty-five years later, Ridley-Thomas was on stage celebrating the election of Los Angeles’s first Latino Mayor since 1865.
While it was historic for a Latino to do well in the black community, this was by no means only about the two groups. Villaraigosa’s campaign was very diverse and included Korean, Filipino, and Jewish voters as well. It also was not just a coalition of ethnic groups. Community activists working on issues like poverty, discrimination, and violence were also on board. It was a true rainbow coalition.
Antonio Villaraigosa stressed in his acceptance speech that he would represent all of the people of Los Angeles. “People from the East Side to the West, from South L.A. to Sylmar, people who drive a Mercedes to work and people who ride the bus.”
Villaraigosa, who was raised in poverty by a single mother, vowed to not forget where he came from. Antonio, as his supporters endearingly call him, was a student activist at UCLA before becoming a union organizer with United Teachers of Los Angeles.
It was very clear from the community leaders who were behind him on the stage at his victory rally that he has not forgotten his activist roots. Delores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, Maria Elena Durazo, president of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union, Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is now a State Assemblyman, and Jackie Goldberg, who is also a member of the State Assembly - to name a few.
Goldberg, a long time activist, spent the day doing get out the vote work for Villaraigosa. After making phone calls for hours, she looked at the ride board and volunteered to go pick up voters and take them to the polls. When asked why this election was so important to her, she recounted the days when she was a City Council member and City Hall was not responsive to progressive ideas. “Antonio is a progressive and he will lead this City with progressive ideals.”
A walk through the crowd at the Villaraigosa victory celebration was like attending a convention of community activists in Los Angeles. Everywhere you turned there was another activist celebrating a major victory. The rally cry of activists in Los Angeles, Si Se Puede! (Yes We Can!), changed on this night to Si Se Pudo! (Yes We Did!)