Hilbert Morales / EL OBSERVADOR

On Friday, January 29, 2016, La Raza Roundtable meeting occurred with Chair Victor Garza presiding. It was attended by 128 community members. After very briefly conducting its usual business, the scheduled speaker, The Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) was introduced.

Villaraigosa was the 41st mayor of Los Angeles (2005-13), member of the State Assembly while sitting next to colleague Dominic Cortese (D, San Jose and father of Supervisor Dave Cortese).

Antonio Ramon Villaraigosa (born Antonio Ramon Villar, Jr.; DOB 01.23.1953) is an American citizen of Mexican heritage (3rd generation) whose grandfather came to California ‘with nothing’ and through his work ethic, grit and diligence, raised a family who ‘stood on his shoulders’ while accessing opportunities to become educated and trained here. Antonio has three siblings; all grew up in East LA.

Villaraigosa’s life journey is truly an ‘American Dream’ story which happened in East Los Angeles. He was a school drop-out who returned to finish his education which included a law degree. An activist since age 15, Antonio participated in civil rights protests; United Farm Workers movement; served as President, LA’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); was elected to LA’s city council & Metropolitan Transit Agency (MTA); was elected to the State Assembly where he served as Speaker until termed out. Villaraigosa led initiatives to improve public schools and expand water-quality enforcement, and was the author of a state health insurance program (Healthy Families) that expanded coverage for the children of low-income families. He subsequently worked to implement school reform, green initiatives, and massive funding of the city’s transit system. During his public service as LA’s mayor, crime rates and school drop-out rates declined. Rather, graduation rates increased from 44% to 77%. More information may be accessed by googling “Antonio Villaraigosa”.

Antonio Villaraigosa began by challenging those present to understand that they also stood on the shoulders of ‘our antepasados’. “California has about 4,000,000 Latina/o’s who will have reached voting age. All need to retain Spanish while learning English; become citizens; to stay in school; earn college and university degrees….i.e., become professionally prepared to participate and serve in California’s future business, industrial and governing jurisdictions. California is now the 8th largest global economy….Our youth must become ready to compete in that global vendor economy.”

Villaraigosa asserted, “The challenge our Latino community faces is to become informed; educated; to be professionally and vocationally capable to be fully engaged and involved in California’s government; its economy and society.”

And they must all vote. If we do not elect more representatives to those conference tables where public policy decisions are made; where resources are allocated and social/educational programs underwritten, then we will be on their agendas with no representing having seat, voice and vote. Our values, priorities, and interests must have representation at all decision making levels.” Latinos must become citizens, register to vote and vote in significant numbers in their own interests.

Bea Mendez asked, “When will you inform this community that you are a candidate for Governor of the State of California?” Villaraigosa replied, “As soon as I make that decision. It is why I have spent the last 31 days traveling all areas of California to learn what I need to know.” He challenged all who could become citizens to do that; to inform themselves and their kids, to learn about public policy issues and to vote in all elections applying their values and priorities.

A standing ovation followed. LRRT Chair Garza asked the audience to deliver a Chicano clap which was done enthusiastically.

My declaration to the audience was that we need to change our mindset: “All in this room are Americans first. Americans with Mexican heritage, values and roots. Si no nos cambiamos, now quedamos en donde estamos (if we do not change, we remain where we are) and Juntos hacemos mas con exito (together we can do more successfully). We are beyond ‘si se puede’. Our Silicon Valley Latino community must begin planning to organize a ‘Political Action Committee (PAC).”

Alcario “Al” Castellano. Castellao Family Foundation, said, “I am 81 years old, what can I do?” He was told to encourage all to become involved, engaged, and committed to the progressive changes our society and community must achieve.

This LRRT meeting ended here. Many small discussion groups and networking happened. This Latino audience left with higher hopes and a resolve to act in their own best interests.

Supper snacks were provided by Mexico Lindo and Liquid Lounge Restaurants; bottled water and wine was courtesy of Teresa Alvarado.

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