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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa makes the rounds in Mexico

November 30, 2009 |  4:04 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is making the rounds here in Mexico, hobnobbing with politicos and empresarios and delivering remarks in a not-bad Spanish.

In a breakfast meeting today, he told a roomful of Mexico’s leading industrialists and corporate executives that the shared ties of their country and his city should be the basis for greater investment and economic opportunities. Some in the U.S. anti-immigrant crowd may want to deny Los Angeles’ Mexican origins, he said, but that would be a mistake.

“They think history began with the Gold Rush … or an immaculate conception,” he said. “But L.A. is the city it is because of immigration.”

Villaraigosa gave the speech in Spanish (partly reading, partly ad-libbing) and apologized several times for what he said was his poor command of the language. “El Pochito,” he said.

A “pocho” is a Latino who has forgotten or ignored his or her roots and, among other things, doesn’t speak Spanish well.

By his telling, Villaraigosa’s grandfather arrived in California from Mexico in 1903 but the future mayor was raised in an English-speaking household. He studied Spanish later in school.

Actually, his Spanish was perfectly acceptable. He stumbled over some words and at times mixed in English, switching back and forth between the two languages. He certainly made himself understood.

He also commented on the deadly drug war in Mexico, saying the U.S. also had to take responsibility and calling for a ban on assault weapons (many of which end up in Mexico) and a new strategy in the U.S. that focuses more on treatment and prevention and not just incarceration.

Villaraigosa came to Mexico last week to lead a delegation of artists and writers to the 2009 Guadalajara Book Festival, where the city of Los Angeles is this year’s “guest of honor.”

For a column by novelist Carlos Fuentes on Villaraigosa (in Spanish) and the Mexican presence in Los Angeles, read here

—Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City