How Councilman Eric Garcetti emerged as a champion of the Filipino-American community (and fashion)

Garcetti may favor a traditional two-piece suit at City Hall or a Ralph Lauren tuxedo at formal affairs but perhaps his most important piece of wardrobe is a loose fitting barong. A barong is a sheer, embroidered shirt worn by many Filipino-American men as an expression of national pride. In Garcetti’s case, the barongs the Echo Park resident has received and worn at public events in and around Historic Filipinotown are symbolic of an important relationship the councilman has forged with Filipino-Americans. It’s a connection that will help on Tuesday when he seeks reelection and perhaps in future political races.

Garcetti won the loyalty of many Filipino-Americans by designating part of the southern portion of Echo Park and Silver Lake in his district as Historic Filipinotown in 2002 and followed through on campaign promises to hire Filipino-American staff. But he didn’t’ stop there. The councilman has championed a variety of Filipino-American causes, from the creation of a monument to Filipino-American war veterans to honoring the contributions of Filipino-American health care workers and supporting the teaching of Tagalog in state schools. Garcetti is frequently on hand at Filipino-American banquets, meetings and events. That would include the dedication of crosswalks decorated with ancient Filipino weaving patterns and a religious procession last September in which he walked around Echo Park Lake wearing a plum-colored barong.

Enrique de la Cruz, a Cal State Northridge professor who has studied Filipino-Americans, said Garcetti stands out as one of the city’s first elected officials who has been “brave enough” to reach out and win over the notoriously fractured community.

“It’s a minefield and so politicians have traditionally stayed out,” said de la Cruz. “Why has he become our booster? Our advocate? I’ve asked myself that question. I would just say we are grateful that he’s doing this.”

Garcetti’s political allies include the leaders of several influential Filipino-American groups headquartered in Historic Filipinotown Last year, for example, Susan Dilkes, head of Filipino American Service Group, and her husband both contributed $500 each to Garcetti’s campaign. Meanwhile, Joel Jacinto, Executive Director of the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, appears in an endorsement video on Garcetti’s campaign website:

“We were always, in the Filipino community, looking for a champion, someone that would include Filipinos in the agenda of the City of Los Angeles,” Jacinto said in the video. “We have achieved much in this partnership.”

While relatively few Filipinos live in Historic Filipinotown, which is overwhelmingly Latino, Garcetti’s connection to Filipino-Americans could prove valuable if he makes a run for mayor or a state or national office. “Getting well connected with the Filipino community will be able to provide him a base of support” among Asian-Americans, said de la Cruz.

Garcetti‘ staff and others point out that politics alone does not explain his interest courting Filipino-Americans. His grandfather fought alongside Filipino soldiers in World War II while stationed in the Philippines. Whatever his motivation, Filipino-Americans are likely to be keep rewarding Garcetti with their support as well as barongs.

“Eric is not hard to fit,” said de la Cruz. “He’s slim. We can always find a barong that will fit him.

Photo from LMU; The Pinoy; Webservices: BarongRus

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