When Betty Guardado and Carlos Garcia, Phoenix’s newest councilmembers, raised their right hands to take the oath of office on June 6, her left hand rested on a Bible and his on a landmark Chicano history book.
Guardado took the oath of office on the same bible she and her husband used during their wedding, she said.
“The city is my other marriage,” she quipped, as her husband, David, held the Bible for her swearing in. The words “Dios Bendiga Esta Unión” (God Bless This Union) were embroidered in gold lettering on the cover.
Guardado, a union leader for hotel and airport workers at Unite Here, will represent District 5 in west Phoenix. Her parents are Mexican immigrants and she was raised in California.
Both Guardado and Garcia were joined by their partners and two children on the stage of the Orpheum Theater to be officially inducted into the Phoenix City Council. Guardado’s term expires in November 2020, and Garcia’s in November 2022.
During the swearing ceremony, Garcia placed his left palm on a paperback copy of the Chicano history book “Occupied America” by Rodolfo Acuña, who co-founded the Chicano and Chicana Studies Department at the California State University at Northridge in 1969.
“Occupied America” was among the books that were banned by Tom Horne — who was the state’s superintendent of public instruction and later attorney general — as part of the crackdown on the Mexican-American studies program in the Tucson Unified School District in 2011. Garcia was born in Mexico and raised in Tucson. He founded Puente Human Rights Movement, a prominent immigrant-rights group, in 2007.
Garcia’s District 8 covers the city’s south side and parts of central Phoenix and Laveen.
“50 years in the making”
Guardado and Garcia are newcomers to elected office and bring to the council a shared experience in mobilizing immigrant and working class communities.
Their inauguration ceremony was emotional and electric, with cultural performances by Mariachi Corazon del Valle and dance groups Ballet Folklórico Fiesta Mexicana and Folklórico Itzamatul del Valle del Sol.
When Guardado and Garcia walked on stage with the rest of the Phoenix councilmembers at the start of the ceremony, the crowd cheered and welcomed them with a standing ovation.
Some clapped and whooped, and others stood with their fists raised in the air in excitement.
The crowd chanted, “Sí se puede! Sí se puede!” (Yes we can. Yes we can.)
Elaborate gilded carvings framed the stage of the historic theatre.
As a part of the invocation, state Rep. Athena Salman and California Sen. Maria Elena Durazo read a prayer written by farmworker leader and civil rights figure Cesar Chavez. Durazo said she’s known Guardado since she was a housekeeper at a California hotel, and Salman worked with Guardado when the legislator was a hotel worker.
“Please stand with us as we invoke the spirit of those farm workers and of all who fight for social justice by reading Cesar’s Prayer of the Farm Workers’ Struggle,” Durazo said.
“Show me the suffering of the most miserable so I will know my people’s plight,” they said. “Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life. Help us love those who hate us so we can change the world. Amen.”
Then a young group called Barrio First Fellows from Garcia’s campaign team took the stage. Garcia’s 12-year-old son Chimal stood in the middle, and spoke softly at first.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” he said, beginning a chant commonly repeated in demonstrations. The other 14 youth standing next to him repeated the words joined in unison by many in the crowd. Chimal continued, now louder, “It is our duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
It was a historical moment for those who gathered there — for the campaign teams that beat City Hall insiders, for residents who have dedicated years, if not decades, to shaping local social justice and civil rights movements, and for old and young generations of Latinos in Arizona.
“Now we start a new chapter in making our city a city for everyone,” Mayor Kate Gallego said. “We need and deserve leaders who reflect the very best among our residents, and today we have two such leaders with these new councilmembers.”
During the ceremony, the crowd erupted loudly in cheers and quietly wiped tears.
Garcia said he and Guardado “have ruptured the mold of who usually runs and wins office in this town.”
“I don’t think we were supposed to be here,” he said. “I wasn’t supposed to be here.”
Garcia continued with a pledge.
“We will stand with the same fist in the air against violence towards our communities. We will fight against criminalization and deportation,” he said. “But we will also strengthen community with an open hand to build together and to ensure that the city of Phoenix is a welcoming place for all. A place that cares about its people and does what it should to better the quality of life of all residents.”
Guardado said she will draw inspiration in the workers and young people she has mentored and advocated for as part of the union.
“We have to go back to basics,” Guardado said. “I know first-hand the challenges that residents of low-income communities face: We need to fix the lights, we need to clean up our alleys, we need to make sure our streets, our parks, our neighborhoods are safe, accessible and welcoming.”
After Guardado took her oath of office, and again when the ceremony ended, the crowd clapped in what’s known as the unity clap. It was a tool organizers used to bridge communication and show unity between Mexican and Filipino farm workers who didn’t speak the same language but went on strike together in the 1960s.
Activist Marisa Franco, who gave closing remarks during the ceremony, said Guardado and Garcia are “unlikely political protagonists.”
“That is precisely what we need,” Franco said. “Fresh perspectives and an understanding of the challenges working people face in this city.”
After the inauguration ceremony, a reception was held at the City Hall atrium.
An excited Daniel Ortega, a lawyer and longtime activist, shared the perspective of what Guardado’s and Garcia’s place in the city council means for Latino communities.
“When we started the Chicano Movement, this is what it was about,” Ortega said. “It’s been 50 years in the making.”
He celebrated that both Guardado and Garcia aren’t softening their cultural identities or watering down the issues that matter to underrepresented communities.
“They are unapologetic about who we are, and what we stand for…. We used to hide from that,” Ortega said.
During the ceremony, Garcia introduced his District 8 staff: Cymone Bolding, who founded Our Voices Our Vote, a civic engagement organization focused on outreach to African-American communities; Jacqueline Garcia, who was his campaign manager; and Adriana Garcia Maximiliano, who has recruited and trained progressive candidates with the group New American Leaders.
“We are aware that being courageous and making tough decisions define what leadership truly is,” Bolding said.
Guardado said her chief of staff is Andrew Wunder, a political consultant and campaign strategist. Her colleague at Unite Here, Michael Angulo, will also be on her District 5 staff.
The ceremony at the Orpheum ended with a gesture by the four Latino councilmembers. Laura Pastor, Michael Nowakowski, Guardado and Garcia stood in a line facing the audience, joined hands and lifted them.
The crowd then chanted, “Sí se pudo! Sí se pudo!” (Yes we did. Yes we did)