In 1999, Padilla was elected to the City Council at age 26 representing parts of the northeast Valley. Two days later, his mother became a U.S. citizen in a ceremony at the convention center, joining his father, who had earned his citizenship in 1998.
Padilla, now 33, is the youngest member of the council and was three times elected its president. His next stop could be the state Senate.
But he has a formidable opponent for the Democratic nomination for the 20th District seat in Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando), whose parents immigrated from Mexico in 1970 and also struggled to build a better life.
The Reyes Family
Anyone who watches council meetings knows that Ed Reyes frames most issues -- from planning to policing to the price of cable television -- in terms of how they will affect the poor in his mostly Latino district, west of downtown and part of northeast L.A.
He is not a dour man. But when he is asked to recount his childhood, it is clear that some of the memories nearest the surface are the hard ones.
His father, Luis, was born in Denver, the son of a Mexican immigrant who worked for U.S. railroads. At age 3, Luis Ramos Reyes moved back to Mexico.
He met his wife, Eustolia, in Mexico City and they returned north in the mid-1950s; she had to live in Tijuana for two years waiting for her papers. They had seven children; Ed Reyes was the first born in the U.S.
Reyes' parents, like their peers, received little in the way of formal education. In the U.S., the councilman remembers, they tried to assimilate with a certain "humbleness."
He has sharp memories. They include his father's hands, swollen from working in a freezer at the meatpacking plant that made Dodger Dogs, and his mother in the kitchen of their Cypress Park home before dawn, making tortillas.
Proud of their contributions, he also saw a dark side in the form of discrimination. Reyes, 47, can recall being mocked for not being able to recite the alphabet in English in first grade and his father suffering a similar fate at work, mocked by the foreman.
"I remember my parents would make us step aside for a well-dressed white person," Reyes said. "To see all the people come out for the marches was a way of shedding that and saying we have as much rights as anyone."
Last Monday, on the day when hundreds of thousands marched in L.A. in support of immigrants' rights, Reyes knew exactly what to do: He and his family put on T-shirts labeled "Team Reyes" and hit the streets.
The Huizar Family
Jose Huizar was born on a ranch near the mountain town of Jerez in Zacatecas, in northern Mexico. His family lived in a three-room house with no plumbing or electricity.
"We didn't own it. We were borrowing it," Huizar said. "People would lend out their homes. Otherwise they wouldn't be maintained, and it just kind of flowed back into the earth."
His father, Simon, joined a U.S. government program to supply American farmers with laborers. He traveled the southwestern states picking crops, and, in the early 1970s -- when Huizar was 3 -- the family landed in Boyle Heights. Simon Huizar found work as a machinist; his wife Isidra worked on the assembly line at a meatpacking plant.
Jose Huizar hit a rough patch in middle school and was once kicked out for fighting. But he righted himself with the help of a mentor. He went on to UC Berkeley, to Princeton for graduate school and finally to UCLA's law school. He won election to the Los Angeles Board of Education in 2001 and, last fall, captured a seat on the council to replace Antonio Villaraigosa, representing a huge swath of east and northwest L.A.
Last Monday, the day of the latest marches, Huizar was stuck in a daylong hearing on the city's budget. The demonstration outside the building was loud, and Huizar looked like a man with ants in his pants. At lunch, he finally had his chance to wade into the crowd.
"What really hit me about the marches is that I think about what my life would be like if I hadn't left Mexico," said Huizar, 37. "I still have some family back there. These guys go out to work each and every day in a tough climate tending to cows, picking asparagus and peaches.
"They work hard and still live in poverty. And that could have been me."