SAN DIEGO — History was made in San Diego nearly a year ago when Mayor Todd Gloria was elected to lead the city.
As the first openly gay person of color in the city to hold the office, the mayor knows he’s representing more than just voters. Gloria told FOX 5 that he takes great pride in his mixed heritage, including a very instrumental Puerto Rican grandmother.
“Looking like this in San Diego with this last name, despite being mixed heritage, I’ve always been read as Latino,” Gloria said. “And my grandmother is Puerto Rican, and so that’s not incorrect, but it is not necessarily a full picture of who I am.”
Gloria grew up in a Filipino, Native American and Puerto Rican household in Clairemont with his parents and older brother, not too far away from his school Hawthorne Elementary.
Known as “Mama G,” Gloria’s mom is known for feeding his friends — only now, it’s the mayor’s entourage.
“My mom makes an amazing chorizo breakfast, which is definitely worth it that she picked up from my grandmother,” he said.
His first elected office was at Madison High School as student body president. However, he found his voice at the University of San Diego, where the shy kid became an activist among other things.
“My grandmother actually lives just in the canyon below the university and so I remember growing up and sitting in her front yard and she’d say, ‘You’re going to go to school there one day,’” Gloria said. “I think it was because she wanted me to come home and have lunch with her, but she was prophetic.”
Gloria added that going to the school was not a given.
“No one in our family had gone before,” he said. “It was something about being able to see it from her front yard that made it more real.”
What was also real was that he was different from a lot of his peers on campus, enduring harassment for both the color of his skin and his sexual orientation.
“As on openly LGBTQ person in the mid-1990s at a Catholic University, this was an interesting place to navigate and I think the person I was in high school would have been very quiet, would’ve been very compliant, don’t make waves, get straight A’s. I made a conscious decision on this campus to say, you know, I want other students to have a better experience than I’ve had.”
The proud alum wanted to share his story from the place that was so pivotal in shaping him. Gloria says he spent a lot of time at the university’s library because failure was not an option.
On scholarship, he says too many people were depending on him to succeed — a familiar weight he also carries with him as the first mayor of color in San Diego.
Gloria said he was very committed to school and work. When asked what he did for fun, Gloria answered jokingly, “I’m not a fun person.”
The mayor says he strives for a more balanced life now, which resulted in a new addition to the family this year, with his long-time partner.
“We got a pandemic dog like everyone else,” he said. “That has been life-changing and great.”
He says he uses walks with his pooch “Diego” not so much to relax, but to log potholes and other issues on city streets. It’s never far from his mind that he’s paving more than just roads when he’s walking around as mayor to communities of color.
“I recognize I’m doing it on behalf of communities that have historically been shut out of city hall,” Gloria said. “And I’m doing it knowing that if there was a role model like me when I was a boy, I know how powerful that would have been and I don’t want to mess up,”
Mayor Gloria says he doesn’t plan to have children of his own, but thinks often about the signals kids are getting, especially Latinos.
“My hope, really for any child, but particularly Latino children who may get those messages from the community,” he said. “They are not explicit, but if you haven’t seen people in these positions, if you haven’t seen these stories told, if it’s not been widely kind of part of mainstream society, you might believe there’s something less about you.”
As someone who is a part of the Latino community, Gloria says it’s important to him to be a good role model.
“The responsibility is that you are the first, but you are not the last,” he said. “That you do a job so well, you leave the door open for others to follow.”