Phoenix and Tucson are about 120 miles apart. With the newly passed law, SB1070, targeting undocumented workers in the state of Arizona, they might just as well be a thousand miles apart. I live just about exactly half way between the two cities, so I’ve been thinking about why some of the residents of Phoenix and Tucson have reacted so differently to this law that has attracted so much attention locally and across the United States and around the world.
In a most generalized way, I’ve come to the conclusion that Phoenix represents a fearful and dying culture of a power elite, which is mostly Caucasian or Anglo, that is clinging to an image of a city and a culture that never quite looked like the picture imagined by the millions of recent arrivals to the nirvana of the desert. Phoenix after World War II filled with people from just about everywhere in the United States. For more than five decades, the demographic of mobile Americans migrating to Phoenix was mostly that of Protestant, Anglo people and their families moving to a warmer climate, new opportunities, and another chance to succeed or fail like they did in places like Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The Phoenix metro area grew from just 65,000 people in 1950 to almost 4.5 million by 2000. Today, Anglos make up nearly 71 percent of the population. Very few people are native born to Phoenix. Go to any public event in Phoenix and people start their conversations with, “where are you from?” At a recent Diamondbacks baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, more fans were rooting for the Cubs than the hometown team with more blue in the stadium than the Diamondback’s Sedona Red.
The influx of a large Anglo population brought with them to Phoenix a cultural vision of mid-western and northern cities and towns with grass lawns, oak trees, sidewalks, swimming pools, and the American dream. Of course, every house would have air conditioning, too. The vision included a system of governing the city and the state from mostly mid-western, conservative values and the de facto establishment of Anglos controlling politics. Anglo majorities in a conservative, Republican Party have controlled Arizona and Phoenix almost from the beginning of statehood in 1912. Today, the Republican Party has sizable majorities in both houses of the legislature and a Republican Governor.
Segregation of the races was the law of the state until the 1960’s with separate schools the norm. It wasn’t, however, a southern state with Jim Crow rules, but Anglo control of society in Phoenix was a major part of the political and economic culture. In 1993 Arizona became the last state to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr., as an authentic American worthy of a national holiday. It took a national boycott of Arizona to convince state leaders to accept this tribute to the most famous American civil rights leader.
The Anglo population wasn’t the only segment of the population growing in leaps and bounds in Phoenix. Another outside group, namely Mexican nationals, was seeking work and new opportunities for themselves and their families. Tens of thousands of Mexicans poured into the Phoenix area after 1940. The Mexican population brought with them strong family values, strong work ethics, Catholicism, and the Spanish language.
The two groups mostly tolerated each other with some assimilation for second and third generation Arizonans during the first four decades after World War II. At the same time, Phoenix began to suffer from boom and bust economic cycles with the first of several major housing busts in the 1980’s and the most recent in 2007. Majority politicians then and now looked around for a scapegoat for their economic woes. It became easy to point fingers at Mexican nationals. Job losses were often blamed on the Mexicans as foreign nationals. Then, the cry went out that the border was insecure and Mexicans had to be kept out of the country if the economy and the political balance, such as it was, was to be restored. This power struggle to maintain control of the values and policies of Arizona, and especially Phoenix, culminated in this week’s newest law, SB1070, a bill described by many as legitimizing profiling and demonizing Hispanics.
Tucson, the second largest city in Arizona, differs considerably from Phoenix. First, Tucson was a Spanish and then a Mexican pueblo and economic outpost for more than two hundred years before Arizona became a territory of the United States in 1853, albeit small and of little economic impact on Mexico compared to, say, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Hispanic families have lived in Tucson for all of its history, unlike Phoenix that grew out of the desert by Anglo-Saxons only in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Tucson is much closer to the Mexican border with direct routes into the state of Sonora to the south only 60 miles away. There are no freeways between Phoenix and Mexico. Commercial relations between Nogales in Sonora and Tucson in Arizona have existed for a very long time. Spanish and Mexican architecture dominates the landscape, which is hilly and covered with natural vegetation. It’s hard to find grass growing in the front yards of Tucsonians, while cactus and desert fauna are bountiful. The skyline of Tucson until recently was filled with Spanish and Mexican architecture, including many Catholic churches, including the oldest Catholic church in the US, Mission San Xavier del Bac, founded in the late 1600’s. The population growth of Tucson was much slower than Phoenix and included migration from other southwest states and Mexico. The Anglo population of Tucson is about fifty percent and the Hispanic population at about forty percent today. The assimilation of whites and Hispanics has been slow and even while Phoenix doesn’t trend as well toward assimilation. It’s estimated that Mexican citizens shopping in Tucson spend more than a billion dollars a year in the city of about 500,000 people. The metro area of Tucson has a reported population of about one million people. Mexican license plates are a lot more in evidence than in Phoenix.
When visiting Tucson one doesn’t have the feeling that there is a power struggle going on for the control of politics and economics like there is in Phoenix. The citizens and non-citizens alike of Tucson are not trying to live in the dream of a mid-western paradise, real or imagined, slipping away from them as is happening in Phoenix. They seem to understand their history as “borderland” fusion at work. Phoenicians don’t view themselves as a part of the “borderland” concept from literature and popular culture like that of Tucson.
So, when you see the sheriff of Maricopa (Phoenix) conducting neighborhood raids and sweeps looking for “illegal aliens” and the sheriff of Pima (Tucson) opposing SB1070 and saying he will not comply with the new law until it’s on the books in three more months, their respective cultural views on race relations, economic and political control are, to say the least, significantly different. The US Representative from Tucson, Raul Grijalva, has been very outspoken against SB1070, while US Senators Kyl and McCain, both of Phoenix, are all in favor of this law to “close the border” and subject people to “show me your papers” legislation. Meanwhile the Republican Governor, Jan Brewer, from Phoenix, on April 30 said illegal immigrants are “terrorism attacks” on Arizona and the nation. These positions and statements point out as much about the cultural views of the two cities as about immigration policy itself.
Don’t misinterpret these generalizations to suggest that there is consensus on each view in each city. There are differing viewpoints on the new law in both cities. There remain significant problems in Arizona as the drug wars (mostly brought on by consumption issues in the US), common violence, and significant cultural differences exist. However, history has set the two cities apart with two world views and, from my perspective, two distinctive local cultures. How this will play out in the years to come is very uncertain with the implementation of immigration reform movements here in Arizona and on the national stage. Will control at all costs (the Phoenix view) win out or will the fusion and appreciation of different cultures (the Tucson view) carry the day into the rest of the twenty-first century America?