Arizona 2010: Two Cities – Two Views! An Essay by eProf2 to The Back Channel Blog


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?



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43 responses to “Arizona 2010: Two Cities – Two Views! An Essay by eProf2 to The Back Channel Blog

  1. Morning peeps,
    Doots from the last thread, I don’t know if tomato juice works, I used a mix of peroxide, baking soda, & dish detergent. Works great.

  2. Thanks for the essay eProf, I really don’t know much about Az so your piece is helpful in understanding what’s going on in your neck of the woods.

  3. dooty

    very nice essay eprof2 very informative.

  4. nannymm

    Good morning, BC’ers. It’s good to be back! I’ve missed you all!
    eProf, thanks for this very informative post. I’ve always preferred Tuscon to Phoenix, as I love the architecture, the natural look of the city, and the people. Phoenix has always had a somewhat fake or contrived feel to it. Your description and explanation puts it into context.

  5. nannymm

    Yup, the doc says I’m going to make it. But I still feel really tired and weak. And I have enough appointments with specialists to keep me busy for weeks. I’m starting to feel really old….

  6. eprof2

    Nice to see you, Nanny. I hope the medical attention brings you back to your old self really soon. We need your voice here and elsewhere.

  7. nannymm

    Thanks, eprof. 🙂

  8. Lynn Redgrave has passed away.

  9. BTW eProf which is the more “happening” of the two cities? I would suspect Tucson, it sounds like it’s got a much better vibe.

  10. nannymm

    Thanks, dnd. I’m trying.

  11. dooty

    found this on Kos’s site with regard to the rancher’s death in March. Kos is stating this:

    ” The killing of a Southern Arizona rancher that sparked an outcry to secure the border was not random, and investigators are focusing on an American suspect, the Arizona Daily Star has learned.

    High-ranking government officials with credible information spoke to the Star, citing a desire to quell the fury over illegal immigration and drug smuggling set off by the shooting death of longtime rancher Robert Krentz on March 27.

    They said Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever is investigating a person in the United States, not in Mexico, in connection with the shooting.”

    Interesting? I think so.

  12. eprof2

    Wow, that would be some development if true, Dooty! I’ve been saying all along how would it have been possible for an investigator to track shoe marks for twenty miles to the Mexican border? The concept stretches credulity to the limit. I’ll certainly watch for more on this story. Thanks.

  13. eprof2

    Thanks, Dooty!

  14. eprof2

    To answer Brian’s question from earlier: We like both cities equally well. We are drawn to Phoenix by the fact that it’s ten miles closer to us. Between our home and Phoenix is open Native American reservation land where we can travel 80-85 to get there in about thirty minutes. Plus, the airport is closer and the air fares are cheaper than going through Tucson. Being much larger in size, too, gives us more choices for entertainment and dining. For pure asthetics, Tucson has to much better.

  15. TempeBev

    eprof2 – your thread is an excellent summary of the history of the difference between Phoenix and Tucson. Very fair description of each.

    As you state, there are very few AZ natives. My husband and I are 2. We were born in Phx 67 yrs ago. We have always lived in either Phx or Tempe.

    My brother attended the U of A, and my hubby’s aunts lived in Tucson. His sister was a nun assigned to a Tucson church. We have made many trips down the freeway and also even before the freeway was there, so we are very familiar with the differences.

    Yes there is a different culture in each city, not just the demographics. There has always been a university rivalry. Tucson got the university and medical school, Phx got the capitol. My father, who was first VP of ASU, was very involved in the project to make ASC into ASU many years ago.

    I consider Phx a big city – Tucson a small big city. In my view, the differences are many. I personally have never liked Tucson. You have the advantage of being in CG – you can choose which city to do your shopping that is unavailable in CG. I am a “valley of the sun” fan.

    As far as moving MLB training to Tucson, there isn’t the population to support it. The last team to train there is gone as of this past spring. As we all know, spring training is BIG Business.

    There’s one good thing about living in Arizona, besides no hurricanes, big time flooding, freezing weather, major earthquakes etc. There is the Phx area, the Tucson area, or in between, depending on your personal likes or dislikes. Of course we could have a summer home in Flagstaff, but we don’t!!!

  16. eprof2

    Bev, I’ve been waiting all day for you to jump in here. Thanks for your comments as they further illuminate my points.

    My wife is a native Arizonan, born 65 years ago last month. Not so for me as I’ve only been coming to AZ for the last 23 years and the last six as a resident. This is a beautiful state with such geographic diversity it can take your breath away. Just read any issue of Arizona Highways.

    I do, however, have huge problems with our current state government run by right wing Republicans who are hell-bent on destroying any concept of the “borderlands” and the fusion of two cultures. To them, it’s all black and white and no room for human diversity. SB1070 is surely going to divide us instead of unite us as human beings.

    Again, thanks for jumping in today.

  17. TempeBev

    I’m glad you were waiting for me, and very glad to help.

    I also have big problems with our state government as you describe. I have a friend who works in the upper floors of the capitol. She was amazed that Jan had the balls to sign the bill.

    I’m sure you read the front page of the AZ Rep yesterday. I’m still holding out for McC over JD. I did read there is a Dem candidate for Senate – think he’s from Tucson? I think the state is already divided and I’m not sure what it will take to unite us as AZ residents, and also as you say human beings. I’m not religious, but if I were, I think God would have a hard time on this issue.

  18. TempeBev

    PS to eprof2 – we still have to meet at Chandler Mall sometime.

  19. Bev which city are you closer to?

  20. eprof2

    You’re right, Bev. We’ve been putting off our get together too long. I have your email address and I’ll send along some dates.

    My friend, the mayor of Eloy, went to the Biden Democratic dinner on Saturday. So, I asked if a candidate for the US Senate had been introduced. “No, not yet” was his response. I’m hoping there is a viable Democrat running, especially if McCain should lose the primary and decide, ala Florida, that he would like to run as an Independent, thereby splitting the vote three ways. Now, that would make for a whole new ballgame!

  21. Now isn’t that an interesting thought, McCain running as in independent. Think about it, the party’s nominee unable to secure able to secure his party’s nomination for his senatorial re-election bid. It makes me giddy!

  22. eprof2

    Who would have thought that Governor Crist and, now possibly, John McCain would be ousted by the extreme right wing of their party.

    People forget that Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton each won the presidency because of third party, Independent candidates who split, yes, the Republican Party.

    This fall could be a wild and wooly ride to a new Congress!

  23. TempeBev

    Brian, I am about 5 miles from Phoenix – however buildings are all the way in between.

  24. So it is fair for me to assume that the fact that Miss, Kentucky, and Tenn are all dealing with floods right now that’s it’s god’s vengeance for them voting such dumb asses to high office?

  25. tonyb39

    Thanks so much for your post! terrific reading and very informative.Until i read your post i knew almost nothing about Arizona…

    So glad your better!

    Hello everyone else…

  26. Eprof,

    Excellent insights into the political framework of Arizona. Thank you. I’ve lived briefly in both Phoenix and Tucson and each has its attractions. I’m with Bev in thinking Flagstaff is the place to be.

  27. Hi Jamie, how you been? well I hope.

  28. Breaking News Alert
    The New York Times
    Tue, May 04, 2010 — 12:17 AM ET

    U.S. Arrests Connecticut Man in Times Square Bomb Plot

    Federal agents and police detectives Monday night arrested a
    Connecticut man, a naturalized United States citizen from
    Pakistan, in connection with the failed Times Square car
    bombing on Saturday night, a person briefed on the
    investigation said.

    Fast work!

  29. TempeBev

    Yes, God works in mysterious ways.

  30. eprof2

    A great post, Dooty. Texas seems to be more concerned about human rights than does Arizona. Thanks for posting this story.

  31. Times Square bombing arrest allows GOP to revive ‘Miranda’ debate

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), appearing on Don Imus’s morning talk show, came out hard against affording Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen, his constitutional rights.

    “Obviously that would be a serious mistake … at least until we find out as much information we have,” McCain said during an appearance on “Imus in the Morning” when asked whether the suspect, 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan, should be given his constitutional rights.

    “Don’t give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about,” McCain added.

    • dnd

      It’s fascinating to see pol’s and pundits claim that foreigners on U.S. soil do not enjoy rights afforded by the Constitution. They are either ignorant or deceitful. Given that they are pols and pundits, it could be either, or both 😉

  32. dooty

    The feds did Marinda him and then he waived the rights. He also has continued to talk. So much for that GOP argument.

  33. TempeBev

    Dooty – Texas has it over AZ! No wonder they’re the bigger state.

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