I just spent 3 weeks in Tucson, AZ visiting a friend. The good liberal that I am, I was hesitant to even think about a trip to Arizona now in the middle of a national controversy and travel boycott about a racial profiling law couched in anti-immigrant clothes (as if that makes it okay) going into affect there in July.
We have our own problems in WI with new anti-immigrant laws being proposed, so even the thought of leaving in the middle of this new mess in the legislature had me personally nervous, but curiosity killed the cat and I'm no pussy... cat, so the offer to go see for myself What's the Matter with Arizona? proved too enticing and I took my friend up on the invitation.
First of all, Tucson in summer is Hell. The Sonoran Desert in the middle of the summer is heat that cannot be described to a human who has never experienced it. Most of my days were spent running from air conditioning to the swimming pool to air conditioning to air conditioning and back to the pool, etc with an occasional STUNningly beautiful trip up 10,000 feet Mount Lemmon to enjoy the cool air (90) and light breeze (with more intense sun...). I made the mistake one day of thinking to myself "Walgreens is only a short walk (less than half a mile), think I'll go get a soda". Only to find myself in scorching hot sun and 107 degree heat gasping for air by the time I got there, skin burned and exhausted... My friend had to pick me up to get me home. Lol!
I mention the pool because it was there that I began to notice perfectly sweet rational and even liberal people I really liked turn into raving irrational racist lunatics before my eyes whenever their minds turned to any thoughts about immigrants. Actually in AZ these normal nice people would call them "those damn immigrants". Even a random statement like "My husband had to go to the ER last week.". Would turn into a rant about it taking 3 hours to be seen because "those damn immigrants swarm the place in groups and its so busy WE can't be seen by a doctor."
On the plane down I met a lovely woman who was a doctor in Phoenix. When I mentioned I needed a simple medical procedure that any doctor could do, she cautiously said "Well whatever you do, DON'T go to an ER anywhere in AZ, they're horrible and you'll never get seen for something that simple.". The tone made me double take her with a questioning look and clearly more aware of her inability to SAY what she meant, she said "Well, you know with all the uninsured in AZ, EVERYONE (said with almost a wink) on the planet ends up there."
At the time I didn't understand, but my pool conversation gave me a new clarity on the issue...
Back at the pool my new friend whom I already really liked went on... I was too stunned to speak... Especially in a language that I was unfamiliar with (hate speech), and a place I didn't know...
"Well, you know, THEY just come here with no money and sick and the doctors don't have a choice... And they bring all these sick kids in and it just clogs up the system...". Still speechless, I said nothing (rare for me), but at this point I think I was supposed to voice some agreement about what a "problem those damn immigrants are...", but not having any and shocked by the callousness of wanting to deny sick children medical attention, I stayed silent. Not hearing what must be some standard response in agreement by fellow Arizonans, the East Coast raised woman stopped for a minute as if she had for the first time actually listened to what she was saying and said, "Well, of COURSE an ER is based on need first and sick children should always have the right to be seen by a doctor, its just that there's SO many of THEM, that US Americans can't even use our OWN hospitals!"
This was a perfectly lovely, sweet, rational woman raised on the East Coast who stated without prompting she'd voted for Obama, who'd lost her mind over "those damn immigrants".
So next incident was a woman who lived next to my friend who was a tiny, but tough old broad :), working in a local hotel in Tucson. Out of the blue she's walking into her apartment and says hello to me. Nice woman, kind and generous and friendly to all her neighbors regardless of race. Next thing I know she goes on a rant about "those damn immigrants" and how they can't speak English and yet somehow get jobs at the hotel and she's giving them instructions they can't understand and they act like they do and then get it wrong. She would say things like "There's this one woman, Maria I think is her name, she's actually a nice lady, but can't speak a word of English and I can't for the life of me figure out how she got an AZ drivers license. How does she read the street signs? What's wrong with these people... Getting licenses like that and can't even speak English".
Then she went even farther, "Most people think its just the Mexicans that are causing problems, but at the hotel, we have AFRICAN immigrants and KOREAN immigrants and they don't speak English either! All these Americans out of work and all they do is hire all these immigrants! They have this Mexican woman at Walmart who doesn't speak a word of English.".
I interrupted her here saying "Well, considering this is Tucson, that may not be a bad business decision". She nodded, kind of, and went on and on about the Korean woman at the hotel ("Nice lady, but why does she have a job and nice American kids don't"). It didn't stop there... Over and over I was either accosted with this new language of hate or over heard it.
What's amazing to me is we were only one hour from an artificial border drawn by the Spanish and English invaders on this land a hundred years ago. The people who lived on this land were neither Spanish nor English and the only difference between them and us is which invading country spent more time occupying what side of that artificial border. The Mexicans are really Native Americans for the most part. Their land invaded, their culture co-opted and even their language changed. They had no border between these lands and they moved freely before Europeans started drawing lines. So here these INVADERS come in, speaking different languages and stop on Native American lands and make it so no one understands anyone anymore and draw artificial lines and build cities in endangered deserts and then have the NERVE to tell them THEY are the "immigrants" who are a nuisance like pests.
More than 50% of Tucson is Latino by my visual estimate. Spanish is the main language spoken by most residents (no kidding, the Spanish settled there...). All signs are in Spanish and English no matter where you go. The Mexican food is to die for... The Latino community IS Tucson. For Americans from all over the nation to have invaded Arizona "because the dry heat is healthy" and then turn around and be surprised that there are a lot of Mexicans an hour from Mexico is ludicrous!!!
As my friend from Tucson says, "Welcome to Tucson, I warned you..."
(note, post reformatted 8/4/10)