La Otra Arizona: Our Migratory Border, II

La Otra Arizona: Our Migratory Border, Part II (Guadalupe-Hidalgo)

ublished in The Noise, Fall 2012

There’s no getting around it: Arizona was once part of Mexico. Together with the looming water shortages, it is the inconvenient truth that is ever-present in Arizona politics. That which we don’t want to talk about and is yet omnipresent––making us either  uncomfortable or resentful, but always lending just the right amount of irony to the anti-immigration rhetoric spewed by state politicians. 

But that was then, they say, this is now. What’s the big deal? 

The Deal is that the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 did more to shape the destiny of North America than any single incident since the landing of Columbus. Consciously or not, we’re still struggling to come to terms with its consequences. 

The war, and specifically the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that followed it, is the key moment in the U.S.’s rise to superpower status––or an early victory of budding U.S. imperialism, depending on which vocabulary you’d prefer to use. 

Oh, and the majority of what was later to become Arizona was won by the United States during the conflict. The borders of Mexican states and indigenous societies that had crisscrossed the territory were suddenly erased from the map. With the stroke of a pen in a distant capital city, Arizona was on the way to becoming the political entity that we know today. 

Interesting, then, that the war registers as barely a blip on the historical radar of the U.S. populace, and hardly more than that here in Arizona. Meanwhile, in Mexico, it’s a different story. The First American Intervention––as the conflict is also known––factors hugely in national history, patriotic legends, and self-image. That contrast alone is telling, but there’s much more to be learned about ourselves and our state from even a few of the anecdotes from 1847.

Not that there’s room here to fully address the history. Entire books can––and have––been written on the subject. Instead, we’ll look at a few details that are particularly relevant to our story of the malleable, migratory and often blurry borders that outline Arizona. 

Though California and Texas were well-known to citizens of the U.S. in the 1840’s, the term New Mexico barely factored into the national consciousness, and Arizona not at all. The name which we have grown to know and love was then used only to describe a small region southeast of Nogales, and its etymology is a source of debate. Indeed, the winning of Arizona was incidental in the push to own the coast of California, fueled and justified by the spiritual-cum-political doctrine of Manifest Destiny. (See part I of this LOA series)

The inexact nature of borders had everything to do with the beginning of the Mexican-American War. Texas had been a proxy in the U.S.-Mexico conflict since the moment that the latter country gained independence, and its southern limit a matter of dispute. The border was literally in two different places at once, depending on which country you asked. 

The U.S. President Polk moved troops into the area claimed by Mexico in 1845, and soon decried Mexican aggression when shots broke out early the following year. It was an eery foreshadowing of the justifications for later U.S. wars––think Gulf of Tonkin or weapons of mass destruction.

By March 1847 General Winfield Scott was making the first major amphibious assault in U.S. military history on the Mexican port of Veracruz, and from there leading the march to Mexico City. Interestingly, this was nearly the exact route taken a few centuries earlier by the conquistador Hernán Cortés in his invasion of Mexico on behalf of a growing empire. Scott advanced in a bloody campaign marked by widespread disease and mass desertions of soldiers from both sides, but was victorious and officially occupied Mexico City for the U.S. for nearly six months. If a map had been drawn of U.S. territory then, what would it have looked like? 

The terms of Guadalupe-Hidalgo were negotiated while the autocratic Mexican President Santa Anna had a gun to his head (almost literally). Mexico would turn over more than half of its territory to the U.S. in exchange for $15 million dollars. By paying for the territory, the U.S. was able to call the “Mexican Cession” a purchase rather than a conquest and thus assuage its conscience. Not that any money actually exchanged hands, though––the $15 million was simply applied against the enormous debt that Mexico owed to the U.S. at the time. 

Conveniently, the year after California became part of the U.S., giant gold deposits were discovered there. This jumpstarted the first push of U.S. citizens into their new territory, an estimated 300,000 people total. In only first five years of the gold rush, 370 tons of the metal was extracted––that’s roughly $668 million in 1854 dollars or more than $16 billion in 2010 dollars. 

So you could say the U.S. got a good deal. And that’s the crux of Guadalupe-Hidalgo’s relevance today. The enormous natural wealth of western North America is what shot the young United States onto the world stage as a major power. 

It is the same phenomena that had transformed Europe into a globally dominant force centuries before, when the Spanish took the vast gold works of the conquered indigenous empires, melted them down into ingots and shipped them across the Atlantic.

It’s not a stretch to say then that the first world was created thanks to the wealth of las Américas. 

And boom. Manifest Destiny manifested, right? Sea-to-shining-sea? With its appetite for expansionism satiated, the U.S. could relax into its continental crib, no more need for interventions or purchases… right?

Our story of borders-on-the-march continues next month, just south of Arizona’s Gila River. 


For further reading:
Officer, James E. Hispanic Arizona, 1536-1856, 1987.
Wagoner, Jay J. Early Arizona: Prehistory to Civil War, 1975.
Zinn, Howard. “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God.” A People’s History of the United States, 1980.


La Otra Arizona: Our Migratory Border, Part III

La Otra Arizona: Our Migratory Border, Part III (Gadsden)

Published in The Noise, Fall 2012

We live in a time when most talk of the border between Mexico and the United States revolves around how best to fortify it. A higher wall? A dual-wall system a-la Palestine? A “virtual fence” of cameras and motion detectors? But what about environmental impact? The humanitarian costs? 

Border fortifications are a political chess piece, bandied out at opportune moments by purveyors of fear-motivated politics. John McCain’s last reelection campaign prominently featured a television commercial which depicted the incumbent senator walking near Nogales with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. Filmed in gritty, high-contrast close ups, the ad’s dialog is precious:

McCain: “Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder.”

Babeu: “We’re outmanned. With all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona.” 

McCain: “Have we got the right plan?”

Babeu: “Plan’s perfect. We bring troops, local and county law enforcement together.”

McCain: “And complete the danged fence.”

Babeu: “It’ll work this time. Senator, you’re one of us.”

We’ll set aside for a moment the disingenuous rhetorical connection made between “illegals” and violent crime. We’ll even disregard the fact that now Mr. Babeu is under investigation for allegedly using his positional power to leverage sex and silence from at least one Mexican lover. All these are symptoms of a wider moral corruption and simplification of context when it comes to discussing the border. Let’s dig deeper––even if maybe it might work this time, do we know where to build the danged fence?

Under the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Arizona ended at the Gila river, just south of modern Phoenix. (See part II of this LOA series.) It was a convenient natural demarcation, the Gila being one of the most important rivers in the area, second only to the mighty Colorado. And yet when driving down I-10 we roll over the sucked-dry river without so much as noticing––where’s the Border Patrol? 

They’re 100 miles south, of course, patrolling a straight line drawn just north of 31º longitude, a line devoid of any natural barriers. Huh?

Throughout this series we’ve taken the long view and watched the borders as they leap, stumble and fight their way across North America and beyond. Far from being a firm, pseudo-geographical limit, the indecisive “U.S. border” moved nearly once a decade for over sixty years. 

This brings us to 1853. How did the border suddenly migrate south from the Gila to its present position? Short answer: by railroad. 

Just a few years after the U.S. invasion and occupation of Mexico in 1848, it became obvious that the bureaucrats who drew up the “Mexican Cession” had made a mistake. They hadn’t taken enough territory. Sure, Mexico had just “sold” some 55% of its land for a song, but there still wasn’t enough room for the U.S. to build an all-weather transcontinental railroad along its new southern edge from sea-to-shining-sea. 

Sure, there were already two other railroad routes that would span the continent, but they had the Rocky Mountains to deal with. For the mid-nineteenth century businessmen-politicians still high on Manifest Destiny, strapping the land down with iron rails was something of a spiritual quest. After all, gold had just been discovered in California. Lots of it. 

So the U.S. brought Mexican President Santa Anna back to the table in Mexico City, sat him down with James Gadsden and set about “negotiating” another land sale. Context is everything here. By and large the Mexican people were furious with Santa Anna for Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The new treaty had to be discussed in secret in order to avoid a popular uprising against the president. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the calls continued for the young country to just avoid future complications and take all of Mexico.

Gadsden––a railroad man, of course––was sent from Washington by President Franklin Pierce with five different offers. One would acquire almost an additional half of Mexico, putting the border somewhere south of Sonora. Another would push the border south of the pueblo of Tucson, and include all of Baja California as well. In the end, the smallest proposal won the day, and the U.S. paid $10 million for the sliver of land from the Mesilla valley in New Mexico to Yuma in eastern Arizona.

Not that either Gadsden nor Santa Anna knew the land they were talking about. The final version of the agreement provided for a bilateral survey expedition to figure out where exactly the border was. 

The Boundary Commission set out through unknown territory, looking to settle the debates that had been raging among surveyors and politicians since Guadalupe-Hidalgo, all of whom had been imagining the line in various places according to differing measurements. It had been nearly a decade since the beginning of the Mexican-American war when the final location of the border was decided upon in 1856.

The point is to keep all this in mind, especially in an election year. Politicians will mention the border in terms of permanence and threat, proposing that more defense contracts might work this time. 

But when studying the history, we realize that what happens on the border rarely begins there. The problems start with the doctrines held in the hearts of both countries, not the consequences found at their edges. 

It follows then that solutions should begin internally as well. Looking at our border, we can choose to see malleability and possibility, opening ourselves up to new, deeper solutions that surely stand a much better chance of working. 


For further reading:
Wagoner, Jay J. Early Arizona: Prehistory to Civil War, 1975.
Zinn, Howard. “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God.” A People’s History of the United States, 1980.

La Otra Arizona: There Was a Time When Water Ran from Faucets

It’s the proverbial gila monster in the room––that thing that everyone knows but nobody wants to talk about. The uncomfortable fact, in plain view: in our lifetime we will see vast water shortages in Arizona. The water is running out. But when exactly will sand flow from the faucet? Nobody can be sure, and many that study the issue have a vested interest in placing the date as far into the future as possible. Complex issues like the unreliability of desert water supplies aren’t a great selling point for real estate, and in a state whose primary industries are tied to constant population growth, common sense is often chided as alarmism.

The general consensus seems to be that after 2025, things are going to begin to get rough. While that date has a far-off, futuristic ring to it, 2025 is only 13 years away. As a recent report from Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy puts it, “Today there are a host of new challenges on the horizon—particularly the horizon after the mid-2020s.” The report, entitled Watering the Sun Corridor: Managing Choices in Arizona’s Megapolitan Area, continues:

… Climate change may further stress an already stretched water supply. Future variability may outstrip the storage systems built to manage the past. Agriculture may disappear. The return of rapid population growth will likely necessitate dramatic changes in lifestyle, particularly the lifestyle of desert dwellers at the high end of the socioeconomic ladder.

The “Sun Corridor” referred to in the report is the coming amalgamation of the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas, expected to connect through three counties and across over 30,000 square miles, forming a megalopolis of nearly eight million people by 2030 and nine million just ten years later in 2040. That’s an 82.5% increase from the 2005 population of the same area, which was then just about five million––scared yet?

While the numbers may be frightening, it doesn’t make much sense to run and hide, to continue to bliss out in our ignorance. Rather, the numbers implore us to get curious––how did we get here? Does the water use in our neighborhoods really reflect our values? Are we content to continue to drive at full speed toward the impending dry desert cliff?

An immensely important exploration of these questions is found in Marc Reisner’s classic Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, which is something like the Fast Food Nation of the West’s water crisis. It is one of those books that should be on a required reading list for anyone interested in moving here from back east. They would quickly learn some important context regarding the Colorado River, one of the protagonists in the West’s water story:

One could almost say, then, that the history of the Colorado River contains a metaphor for our time. One could say that the age of great expectations was inaugurated at Hoover Dam––a fifty-year flowering of hopes when all things appeared possible. And one could say that, amid the salt-encrusted sands of the river’s dried-up delta, we began to founder on the Era of Limits.

The arrival of that Era should come as a surprise to no one. On a planet containing a closed global ecosystem, nothing can grow forever. All natural systems are interconnected through their uses of cyclical rhythms: expansion and contraction, inhalation and exhalation. Only humans have built a society based on the tenet that constant expansion is absolutely necessary for our species’ survival, and that any movement in the opposite direction implies crisis.

Therefore Arizona once again presents itself as a laboratory, a testing ground for what will later happen worldwide, when the fifty-year flowering of our linear system collides with a definite and circular reality. The hypothesis of infinite richness will eventually come face to face with the laws of scarcity––and we’ll have front row seats.

It isn’t any surprise that the guardians of the status quo would read all of this as fear-mongering. For anyone with a vested interest in our civilization’s current course, it is easier to press the gas pedal ever-harder, rather than pausing to consider other routes. Indeed, you be the judge: the more you find yourself alarmed at this analysis, the more likely that it is that you’re standing too close to the problem to be able to see a possible solution.

We could be scared, yes. Or we could decide that instead of clutching ever-harder onto The Way Things Are, we’ll spend that energy moving towards another possible scenario, one in which a single generation’s flowering of industry and ephemeral profit gives way to a generations-long birthing of a wider understanding of what it means to be human.

The impending water shortage is just another product of Arizona’s powerful Irony Industry, the sector dedicated to manufacturing potent juxtapositions and striking contrasts. In this case: the fastest-growing state in the nation is the state with the fewest water reserves. Creatures made of over 70% h2O have decided to use drinking water to flush their toilets. In one generation a desert civilization will use up aquifers that took eons to form, drop by drop percolating through the alluvial soil.

So yes, by all means please flush your toilet less and harvest the rainwater that runs off your roof. Tear up your lawn and embrace the strange and ancient native plants of our tierra. Learn any one of a dozen small habits that save thousands of gallons a year, but don’t think that these alone will avoid the “dramatic changes in lifestyle” coming to a city near you in the late 2020’s.

Do all those things, yes, but do more––help imagine La Otra Arizona, comprised of a culture that understands scarcity as natural and doesn’t expect the infinite. Otherwise, we’ll be left to tell our grandchildren stories that begin there once was a time when water flowed with the turn of a knob…

La Otra Arizona: Of Saguaros and Tumbleweeds

Originally published in The Noise, 2012.

In the Sonoran Desert, no calendar is needed to know that May has turned to June, and that we face a long dry stretch before we can count on tasting the delicious monsoon rains. Across central and southern Arizona the season is marked by the blooming of the saguaro cactus, the plants covered with thousands of the white pedals of our state flower. While many other species such as the palo verde tree have already finished flowering and are set on conserving energy during the dry spell, others such as the saguaro and mesquite defy the conditions through intense displays of their libidos. In fact, the mesquite tree is known to bloom even more intensely during years of drought––creating extra seeds in case the adult plants die of thirst.

It is during their bloom that saguaros have the best chance of catching the attention of the jaded urbanites that live in their midst. Despite its willingness to pose for tourist cameras and to be used as the catch-all symbol of Arizona and indeed the entire southwestern United States, carnegiea gigantea is seldom considered by those who live with it everyday in Tucson and Phoenix.

This is the common fate of many plants-turned-symbols of our area. Consider also the tumbleweed, also known as russian thistle. Despite its ubiquitous appearances as an extra in Hollywood Westerns, the origin story and context of salsola tragus itself is rarely told. First a stowaway on ships carrying grain from eurasia, tragus appeared relatively recently on our continent, being first noticed in South Dakota in the 1880’s.

Though linked in our collective imagination, the saguaro and the tumbleweed are fundamentally different plants. Everything about the saguaro speaks to a certain permanence. Fifty-five years passed before the saguaros in the Tucson Mountains bloomed for the first time, and few sprouted arms before the age of 75. The oldest of these cacti are thought to be over 250 years old––though we wouldn’t know, since our number-counting science hasn’t been here that long.

And though there is no example of absolute permanence, the saguaro certainly lives on a timescale that is other than human. It is curious, then, that we so commonly anthropomorphize them, even at the most basic level: we call the stems arms, and the woody inner structure skeletons that are made of ribs. Across Tucson, every December, many cacti are seen wearing Santa Claus hats.

Even our poets frequently examine the saguaro as if it were human. Consider this excerpt from the poem “Saguaro” by Alison Hawthorne Deming:

If it takes you a hundred years to grow your first arm for how long do your feel the sensation of craving something new?

The Tohono O’odham––those humans who have known the saguaro the longest––know the plant as hash’an and also tell a story of its once being human. They hold the plant at the center of their culture, considering a new year to begin with the “Saguaro Harvest Moon” of late June or early July, when they traditionally live in temporary camps in the saguaro forests, gathering the ripened fruit with long poles fashioned from saguaro ribs.

Meanwhile the tumbleweed is a lesson in mobility, impermanence and rootlessness. Often growing two to four feet in a single season, the plants wait until their seeds are fully formed, and then purposely detach from their taproot, allowing the wind to roll their skeletons and distribute their seeds. Thus the plant is known as chamizo volador in Spanish and also as wind witch in English.

As European Americans moved into the Southwest, so did the tumbleweed. The relationship between “development” and the tumbleweed runs deep, since the plant’s seeds require disturbed ground in order to take root. And so they are most commonly seen in agricultural fields and along road shoulders. While the saguaro’s primary enemy today is real estate development, the tumbleweed must rejoice at the rumble of a bulldozer.

The thermometers jump and linger above 105º, the saguaro flowers ripen into fruit, and the tumbleweeds and backhoes roll on––another summer in Arizona. But which Arizona?  The land of tradition and myth symbolized by the saguaro, or the cheap land deals and boom-bust economic cycles where the tumbleweed thrives?

Though often presented side-by-side, these two symbols represent two differing visions for our state’s next 100 years––visions that will continue to be explored in future editions of La Otra Arizona. Until then, watch the blossoms burst and for Salsola Tragus, that

tierra-tragante, disturbante, compadre of dust.
Circle seed-spitter, tumbling thistle.
Salsola, que solo sale, sal sol que le quiere ver.

Stow-away in grain crop seeds.
Unsettling settler, wagon wheel automaton.

Gluttonous globalizer, coat-tailer of developer,
carpetbag colonializer, hugger of highway shoulder.
Plaque of bulldozer teeth, pubes of pavement.

Allergen, argonaut,
continental heir, thorned air,
wind witch, chamizo volador,
terreno violador, conquistador.

Eurasian mar-andante, noxious navigator,
Bering Strait shooter, Russian random thistle,
stock trope exploding across freeway grill.

Wagon trains, steamboats, railroads,
interstates, bus lines, sky harbors.

Telegraph, heliograph, telephone,
radio, broadband, satellite.

Salsola tragus, drifting along,
I know when night has gone
that a new world’s born at dawn.

––excerpted from The Sonoran Strange.

For further reading:

Phillips, Steven J., Wentworth Comus, Patricia, eds. A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press: Tucson. University of California Press: Berkeley. 2000.

Turner, Frederick. Of Chiles, Cacti, and Fighting Cocks: Notes on the American West. Fulcrum Publishing: Golden, Colorado. 1990, 2004.

La Otra Arizona: SB1070 and the Chinese Exclusion Act

Part four of La Otra Arizona series.

This month the Supreme Court is expected to take on Arizona’s SB1070, the now-infamous immigration bill signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer in 2010. As with any Supreme Court case, SB1070 has traveled a long road of litigation to get to this point: decisions by lower courts, injunctions, appeals, etc. Now we’re headed toward the final decision––perhaps.

The court’s ruling will be on what is essentially a technicality, a question of states’ rights. Does each state in the Union have the right to set its own immigration policy, or is that the sole purview of the federal government, as the constitution seems to assert? Many across the nation await the Court’s answer to that question, as 1070-style legislation has been enacted in other states such as Alabama and “self deportation” becomes an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign.

However, debating such a complex situation as immigration in such a narrow manner omits some crucial background to the question. What got us to this point, anyway? What has been Arizona’s relationship to immigrants for the 159 years since becoming a US territory in 1853? What groups were considered to be immigrants, and which groups were given a free pass to homestead wherever they liked? While there isn’t space here to fully explore those questions, much can be learned from one example given to us by Arizona history.

The first villains in the tale of Arizona’s “immigration problem” weren’t Mexican, they were Chinese. Tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants arrived to the western United States in the last half of the nineteenth century, coming mostly from the area near Canton in the coastal region of the Guandong Province. They came across the Pacific because of economics––crushing poverty in their homeland and the lure of seemingly endless jobs in the US, building the transcontinental railroads, working in mines, restaurants and laundries.

By the 1870’s, after the they had finished building the first national transportation system in the US, these workers continued to face the anti-Chinese sentiment sweeping through the young United States. This xenophobia was codified by such laws as the Page Act of 1875, which was an attempt to stop Chinese prostitutes from entering the country. Since most Chinese women were assumed to work as prostitutes, the law effectively barred almost all Chinese women from legal entry to the US. This legislative impulse culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred entry to all except those who worked in a few professions.

However, there existed a loophole: while Chinese were prevented from arriving from China to the US directly, they could still legally arrive via Mexico. Even after the loophole was closed in 1884, the southern US border continued to be a popular point of entry. Indeed, the Chinese were the first group to be denied legal entry to the US based solely on their nationality––they were the country’s first “illegal immigrants.”

Once anything is declared illegal, enforcement can’t be far behind. The modern US Border Patrol has its roots in the “Chinese Inspectors” first appointed in 1891.

The Anti-Chinese movement in Arizona predated the federal legislation, however. An 1869 headline in Prescott read “MORE CHINAMEN––Three more Chinamen arrived here during the week, and have gone to work. There are now four of them which is quite enough.” Nevertheless, their population continued to grow, in 1879 the same paper declared “Prescott has about 75 or 80 Chinamen, which is 75 or 80 too many. Now is a good time to get rid of them.”

Racist editorials in Arizonan newspapers have a long history indeed. In the 1880’s the Tombstone Epitaph, whose editor and former Apache Indian agent John Clum also organized an Anti-Chinese League to “rid the town of evil.” An aspiring politician, Clum was an early example of an attempt to curry xenophobia into support for a political campaign. In 2003 another Tombstone newspaper was carrying anti-immigrant headlines, such as “Enough is Enough! A Public Call to Arms!” but this time the villains were Mexican and the editor was Chris Simcox, founder of a Minuteman-related group.

This Arizonan pattern isn’t hard to pick out. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Governor Jan Brewer and Senator John McCain have all used fear of an immigrant invasion to help them win elections in recent years. Sex sells, but fear wins elections.

Whatever decision the Supreme Court makes on 1070, Arizona will still be forced to address the fact that we live in a border state that belonged to another country just a few generations ago. Framing immigration as a “problem to be solved” is a symptom of historical nearsightedness, and only serves politicians on the campaign trail and businesspeople in the board room.

In the wider context of immigration in Arizona, 1070 is just one thread in a much larger tapestry. If we want to deal with this reality, we’ll work towards understanding immigration as a complex web of issues interwoven with the individual experiences of intelligent and capable human beings. No state or federal law is going to “solve” this––it’s up to us to reimagine what it means to live in a border state entering its second century. It is exciting and unavoidable work.

For further reading:

Benton-Cohen, Katherine. Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands.

Luckingham, Bradford. Minorities in Phoenix a Profile of Mexican American, Chinese American, and African American Communities, 1860-1992.

Meeks, Eric V. Border Citizens: The Making of Indians, Mexicans and Anglos in Arizona.

Sheridan, Thomas. Arizona: A History.

La Otra Arizona: Natives, Transplants and Those Who Came Before

Are you a native Arizonan? Were your grandparents natives? As centennial celebrations continue in Arizona, this word keeps coming up––native––but not in the way that one would expect.

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that in Arizona, the word native is more frequently used to describe people born here, rather than people who have indigenous roots in the area. After all, the majority of our population has arrived only in the last few decades, attracted by the sunshine and cheap land. These transplants––as they’re frequently called by natives––are simply not from here.

The word history comes to us via Latin from the Greek historia, meaning “finding out, narrative.” History is the story we tell ourselves, and in telling the story, the words we choose do matter. Though technically correct, this use of native in Arizona is laced with irony––even the oldest Anglo families in Arizona haven’t lived here more than 150 years, a mere blink of the eye in the long unfolding of the human story. Celebration of the centennial is by nature an Anglo affair, as it observes the anniversary of the enshrinement their right to this territory. Though ceremonial nods are given to the “diverse people of Arizona,” an honest discussion of race and class is avoided at all cost  by those officiating the celebrations.

And for good reason: once it is contrasted with the indigenous tradition in Arizona, 100 years is suddenly exposed as being an incredibly short amount of time.

We can begin to understand this fact by looking at any of the indigenous groups in Arizona, but the most dramatic example of the longevity of human presence here is given to us by the Hohokam.

Not that they called themselves Hohokam. As with so many other groups––Navajo and Apache among them––the name we use for the Hohokam was put upon them by a people who came later, or were outside their culture. In this case, hohokam comes from an O’odham word frequently translated as “those who came before,” alluding to their long presence here.

How long? Uninterrupted for at least 1,000 years, beginning at the latest in AD 450. The highly-developed culture thrived along the Gila River, especially where it meets the Salt in what is today known as the Phoenix Basin. They are known as desert agriculturalists and master irrigators, distributing water from the river through canals as large as ten feet wide, fifteen feet deep and twenty-two miles long, with a precise slope of eight feet per mile. In total, the Hohokam carved more than four hundred miles of canals using wooden digging sticks and without the aid of animals.

There is also evidence that the Hohokam were expert geneticists, developing plants well-suited to their needs and well-adapted to the harsh desert climate. Populations of a particular species of agave cactus, agave murpheyi, have only been found near sites of ancient indigenous occupation, and are so similar that they are suspected to be a single genetic clone. Along with agave delamateri, this domesticated plant was cultivated from modern Caborca, Sonora all the way to New River, Arizona. The Hohokam pit-roasted the agaves, using them for food, fiber and probably other uses unknown to us.

With more than 70,000 acres of land under cultivation in the Salt River Valley alone, the Hohokam rarely lacked food, and evidence suggests that they rarely hunted or even ate meat. This food security allowed them to pursue other endeavors––like building the first sky scrapers in Arizona, such as at the famous site in Casa Grande. Its ruins still visible today, the Great House was a four-story adobe structure, perhaps used for astronomy and ceremony.

The Hohokam also had close cultural and commercial ties to other mesoamerican civilizations. Like their southern neighbors, the Hohokam placed great importance on the ritual ball game, which was played throughout Las Américas; they constructed courts for the game across the lands that they occupied.

At its peak, the Hohokam population in what is now Arizona reached as high as 400,000 people. The state wouldn’t again reach that many inhabitants until 1928. There are many theories as to why the culture dissolved around AD 1400. Some point to decreased availability of water due to climate change, or perhaps salt buildup due to over-irrigation. Others believe that European diseases such as measles and smallpox may have arrived before the Europeans themselves did, transmitted ahead of the conquistadores by indigenous traders moving along millennial trading routes. The diseases decimated the population here as elsewhere in Las Américas.

The effectiveness of the Hohokam canals in irrigating the rich alluvial soil of the Basin was still obvious more than four hundred years later when Anglo first arrived and began to clean out and restore the waterways for their own farming. Their first crops were used to feed the soldiers stationed at the new Fort McDowell, founded in 1865 to help secure the the territory seized from Mexico after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.

The modern city of Phoenix is of course named after the bird of Egyptian mythology who immolates itself at the end of its life, and whose offspring rise from the ashes. Europeans thought the name fitting, since their city was “rising from the ashes” of a failed civilization.

However, where some saw only emptiness and ashes, a legacy exists. The organization that has made modern Phoenix possible, the Salt River Project, was founded on the appropriation of indigenous technology, the Hohokam canals. And the decedents of the Hohokam continue to live in the state to this day.

And so they give us another gift––the chance to put the triumphant centennial celebrations in a context of their millennial civilization, and to rethink just exactly who deserves to call themselves a native Arizonan, and who is merely a transplant, grasping for roots.

For further reading:

Phillips, Steven J., Wentworth Comus, Patricia, eds. A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert. 2000.

Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. 1986, 1993.

Sheridan, Thomas E. Arizona: A History, Rev. ed. 2012.

Wagoner, Jay J. Early Arizona: Prehistory to Civil War. 1975.

One of the Millions III

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The third of a three-part interview for The Noise, published in Flagstaff. To read the entire issue, download the pdf (30.9mb).

In the first two installments of the interview, Carmen explained how six years ago she and her husband David left their hometown of Cuernavaca, Mexico for New York City. She was almost 30 years old at the time. They hired a coyote who arranged for them to cross through Arizona. In their third attempt, after being separated in the desert north of Sasabe, they made it to a house in Phoenix. From there they took a bus through Flagstaff to Las Vegas, and from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. They took flight across the country to NYC, where, a few months later, they were caught up in the horror of September 11th, 2001. In this final segment of the interview, David adds a few of his own observations.

One of the Millions
How Carmen Crossed from the Arizona Border to NYC

Interview and translation by Logan Phillips

The Return

I was there still a year and a half more after September 11th. David two years and a half. He was painting and I was working in a deli in Harrison. Work got scarce after the Towers. People weren’t interested in making improvements on their houses. And even if you are out of work, you still have to pay rent.

Look, I had plans to only be there two years. In October 2002 I bought my return ticket for February 2003. I bought it five months ahead of time, I had made plans ahead of time to return. It wasn’t spontaneous, as if I said “tomorrow I’m leaving.” No. I thought about it, but David told me to think about it more, to stay and save more money. I told him no, because I couldn’t be away from my daughters any longer. They were small, they needed me. He said, “well, go, but I’m staying.” And he did, a year longer than me.

I came back mainly for my daughters. I had nightmares about them there. Many times late at night I would wake up and David would tell me to calm down, but I would cry. I had horrible, ugly dreams. I’d think about them and cry. I talked to them twice a week on the phone. As much as I could. But I tried to save as much money as I could because it cost five dollars every time I would call them, and five dollars would begin to hurt after awhile. They sent me things, photos, and I sent them photos too.

I came back in a plane. Direct to Mexico City. Super easy.


Thoughts on Immigration

After everything, it wasn’t worth it. It’d be worth it if you’re going legally to visit, because it’s a beautiful country. To go with work lined up, maybe with papers to be there only seasonally. That’d be better. Because, like David says, going like we did, it’s dangerous. You die out there. There are so many who stay out there. Close to Sasábe there is a place called Altar, it’s on the way to the border. In Altar there is a pile of crosses and posters that say “don’t risk your life, don’t cross the desert, don’t cross the mountains, you can die.” It took us exactly 25 days to cross in total.

David says, “Me, to everyone who tells me ‘well, I’m headed there,’ I say, ‘why are you going? You’re abandoning your country. You can work here. You just need intelligence. You’re going up there looking for money, but you can find it here, and with less problems. There you’re going to go every single day to work, you can do that here too. Don’t be lazy.’

“Also, they want to see new things, because a lot of people come back talking about things that aren’t true. ‘There you earn bills hand over fist,’ and all that. ‘I don’t know what to spend my dollars on,’ but it’s all a lie.” They come back showing off, it’s not reality.

We paid more than $500 a month in rent in New York. You don’t save up a lot. I didn’t save my money while I was there, I sent it back to do a little bit of work on my house. Yeah, I added on a little to my house, I put a entrance on my lot. It’s something that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to do here as easily. And David saved a little for his taxi. But almost the same as when we left. What is good there is the clothes. The only good thing we brought back with us was good clothes and shoes.

Oh, it felt so good to come back. Lately, although work has been going a little bad for me thanks to the type of bosses I’ve had, I still don’t feel like going back to NYC. Even though it’s a beautiful city, you feel like an outsider. I felt strange, out of my element. I couldn’t just talk to people, “Hola, ¿qué tal?”

But we did some nice things there. For me the coolest thing we did was go to a Paul McCartney concert in Madison Square Garden. That was definitely the coolest thing.

It will never be possible to stop immigration. There is so much poverty in Mexico. We are poor, but there are people way poorer than us. People who can only eat tortillas, chile and salt. It doesn’t matter to them to risk their life to go looking for what is called “the American Dream.” Look, in the US there are people from little villages in Mexico that you can’t believe are there. People from the mountains, from villages that are at the tops of the mountains. One time I met some people from Michoacan who told me they were from some little tiny village, I asked them how they came. The same way, they found a coyote. There are villages here in Mexico where there are no men. They’re all there [in the US].

You know what messes things up financially to go? The coyote. The crossing costs $3,000. That’s $30,000 pesos, more or less. They have a good thing going. Look, the majority of them have already been deported from the US. The guy who crossed us, he was deported. They will never be able to get papers. Maybe someday David and I will be able to get papers, even though we’ve been caught. Maybe with time, I don’t know, some new law, an amnesty or something. Like that they would pardon your sins.

The coyotes are sure it will go well for them, all the better that it’s an illicit, illegal act. But the worst is then when they just leave you, throw you out into the desert. That’s really bad, and that’s why I’ll never go that way again. Never.

Sure, it would be possible to construct a wall along the entire border. But it’s not worth it to the government. And look, Mexicans are clever, they cross in tunnels and drains also. Would it be possible for them to construct the wall? Yes. But would it stop migration? No. See, everything here is a swindle. Like the saying, “he who doesn’t cheat doesn’t get ahead.”

The immigrant work force is a business. It suits the US government not to stop it, and also the Mexican government. It’s a business for them. They only thing they do is control it, nothing else.

David says, “How many millions have they invested in Iraq now? And they can’t close the border? It’s a business. If immigrants don’t enter, who is going to do the work? Everybody that takes care of the kids, that cleans the houses, they’re latino. If the US didn’t want anyone to come in, they could stop it.”

Los Angeles, California, is the city with the second largest Mexican population in the world. More Mexicans than in Mexican cities. More than Guadalajara, more than Puebla.

Look, this is my opinion. I put myself in the place of the people of the US, those who don’t have anything to do with the economy of Mexico, and I think, it’s not their fault things are this way. But yes, there are immigrants who have committed crimes. And that’s why people have a bad impression of all immigrants.

I would tell people in the US to put themselves in our place. The majority, we want to go to work, not to rob anyone of anything. We go to work. And if people gave us that opportunity, if they allowed us to work legally and efficiently, we would take it. Even while working illegally––and I say this not to to brag or to show off––after only two months Khol’s gave me employee of the month twice, paid vacation, prizes. What does that mean? That we would be really efficient employees if it was worth the trouble to go and work. So to those people who have the wrong opinion of the majority of us, they should realize that all we want is to work and nothing more. And we want to do things right.

Carmen and David continue to live and work in Cuernavaca. David works as a wholesaler and at various jobs. Carmen has gone through a string of jobs since he return, but continues perusing her real passion––singing at events with a band––whenever possible. Her daughters are now in middle school.

Since Carmen’s crossing through Arizona, it is estimated by the International Organization for Migration that over three million other Mexicans have left their country and crossed in a similar way, looking for greater opportunities for themselves and their families. Far more than in the past, 45% of those three million immigrants were women. The number of unaccompanied minors is also growing. 7,000 were caught and deported in 2005.

One of the Millions II

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The second of a three-part interview for The Noise, published in Flagstaff. To read the entire issue, download the pdf (18.7mb).

In the last installment of her interview, Carmen told how six years ago she and her husband David decided to leave their hometown of Cuernavaca, Mexico and try for NYC. She was almost 30 years old at the time and looking to change her destiny. They hired a coyote who arranged for them to cross through Arizona. In their second attempt, they jumped the wall in Nogales and nearly made it to Tucson before being caught. Back in Nogales, the coyote sent them west for the third try, to the small border town of Sasábe. 

One of the Millions
How Carmen Crossed from the Arizona Border to NYC

Interview and translation by Logan Phillips


When finally there was the opportunity to go, the guys in Sasábe put you in a pickup with thirty people, and that’s how you go. “Like little sardines,” David said.

They separated us. They put me in one truck and him in another. When they did that, I began to feel really bad, I was saying to myself “no, no, no,” I didn’t want to be alone because I was so scared. It was really hard for me there, more than it was for David. Well, maybe he felt bad that I was alone.

They bring you up through the hills, in the dark, obviously late at night. They already know the route, but they still have to guess, it’s risky. You’re risking your life because on either side are steep ravines.

That night we went. Him in one truck and me in the other. And the truck that I was in was caught by the migra. We had arrived at the crossroads where we’d get on the freeway, and the coyotes were waiting for the migra shift-change. That moment is when they try to take advantage and get you to the city.

When we got on the freeway, about ten minutes passed and a migration patrol came up beside us, they pulled us over and made us all get out. They brought us back to Nogales because it is the closest station. They again fingerprinted me and scanned my eyes. They asked me how many times they had caught me now. I told them the truth, two. “Tsk, tsk, tsk,” they said.

Back in Nogales, Mexico, I wouldn’t let the drivers of that truck get away from me for anything. I didn’t know where everyone had gone, but they knew what truck David had gone in. I grabbed them and told them, “you guys aren’t going to leave me here. I’m going with you wherever you go.”

“No,” they said, “the thing is...”

“I’m going with you.” And they took me back to Sasábe. I arrived crying and giving up hope, because I thought David was already in Phoenix. We got there about six in the morning and at seven o’clock that night, all of a sudden a guy who had been in the truck with David returned on foot. I recognized him. “Hey,” I said, “you went in the same truck as my husband.”

“Yeah, it broke down on us, I came back for a part to fix it.” So the truck had broken down out in the horrible, uninhabited desert. He had just walked for something like eight or ten hours.

When he was ready to go back to the truck, I told him, “I’m going with you.”

“I can’t risk taking you because you’re a woman and you aren’t going to walk fast enough.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I stuck myself to him.

“I can’t take you.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m going with you, I’m not staying here.” I went with him out of necessity, he couldn’t believe it. We walked from eight that night until about two in the morning. We walked and walked. And during all that time we were completely alone. And there are so many women who have had experiences where they were raped by the very coyotes themselves.

Suddenly he stopped me and I asked him why. He told me that there were wolves there. “Shhhh,” he said. Can you imagine the fear I felt in that moment? I told myself that was it, a wolf is going to show up and we’ll never leave here.

I’ll always respect that man. We were so alone in the desert, and moreover I was so scared. But I felt how he was breathing and I realized that he was scared too, despite his experience. I don’t think you ever get over that fear of animals, of the unknown.

We finally arrived where everyone else was hidden. I arrived yelling “David! David!” in the darkness.

He heard me and he asked “what are you doing here?” because he thought I was already in Phoenix. When I saw him, nothing else mattered. I started to cry. Everyone was asleep, hidden, because the helicopters can be sent over any time.

“Why’d you bring her!?” The coyotes were scolding the guy I came back with.

“She didn’t want to stay,” he replied.

Across the United States

There were already so many going, and with me, one more. They fixed the truck at about five in the morning, we left and that same truck brought us all the way to Tucson. Arizona is pretty, beautiful cities.

In Tucson, they ask you “who is sending you?”

“Coyote so-and-so.”

“Ok, those sent by so-and-so over here, those sent by the other coyote over there.” Because for them, it’s all about when payment time comes, they have to keep people organized for that reason. At that moment you don’t pay, you’ve paid your trip from Cuernavaca to the border, but you don’t have the rest of the payment deposited until you’re where you’re going.

We arrived in Phoenix in a van, on the freeway. Now, being inside the state, there’s not very much migra. The migra is on the border. But we were in Phoenix about a week because there was a lot of migra in the Phoenix airport.

We were shut in, watching television, eating, sleeping, always shut in, we didn’t go out for anything. But there we ate in luxury. They sent us stuff to eat, a lot of it, chicken, juice, yogurt. They asked, “who’s gonna cook?” Straight away I said “I will,” and I made food for everybody.

We waited, and went from there to Las Vegas. Yeah, since there was so much migra in Phoenix, in the airport, we said to ourselves “well, we gotta get around them.”

In Las Vegas we arrived at the station and immediately got on the next bus. So, first to Las Vegas, then from Las Vegas to Los Angeles on the bus.

They already described the person that would be there waiting for us, and  there he was, exactly how they had said. Ready for us. How many hours is it from Los Vegas to Los Angeles? It’s a long time. He put us in a hotel, and fed us well. Two days in Los Angeles in that hotel.

In the LA airport we were afraid because we felt like the migra would catch us. But the guy said that here there’s no problem, and the coyotes buy everything for you. You just arrive and get on the plane.

And from LA they threw us in a plane to New York. And that’s that.

NYC & September 11th, 2001

We arrived in New Jersey, because there weren’t direct flights to New York that day. David’s brother’s family came for us. We were feeling bad and disoriented because of the time change. And from there, off to look for work. David already had something. His brother is a resident and has a painting company. He married an American and had two kids, Americans who don’t speak a bit of Spanish. He had left them with their mom. We were in his house, they gave us one room for the both of us, I started looking for work and found it at a clothing store called Kohl’s.

[Six months later] I was at work, in the Portchester store, which is one of the biggest branches. That day I was vacuuming the children’s clothes section. Then a co-worker, a Guatemalan, told me “A plane hit a building and exploded.” I didn’t think of the magnitude of it, just the first thing that came to mind, that a little plane had smashed itself against the building and fallen as if it were nothing, an accident. Suddenly everybody began to get nervous, and I saw that a lot of my co-workers had started to go up to the cafeteria on the second floor.

All of a sudden, somebody said “another plane hit!” and some people started yelling “another! Another!” Things had gotten ugly. I just stood there––I still had the vacuum in my hand––thinking “what is going on?” A friend of mine, a Peruvian woman, said the manager was calling us to the cafeteria because it looked like something was happening at the World Trade Center. We went up and they had a TV ready, and there were the buildings on fire, with all the smoke. I started to cry, saying to myself “what’s happening...” The news came about the Pentagon and that one had gone down in Pennsylvania and I kept crying, just remembering it, I get goose bumps. A friend told me to calm down, but I just said “look what’s happening!” They had already started talking about terrorists and who knows what else.

The manager started talking to us in English, a friend told me what he was saying in Spanish––I hadn’t learned English yet, actually I never learned it well, but it’s OK. He said that we had to stay calm but that we were going to go home because something horrible had happened. We had to leave calmly, they were going close the store. In that moment, one of the towers fell. Somebody screamed. Everybody cried out, loud. The manager was so red from screaming. I cried, it really scared me, I was shaking, not knowing what would happen. The other one fell. People burst out in tears and screams again, hugging each other, saying that it couldn’t be, talking in English, black people, white people, everybody. People hugging each other. With the other tower falling on TV, we started to organize ourselves to leave. I caught a taxi outside of the mall.

The taxi driver already knew. And almost all of the taxi drivers are Hispanic. I remember he was a Peruvian because he asked me in Spanish, “they closed the store?” I told him yes.

“Because of what’s happening to the buildings?”

“Yes, didn’t you see?” 

“No, but the freeway is jammed, lots of accidents.” People had gone crazy, they reacted however they could in the face of such a tragedy. I arrived at my house still crying. I asked one of my neighbors if she could call my mom as a favor, since they had cut the communication lines and you could only call other countries with cellphones.

In Mexico at my house my family was already crying like I had been killed, because they had heard that New York had been attacked by terrorists. They practically thought we were at war. My neighbor called them and asked “does Carmen live there?” And they cried louder because they thought she was calling to say I had been killed. She said “calm down, señora, Carmen is OK, she asked me to call on my cellphone because the regular phones aren’t working.”

And my mom: “tell her to come home so that she’s not there, tell her to come back to Mexico.” Later I said to myself, if it was my decision I’d return, but I was scared to get on an airplane because there could be a bomb there too.

In a few days I went back to work and they told us that we were going to be on red alert. We were going to work, but with a lot of precaution. If anything happened, they’d call us and immediately we’d leave because they didn’t know if it was war, or if they were going to close, or what. They didn’t know what to do either. Actually, people stopped buying. The streets were empty. Many people stayed at home, in their basements. They stayed there because they still didn’t know what to do.

But little by little, everything started to be more normal––if you could call it that, normal. But in the new year, during March and April, they started to check the papers of undocumented workers, and my papers were fake. They fired a lot of people. Now all illegal workers were terrorist suspects. Well, it was a security measure, but if the United States really had wanted to throw out all the illegals, it’d be left without people, without workers. All of the physical manpower is illegal.

I think at least fifty percent of the people killed were illegals. And that number that they use––2,300 deaths––it’s a lie. I could dare to say that more than 50,000 died. Remember how many floors each tower had? A hundred. That’s 200 floors. How many offices were there on each floor? At least ten. Banks, businesses, restaurants. Let’s only put three people per office––which there could have been at that hour, and it isn’t much. That’s thirty people on each floor. Times a hundred floors, that’s 3,000. Do you remember the 1986 earthquake in Mexico City? The government only said that 10,000 died. It’s inconvenient for governments to tell the truth.

Imagine all of the immigrants that worked there with false identification. There was no way to know who they were. They only counted the people that they knew through legal papers. But lots of people work with illegal papers under a different name.

They don’t count those people. 

Carmen concludes her story next month, telling of her return trip to Mexico, and explaining what advice she would give to other Mexicans thinking about crossing illegally.

La Virgen As Seen From Both Sides

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The second in a series of Mexican snapshots for The Noise, published in Flagstaff. To read the entire issue, which is excellent, download the pdf (16.9mb).

La Virgen As Seen From Both Sides
a Cross-Border Look at the Virgin of Guadalupe

The fireworks have been exploding for twenty-four hours without stop. There are mustaches drawn on all the male children under the age of three. Mariachis are playing in nearly every neighborhood. There can only be one explanation for all this colorful chaos, which even here in Mexico is beyond average: this must be the 475th anniversary of the appearance of La Virgen de Guadalupe. This must be December 12th, Día de la Virgen.

On this day shrines pop up on nearly every street corner, each bedecked with noche buena flowers. Thousands of pilgrims stream into Mexico City’s Basilica, carrying portraits of la Virgen on their backs and crawling the final steps on their knees, leaving dark stains of their faith on the stones behind them.


“This is a very important day for us,” says Antonio Perez, an out-of-work mariachi who is hanging around Cuernavaca’s main square on the night of the 12th. “I have a lot of faith and devotion to her.” He’s an impeccably dressed old man with watery eyes, soft-spoken and sincere. The words he’s saying are written everywhere on the streets around us as he says them.

We’re sitting near el Calvario, one of Cuernavaca’s soaring churches where  reverence for La Virgen is focused. It’s here that the local parents bring their young children dressed as peasants to have their pictures taken in mock rural landscapes. They jam through the wide doors of the church, children on their shoulders, pushing to hear one of the masses being said every two hours. Inside, the church is a sea of dark hair, a sea whose waves sigh in rosaries and undulate onto their knees in prayer.

Along with Día de los Muertos in early November, December 12th is a day that is exclusively Mexican. La Virgen is the patron saint of Mexico and is also called “the Queen of the Americas.” As Octavio Paz wrote in 1974: “the Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery.”

But to those of us from the southwest U.S., this all sounds familiar. Even if it’s only seeing her likeness emblazoned on the spare-tire cover of a certain pink VW bus that haunts Aspen between San Francisco and Agassiz Streets in downtown Flagstaff, we’re aware of her presence. It’s evidence that while political boundaries between Mexico and the U.S. were redrawn in 1848, cultural boundaries remain much more fluid.

In Bisbee, Arizona, just a stone’s throw from the international line, one sees old cars pushing through the narrow streets with bumper stickers that read, “IN GUAD WE TRUST.” On a December morning not long after the 12th, Elaine Blake and artist Judy Perry are gardening in front of the Bisbee Episcopal Church. “A lot of us have had experiences with the Virgin,” says Perry. Blake agrees, “she just made herself really known and vivid to me. She talks to me and I talk to her... she is the divine presence that is anchored in this place, in this earth.” Both women recall being attracted to Guadalupe thanks to her being a female religious figure. “I think it’s important to bring the female and male energies together in spiritual life,” says Perry.

Perez, speaking of La Virgen’s appeal to Mexicans, says “we feel proud that she came here to Mexico to appear... the story is that she appeared to somebody who was of the most lowly people, his name was Juan Diego.”

In Bisbee, anthropology and faith seem to occupy the same space at the same time without getting into a fistfight. At the Bisbee event on the 12th, “there was a woman [Maggie McQuaid] who talked about the cultural antecedents, Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess,” according to Blake.

Such talk, though, has no place in the mind of the average Mexican on the night of the 12th. Perez, for one, shirks the suggestion of La Virgen being related to the pre-Hispanic gods. He shakes his head, “no, no, no, no, no, I don’t understand that, I’d say no.”

 Blake seemed to be a bit surprised by the reverence held for Guadalupe in the southwest. “I’ve talked to a couple of people who have said ‘I’m a Guadalupian, not a Christian,’” she said.

Meanwhile, in central Mexico, Perez leans against a park bench, smiling. “Everybody’s walking around content today. Just so happy for this day.” Two peoples, two countries, unified at least once every year by their faith in figure that they see from different perspectives. Sounds like just another story from the border.