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Musings from the Sonoran Desert and elsewhere

Amy McMullen

Amy McMullen
Gold Canyon, Arizona, USA
January 01
Amy McMullen is an activist for human rights, social and economic justice and a blogger and political essayist currently residing in Arizona. Her main interests are anti-racism, immigrant rights, LBGTQ equality, health justice and women's rights. She has worked to remove the worst of the anti-immigrant, Tea Party politicians from office in Arizona and advocates to get progressives elected. Amy's former incarnations include back-to-the-land counter culturist in the 70s, small business entrepreneur, Bed and Breakfast proprietor, charter boat captain, EMT, medical assistant and rehabber of distressed homes.. She currently volunteers for the Phoenix Urban Health Collective as a street medic and is on the board of a new nonprofit devoted to providing free medical care for the uninsured and under-insured in Phoenix. Amy's writings on social justice and other subjects appear in Truthout, Salon, Addicting Info, The Tucson Sentinel, The Pragmatic Progressive and on her blog at Open Salon.

Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 8, 2010 4:54PM

Two Arizonas

Rate: 8 Flag

Photo--Amy McMullen

Post Election Reflections in the Desert

After the disappointing results of the November elections my husband and I decided to get away from the noise of the pundits and the seduction of the internet for just a little while.  We put our dogs in the truck and went for an evening drive in the desert.  The dirt road we chose was dusty and the truck rattled over washboards as we headed east towards the Superstition Mountains.  The lowering sun reflected its amber light off craggy rock faces and large cacti with names like saguaro and cholla dotted the landscape.  Leafless trees with chlorophyll-rich bark known as palo verde provided green relief contrasting against the reds and grays of the rocky dry soil.  The solitude was complete, the silence deafening.

A large spider was crossing the road in front of us so we stopped the truck and got out, cameras in hand.  It was a male tarantula, about the size of a small teacup, out looking for a female.  Tarantulas are generally reclusive but in the fall the males get the urge to mate and can be found wandering afield.  I squatted down and guided him onto my hand where he reluctantly stepped; daintily lifting his eight hairy legs in synchronistic order as he crawled up my arm, across my shoulders and down my back.  I coaxed him back onto my hand and released him to the safer ground off of the road.

I need to see this beautiful, unforgiving landscape and its wild denizens from time to time.  It may look harsh to some but to me it signifies resilience and how an ecosystem has evolved to survive in a very difficult climate. It also begs a comparison to the political climate in this state, where people of color are still denigrated, treated as second class citizens and also have to create their own resilience to survive. The distinction is one of purely natural function versus adversity manufactured from the all-too-human emotions of fear and hatred.   

I’ve been speaking out about the politics of Arizona a lot lately.  There has been much to talk about:  A law targeting undocumented immigrants that also sweeps up in its wide net Latino residents and citizens, while leaving the white inhabitants unaffected; A state senator hell-bent on dismantling a constitutional amendment guaranteeing all persons born on this soil the right to be here; a grab for power by an incoherent governor who learned that lies sell and hatred of brown “invaders” wins elections—even while the state was crumbling all around her. 

Somehow the dialogue has been twisted around to advance misinformation and scapegoating instead of looking at real issues, facts and humane solutions.  Straw men in the form of scary Spanish-speaking people, who dared to cross a line to seek opportunity for themselves and their families, are labeled “illegal” and called criminals.  At this point all exchange inevitably breaks down because once a criminal you are no longer human in the eyes of those see you in this light.   You have dared to break laws created by people who have motives you can barely understand.  The price for this transgression is now everyone who looks and speaks like you is regarded with suspicion and subject to raids on their homes, their persons and workplaces.  Never mind the fact that you left circumstances too horrible for any of us in our comfortable American complacency to conceive of.  No one cares that you work long hours doing backbreaking labor--or that you purchase our goods, pay our taxes, support our schools, keep your head down and raise beautiful children who dream of a life better than yours.  Forget about the fact that you are a human being.  You are illegal.  You must be driven out.

Those of us who are willing to look beyond the stigmatizing labels and endless rhetoric of hate and who possess a shred of empathy find this increasingly difficult to watch.  “The law is the law” being parroted over and over again starts to sound eerily reminiscent of the signs that proclaimed that “whites only” could drink at certain fountains or sit at the front of busses-- for these too were the laws once.  The fact that at one time it was illegal for women to vote or to marry a person of a different race or for men to love other men is hard for many to conceptualize now.  It's almost as if those crazy laws never existed.

Apparently it is just as difficult for some to remember that the political party they have just handed the US House of Representatives back to is the very same that got us into economic quicksand to begin with.  Memories are short, perhaps further curtailed by truncated segments on television with one-sided messages played repeatedly-- effectively drowning out any attempt at independent thought on the part of the viewer.  As Vladimir Lenin once said, “A lie repeated often enough becomes truth.”

Like the desert landscape, where erosion is the happening thing, change comes very slowly to Arizona politics.  As the 48th and last contiguous state to join the union, Arizona was the final frontier where people fled to avoid the law, whether it was Mormons who wished to have multiple wives in peace or gunslingers in Tombstone. At one time the mining boomtown of Bisbee had a judge-sanctioned unwritten law in place that no "Chinaman" could remain in town after sundown. This bucking of progressing social norms continued when Governor Evan Mecham told African Americans in 1987 that “(Martin Luther) King doesn't deserve a holiday." Now we have Russell Pearce, newly elected as president of the state senate proclaiming that the 14th Amendment has been “subverted” because the newer laws excluding people from the country somehow take precedence over the simple and elegant language stating that “All persons” born here are guaranteed citizenship. He doesn't display any empathy for those who are citizens of his state either.  While advocating cutting services for the poor and children, Pearce tells us, “Church, community, family’s got to provide.”  In other words, we're gonna party like it's 1929.

 Governor Mecham also once said, “The time comes when the majority says we’re not going to take it anymore.”  It’s abundantly clear to many of us that what Pearce really fears is that the current majority, his majority, may be on its last leg.  Now Mecham’s words take on a whole new meaning.  Soon the tide will turn leaving those of his and Pearce’s ilk out in the cold, where they so rightly belong. 

The sun rapidly approached the western horizon where Phoenix lights would soon be twinkling in the distance.  We drove up to the Peralta trailhead, gateway into the Superstition Wilderness, just as the setting rays were turning the faces of pitted rock, columns and hoodoos a brilliant burnt orange color.  Darkness descends quickly on the desert and this is the time animals stir forth to eat and be eaten.  My tarantula will face many dangers but with luck he will find a female and coax her out of her burrow to mate.  He will then need to beat a hasty retreat to avoid becoming dinner himself.  Like the tarantula, we are all driven by our own purpose, some to divide and maintain an enclave of white power-holders, others to bring a truly equitable climate to this state for all its inhabitants.  The desert is patient.  We must be as well.  Change may be slow but it is inevitable.  It's up to us to keep moving forward, not backwards. 

Photo--Amy McMullen 









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"It's up to us to keep moving forward, not backwards." The TEA Party just helped to elect Allen West and Tim Scott. The first Black REPUBLICAN Congressmen in their states (Florida and South Car0lina respectively) since Reconstruction. If that is not moving forard I don't know what is. Outside of your political beliefs I like the way you write. Very descriptive and moving.
Tucson is my favorite city in the world and last year, we decided to buy a vacation home there. Then SB1070 happened and we just couldn't let ourselves contribute to the tax base. Hopefully you guys can get the insane elements under control. In the meantime, we'll still be visiting two or three times a year.
"It's up to us to keep moving forward, not backwards."

Indeed, this is the right direction.

As a fellow Arizonan, I, too, had to escape to the nearby desert after election day. We live in an incredibly beautiful state, led by some incredibly stupid people.

The desert, this time of year, provides a "mind cleansing" effect.

Great post.
Dom I've heard this many times before, "why don't they just come here legally?" Unfortunately this ignores the fact that with our outdated and unrealistic immigration laws there is no way to enter this country legally if you are unskilled, like all the people working in our fields and doing our low-wage jobs are. Legal immigration is reserved for those who have money, resources, or relatives living here already. That's it. So the many who come to pick lettuces and strawberries have no way to enter without breaking laws thrown up to prevent them. That's why I said suggest we look at real issues, facts and humane solutions instead of misinformation and hate rhetoric (and if you don't believe it's out there, try reading comments on any AZ Central article about SB1070).
I'll leave you with my favorite graphic flow-chart that illustrates the realities of immigration:
"I wonder what percentage of the unskilled. once established here for a period of years, paying taxes, kids in school and etc, become legal. You seem to have a lot of data; maybe you know that number. It would be helpful to know."
That's an easy question to answer and it's zero. If you enter this country without papers you may not obtain legal residency unless you leave the country and then try to come in through legal channels (see my link on my last post as to what they are). If you are deported you may not seek legal entry for many years (I believe it's 10). The last time people were granted amnesty was under Reagan and since then immigration laws have been very unforgiving of those who enter without documentation or who overstay visas.
I agree, there is no good reason why this is the case. Give people a way to come here and work, based on labor markets and need. Don't advertise jobs at the US packing plants in Mexico and compel them to risk their lives crossing deserts to fill them (and illegal labor is exploitable labor). Take away the incentives to hire coyotes and abusive smugglers and they will fade away.
The answer to all this is Comprehensive Immigration Reform as proposed by Congressman Gutierrez last year ( It's up to congress to pass such a bill (and Obama has indicated support for it). Unfortunately the new leadership in congress as run on an anti-immigrant, anti-amnesty ticket so the chances of this happening are vanishingly small.
I agree that reasonable people shouldn't be labeled racist, and I hope that's not what you took away from this piece. People like Russell Pearce are most assuredly racist though and he is the one driving the misinformation bus that so many are willing to hop on without question. Reasonable people look at all sides of a story and come to humane conclusions, as I believe you have. Sadly they were a distinct minority of Arizona voters in the last election.
Thank you for the opportunity to have a open and respectful dialog about this, I truly appreciate it. :-)
My time in Arizona gave me a different perspective on McCain than most people. I remember the creepy ads he used to run during his Senate campaigns--just him standing against a backdrop of the American flag, the most general kind of ad. It was as if he didn't have to make any effort to get elected, just say, 'Look at me, I was a war hero, vote for me,' and all the old unreconstructed Goldwater voters would cast their ballots. This last challenge he had in the primary was terrific in that sense. Not sure if the scary guy won or not. Rated.
By the way, unfortunately it's beginning to look like your experience there with the out of control politics of fear-thy-neighbor might be a preview of what's about to grip the rest of the country. Keep writing. It's instructive and helpful to know the particular type of reactionary politics we all might end up fighting. America hasn't seen something this virulent, this Le Pen-like, in a long long time.

""even while the state was crumbling all around her."""

The direct result of illegal immigrants raping the welfare and school systems!
That is why these laws are needed.

Delete Fast Racist Amy....I will Keep Posting the TRUTH!!
"Anti-American idiot with a (low) two-digit IQ detected.

Initiating mental cleansing of aforementioned bitch from continued destruction of the United States due to treasonous activity and sedition. Traitor will be exposed to such notions as... reality, real American history, anti-Xenophobic training, and the methods and principles of brainwashing used to turn him into a mindless zombie of the right-wing propaganda machine."

Have a nice day Greg :-)
Loved the article Amy. Keep up the good fight!
It's refreshing to read an honest exchange on a topic that has been discussed for so long with heated rhetoric & name calling... (Hose Bee's post excluded). I had the pleasure to live along the border 3 years ago. I was so impressed with the young people's ability to carry on 2 conversations at once... one in Spanish & one in English, all the while working hard in family-owned businesses. Something I can barely fathom. I believe the youth will 'move us forward' in this arena, as well as gay marriage, gays in the military, integration, and a whole host of movements whose time has come. May the current electoral setback not discourage the youth from voting. We need them now like never before.

You are finally right about one thing. People did stand up and make their voices heard. In the 3 states which choose to make Immigration a prime point of reference on the issues, California, Nevada, and Arizona, California and Nevada rose up and said no to people who are for separation of Americans based on the color of their skin. They said no to anti Latino voting. They said no to bigotry and they said yes to hope.

With every year that passes more Latino Americans will gain the right to vote. Our voice will be heard, our voices will not stay quiet and we, when given the reins of power will be more just and American, then the rhetoric and rubbish which you litter the internet with on a daily basis.

May each night you go to sleep leave you with the nightmare that is the Latin vote and may its voice echo in your mind until it has cleansed the xenophobia from the failure that you call your brain.
Your not even close, There were many senator and governors races were won by using illegal immigration as the backbone of their campaign. Look at Iowa for example. Republican candidate for governor Terry Branstad: Illegal immigrant children should be denied public education.


""Republican candidate for Iowa governor Terry Branstad said the state needs to crack down on illegal immigrants if the federal government won't do it, and he's suggesting a plan similar to controversial new law in Arizona.""
And he was elected by a huge margin!!

Hell even the Iowa house speaker is raising money to help Arizona defend itself against the SB1070 lawsuits LOL.
You have 25 other states not including Iowa who are planning on passing laws similar to SB1070...then you have Texas introducing over 20 bills against illegal immigrants.

The democrats were in a bloodbath this year and it looks like the President will be gone in two more years.

Harry only kept Nevada because he had a very weak opponent and even then he barely survived.
The Dream Act will only be a dream, There is almost no chance it will wasn't even able to muster enough support to get voted on with a democratic majority and thats gone so good luck with that LOL.
Illegal Immigrant is not a race, Wanting all illegal immigrants out of the country does not make a person a racist or a bigot.
They do not have a right to stay just because they were able to get away with it for so long...They (illegals) can consider it a nice vacation and now it's time to go home and face reality!

Reading your thoughts is not only painful for my soul, it also makes every 5th grade English teacher cry a single tear. Your, you're = you are, and so many more I don't want to take the time to correct.

I will highlight the fact that the states where there is a large Latin voice, California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, these voices did come out and affect change. If you want to imagine that Iowa has a large Latin voice that can affect the outcome of an election, I would like some of what you are (I could use you're here) smoking.

Each year more Latins will come of age to vote, and each year your red states will drop like dominoes. All because your party tried to divide and conquer. Though you may claim to not be a bigot or racist, the comments you make on the internet paint you with those very words.

Have sweet dreams. Sarcasm off.
I'm not worried about Losing Red States.....According to your way of thinking the Republicans should be losing seats with every election as the Latino population grows right? Then why did the Democrats loose so many seats this year? There are more Latinos of voting age then there has ever been. I'll tell you why....They don't vote!!! They tend to be uneducated and could care less about government and do as they are told like they have for centuries! That is why they make good slaves for the US job market. They are like sheep. I'm also not worried about the educated Latinos because once they are old enough to vote then they will already be Republicans....How else do you explain Texas!!!.

PS I'm not Greg.....I laugh every time you sheeple call me that. If I were Greg why wouldn't I just admit it like he does every time he posts! I don't need the grammar police thank you! You should be more worried about your illegal immigrants friends and family being deported!!!!
Greg said,

"They tend to be uneducated and could care less about government and do as they are told like they have for centuries! That is why they make good slaves for the US job market. They are like sheep."

Thanks for showing your bigotry. Please bless us more with your wisdom and flowery use of the English language. Also the Latin voters in California, Nevada, and Colorado say hi. The list will only grow in 2012. So hold that idea of Latinos not voting close to your chest. What ever helps you sleep at night.
Also I do worry for you Greg. I worry that without your ability to write the English language correctly you will not be able to get a job, or perhaps you yourself could be considered an illegal immigrant and thus be rounded up in these deportation sweeps. Now that would be a true travesty.
What ever you say Amy
Thanks, Amy, for this enlightening read. I too love Arizona: the desert (we spent a long weekend in Saguaro National Park), the high country, the old and the new (wish Phoenix could somehow "pull it together" as a big city [but they're trying] . . .

I believe Evan would roll over in his grave, regardless of the last election results. Change HAS come, albeit in piddly amounts, but I still believe.
Your prose is beautiful.