We’re celebrating Arizona Statehood today. The picture above was taken only a decade and a half after statehood. Arizona looked a lot like the three men in the picture in those days.
The man in the middle, Juan Salas, had just purchased the Model A he’s posing with and was about to go off to California. The man smoking on the right is Alfredo Araiza. The man on the left is Francisco Villa, my grandfather.
He was born in Arizona in 1898, well before statehood. He had what would now be considered an elementary school education. Despite that, he was a man who read constantly and instilled the value of literacy in his family (and even served on a local school board). Even though I never knew the guy, I’d like to think my bookworm tendencies come from him.
He was too skinny for the Army in 1917, and told he was too old by a recruiter in 1941, but raised three sons that served in the military. His children went on into a variety of professions, and all of them turned out civic minded. To this day, you can’t go to a Villa family event without a well informed, and occasionally heated, discussion of local politics.
Not a life that will earn one’s likeness being preserved in bronze, but the legacy of my grandfather, his friend Alfredo Araiza (whose family is still in Tucson and contributing to our community) and folks of his generation made a huge impact on our day to day life in Arizona. It ought to be acknowledged.
Which is why I was infuriated by our governor’s state of the state message weeks ago. Maybe infuriated is the wrong word, since I’ve come to expect such things, unfortunately. Her speech included a history of our state, but for some reason she couldn’t find room to acknowledge the importance of our Hispanic history. It isn’t some minor point to check off on a list. It would be like writing a history of the Civil War and forgetting to mention Abraham Lincoln. It seems like to her, or her speech writer, folks like my grandfather simply didn’t exist.
And this brings us to the ongoing ethnic studies controversy. The way the district handled the transition of the classes to regular history classes was, to say the least, poorly thought out. I don’t know how anyone would have thought that in the climate surrounding the issue that sending people into classes to confiscate books would have been anything but incitement. District officials wince at the word “censorship” and have been struggling to deny that it was really censorship. In a technical sense, I agree.
But, what’s happening is something bigger than copies of Bless Me Ultima being taken out of classrooms. What’s behind this is an attempt to eliminate an idea: the notion that Hispanic culture is part of the history of this region of the country and deserves study.
It dovetails neatly into the immigration question, and serves as a nice stand in for the issue for some politicians. Policies like SB 1070 are easier for the broader public to swallow if folks think of their Hispanic neighbors as usurpers and alien, even if they were born here. We deny their place in our history; it’s easy to call their presence here “reasonably suspicious.”
My part of the state’s history is littered with names like Nabor Pacheco, Lalo Guerrero and Esteban Ochoa. There are also the names of thousands of women and men, like my grandfather, whose names never made it into the Journal of Arizona History. Their legacies are not just Hispanic but distinctly American.
Acknowledging that is just too damned dangerous, I guess.