SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2009 Personal Memory Ethnographies
The Coming Change
In July of 2003 my father took the family on our annual camping trip to the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona, north of the town of Payson. This is a trip we had done every year for the previous fifteen summers of my life. My father’s father had taken him up to this same wilderness when he was a boy and they too had enjoyed the solitude of ponderosa pines, deep blue mountain lakes full of trout, lengthy hikes through remote forest, and the occasional encounter with a hungry black bear. To us, this was the best place in the world; it was the most relaxing way to spend five days away from reality.
When my parents announced that we were going camping in the mountains just a short drive away from Phoenix, I was very excited. We hadn’t been on a vacation in a few years because both of my parents are constantly working, sometimes seven days a week. They needed a break from this constant labor, and I just wanted to get away from the heat and boredom of summertime in Phoenix.
When it comes to trout fishing, my father and I are extremely competitive. For the five days of our camping trip, we spent all of them at the various lakes seeing who could catch the biggest or the most fish. On our last full day, we arrived early at Knoll Lake shortly before 9am. It was going to be a beautiful day. The peaceful silence of singing birds, wind blowing through the pine trees, and waves hitting the shore of the lake make you forget about the troubles back at home and the growing social tensions between the white and the rapidly expanding Hispanic populations.
During this time in Arizona, voters approved several anti-illegal immigration measures that sought to punish both undocumented workers and their employers. Also, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “Mexican” round ups across the county stirred up fear within the Hispanic community and a sense of justice with the predominant white population. Soon the Minutemen would begin to patrol the US/Mexico border in an effort to keep out Mexican migrants. As if in response, migrants’ rights movements would soon emerge and in 2006 about a thousand people would march through downtown Phoenix advocating for justice as perceived from their different gaze.
Sitting at the bottom of a steep canyon, Knoll Lake’s deep blue waters looked refreshing as the day heated up. After a short hike from the parking lot to the lake, I was glad to finally be able to set down the heavy Coca Cola and cerveza laden ice chest. We settled down in a sunny spot near a white father and his son fishing. The boy looked over at me with a cheerful expression on his face.
My father found a ranchero station on the radio while my siblings and I jumped into the ice cold water. We splashed around, trying to see who could swim the farthest or who could catch a crawdad with their bare hands from the rocky bottom. My mother bought us some inflatable pool toys at the Walmart in Payson the day before, so we blew air into them and paddled around the lake. The adults drank beer and relaxed, talking about times past and future plans. It was a beautiful and relaxing day; the forest lake had a calming effect.
When I saw this large Hispanic family setup camp right next to our fishing spot, something inside of my subconscious raised an alarm. I couldn’t recall any negative feelings towards Hispanics before this moment, but all of a sudden they came rushing to the surface right here on the shores of my paradise. Their radio was tuned to a station that played music sounding similar to an accordion being strangled. All dozen children jumped into the frigid waters with their inflatable pool toys and began shouting in Spanish and splashing. I was worried that my father, who had already landed one small trout that morning, would beat me in our contest because surely all of the fish would be scared away from this commotion in the water. I was also confused as to what exactly was happening: never before had I seen a Hispanic family up in the pine forests of the Mogollon Rim. I was used to encountering working and middle class families along with retired couples sightseeing from out of state. This was a completely new experience for me.
I glanced over to catch the boy giving me a disgusted look. He and his father were gathering all of their fishing gear and preparing to leave although the day had barely begun. I saw that the father had one fish on his stringer, but I didn’t understand why they were leaving so early. It was a perfect summer’s day on the lake, and surely the fish would bite throughout the day. Had my family scared them away? I had overheard my parents talking about a sheriff who stopped and arrested people for being “Mexican.” I could feel the tension in the air back in Phoenix when we went out on Sunday afternoons or when my mother took my siblings and I to the supermarket. We felt out of place or self conscious, even though my parents were legal documented migrants. For some reason, white people were always giving us that “look.” Did this boy and his father think we were those “Mexicans” that other whites seemed to loathe?
As we trudged back to the truck, we realized that social differences are going to alter the traditional activities and ways of life we had come to enjoy. We could no longer expect solitude in this once secluded sanctuary. What was a peaceful mountain escape would soon become a crowded weekend hangout full of whites and Hispanics alike who played loud music, riddled road signs with bullets, sped down the narrow and dusty dirt roads, and partied into the night.
In the coming years, Hispanics will be the majority in the state. They will decide the norms and redefine culture. My feelings that day weren’t that of hatred; they were simply the product of accepting the coming change in Arizona. This is something I cannot stop; something my father and I had to walk away from that sunny afternoon.
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