Impromptu Interview

Ash Rupp

        After Dr. K set us free to explore South Phoenix for the first time on our own, I realized just how little I knew about the area. South Phoenix has always been a place I have driven through on my way to another destination; it has never been the destination. I felt so uninformed that I had been living in the valley for almost seven years and I had never developed a familiarity with the area. As my team and I drove around trying to get our bearings, I felt as if I was in a different city or even country. Iím used to seeing signs sprinkled with Spanish, but nearly everything was in Spanish here. In the areas of town Iím more familiar with (Scottsdale and North Phoenix) Spanish lettering is used to convey an exotic feeling to rather mundane Anglo places. Not so here. If you didnít speak Spanish, you were out of luck.
        My research team and I had not been on the road for long when we noticed the abundance of police patrol. We couldnít go for more than a couple of blocks without running in to their cars. Most of the police cars were just parked on the side of the road surveying the area. Usually Iím glad to see the police (unless Iím speeding), they make me feel safe and protected; but the large numbers of them in South Phoenix started to feel rather oppressive. I felt as if they were waiting for something to happen.   It made me nervous.

        After driving up and down Central Avenue, we decided to stop at a family owned convenience store east of Central and Broadway to begin generating more ideas about where we wanted to concentrate the remainder of our day. The convenience store we stopped at was like no store I had ever been in before. There were bars on all of the windows and signs and stickers advertising products in Spanish everywhere. We walked in and I noticed that we were the only people who didnít seem to know the owner well.  The other customers were all gathered around the front counter chatting and smiling.  I began to feel like we were intruding.  We were also the only people not speaking Spanish. In broken Spanish Jackie asked the clerk if we could take pictures. He said yes and we started browsing around and taking pictures of products that we had never seen before (i.e. Mexican candy, sodas, and cleaning products). As I was trying to make my way down the narrow aisle way I stumbled on someoneís foot. I looked up and in the back corner of the store where I was exploring there was a policeman sitting on a crate, monitoring the store. I apologized for tripping on him and then explained why we were in here. I told him that we were form ASU West and we were taking an Urban Anthropology course that studied the changes occurring in South Phoenix. He looked really confused. I asked him if he had noticed the changes that the new construction had facilitated in the area.  He answered by telling me that this was an unsafe area and he encouraged me to leave. I told him that our presence was for school and he then reiterated the danger of the neighborhood.

I repeated my first question, had he noticed any changes?  He shrugged and said that he hadnít noticed any changes. I couldnít hide my shock. After everything I had read about the new construction in South Phoenix I could not believe that someone who spent everyday out here would not have noticed any changes. He said that crime was still rampant, the gangs were still very active, and that while there was new construction; it wasnít helping anything.  From what he had seen the new houses were being bought by people from out of town who donít ďknow the area.Ē After they figured out what they had ďgotten themselves intoĒ they would try to sell the homes. The problem is, he continued, the current residents can not afford to buy the new homes, and anyone who has seen the area doesnít want to live there either. He said the gated communities were fairing a little better, but you canít stay in your gated community forever, you have to go to the store, and work, and school. He said that he did not think that this new construction would last. He said you can dress South Phoenix up any way you like, but it is still South Phoenix. I thanked him and told him we would be careful (he was still worried about us being in the area).
        Later I thought about what he said. I donít think he intended to sound as harsh as he did, but in his line of work there is just a certain amount of jading that is bound to happen. He seemed genuinely concerned for our safety and could not figure out why we wanted to study South Phoenix.
            I was a little surprised that none of the police officers I had seen in South Phoenix that day were Hispanic or African-American. It seemed odd to me that every police officer I had seen that day was white. As I began the readings Dr. K recommended I noticed that this was not an unnoticed occurrence. Bolin, Grineski, and Collins point this out in their article The Geography of Despair: Environmental Racism and the Making of South Phoenix, ďWhile the barrios of Phoenix provided settings for the continuation of Mexican cultural traditions and practices, they were contained there by an all White police forceĒ (Bolin 161).  The article then goes on to point out many of the other inequities that the people of South Phoenix must face.  While Iím sure that there must be other races in the police force stationed in South Phoenix, I observed saw white police that day. It seems strange that while everything else in South Phoenix seems to celebrate other cultures and diversity within the community, the officers who are meant to keep the residents safe were clearly not from the community. If what the officer we spoke to said was any indication of how other police officers feel, then not only are they not from the community, but they seem to resent the community and its members.