It was as predictable as clockwork. When I worked at a newspaper in Tucson, Ariz., the letter would arrive or the phone would ring and the message would be filled with outrage and surprise. Imagine being in a store or on the street and hearing two or more people having a conversation — in Spanish.
The spanking new desert denizen — just arrived from Michigan or Minnesota or somewhere else where it got cold in the winter — could not understand a word and this is America, right?
I wondered if the snowbirds, as they were called, knew Arizona officially became the 48th state in 1912 and that the folks they heard probably had relatives living in the same place for generations and that they probably could easily switch to English. (Fluency in two languages rather than one is usually thought of as a sign of erudition, intelligence and sophistication, unless of course that language is Spanish and your skin is brown. For a thought experiment, think French accent and white.)
I don’t mean to pick on Arizona. The desert landscapes were stunningly beautiful and the people were quite nice to me in their libertarian, live and let live attitude. Admittedly Pima County was more casual and progressive than Maricopa, and that was the 1980s, seemingly a lifetime ago. Plus, being African American, I was aware of my existence under the radar, knowing from my friends and my observations that Arizonans of Mexican and Native American ancestry provided a greater political and historical threat for some in power.