Monday, May 24, 2010

Taco Deco

[A big welcome to Crooks and Liars readers! - F]

Excellent piece on Arizona Anglos' cultural insecurity by Gregory Rodriguez in the LATimes.

It's easy to assume that Arizona has become the epicenter in the battle against illegal immigration primarily because it has one of the highest percentages of undocumented migrants of any state in the union. But that's just half the story behind the fear many white Arizonans evidently feel.

By the late 20th century, white Arizonans had perfected a style critics dubbed "Taco Deco," "Mariachi Moderne" or simply "Refried Architecture" — that faux Spanish colonial architecture with arches, tiles and the bougainvillea climbing everywhere (Southern California has its share too*). According to Phoenix architecture critic Lawrence Cheek, in the Valley of the Sun, "The farther you move away from the Hispanic neighborhoods of central and south Phoenix, the more refried architecture you see. The style has been coopted not by the people who could legitimately claim it as their heritage — they tend toward Middle American tract homes — but by itinerant gringos in search of a heritage…."

*Nothing new. Me 'n Mrs. G both grew up in Spanish-style houses hundreds of miles apart. We didn't move there from anywhere.

Faux Native American culture is another part of the Arizona aesthetic. I know a fancy spa in Scottsdale that has a tepee in the back where a shaman leads meditation sessions. (Never mind that tepees were used by Plains Indians far from the Southwest.) In some parts of town, you can't shake a stick without hitting mass-produced Kachina dolls, wrought-iron Kokopellis welded by hippie sculptors, and Indian jewelry that isn't made by Indians.

Boy, that's no shit! It gets to hilarious extremes up around Sedona, and other places I am sure. The roadsides all over the state have jewelry stands run by Indians. Unless you see them make the stuff, you don't know where it's from, and them blanketasses are the silent type. They ain't tellin'.

That said, the jewelry business in all of Arizona ain't a pimple on the ass of the jewelry business in downtown Santa Fe NM. I wore out a pair of shoes following Mrs. G around there one morning. Heh.

And you flip one particular light switch in my house by makin' Kokopelli smile...

None of this should be mistaken for genuine cross-pollination or healthy race relations. On the one hand, it demonstrates the Anglo newcomers' desire to acquire the trappings of ethnicity. On the other, it suggests how comfortable they are commodifying and consuming less influential cultures.

And make no mistake, the coming of Anglos meant the delegitimizing of other cultures in the Arizona Territory. In the early 1900s, during Arizona's struggle for statehood, its representatives had to prove to Washington that it was, in essence, white enough to enter the union.

Because of the large presence of non-Anglos, Indiana Sen. Albert Beveridge, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, argued that the federal government should view Arizona as it would an overseas possession. To avoid its becoming like "the Negro section of the South," he wanted Arizona to be managed the same way as the Philippines.

When it was time to write a constitution, this logic was made explicit, and non-Anglos were relegated to second-class status. The struggle for statehood had honed a clear notion of what constituted the preferred Arizonan. As historian Eric V. Meeks has written, "Racial inequality was not simply an unfortunate corollary to full statehood; it was built into the very identity of Arizona from its inception."

I thought for a while that I could retire in Northern Arizona (that's anyplace north of the Phoenix city limits or the Maricopa County line). Wide open spaces, wonderful scenery, lots of things to see and do, peace and quiet, a great VA system.

Not any more.

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