For New Mexicans to understand the issues pertaining to Arizona’s controversial new law, SB 1070, it’s necessary to grasp the history of how Arizona has dealt with racial issues since its establishment as a territory.
Historically Arizona and New Mexico have taken divergent paths in race relations. According to a governmental study titled “The Excluded Student: Educational Practices Affecting Mexican Americans in the Southwest,” the division between the two states’ attitudes towards Hispanics occured as they were split from one state into two. The territory of New Mexico, which included present day Arizona, was created after Mexico ceded the land to the U.S., following the war of 1846-48. At the time there were approximately 75,000 Spanish-speaking inhabitants in the Southwest, with 60,000 of these Spanish inhabitants residing in New Mexico, while only about 1,000 Spanish inhabitants resided in Arizona. Then, the region’s culture was dominated by a blend of Mexican, Spanish and Native American, with the primary language being Spanish. Many Americans are unaware of, or have chosen to ignore, that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which was signed after the war, was created to protect the rights of Spanish speaking people in the area—as well as to protect their culture and language. This historical document is a crucial part of the history of Spanish-speaking people in the Southwest and should be understood by all who live in the region.
The territory of New Mexico was accepted into the Union in about 1850, and divided into separate states around 1863. At the time a resolution was created to give joint statehood to both states, but Arizona, through the Arizona Territorial Teacher’s Association, rejected the idea because they felt that New Mexico had a completely different culture due to the strong Spanish and Mexican influence. The people of Arizona did not like the idea that New Mexico’s laws were written in two languages and the legislature was conducted through interpreters.
New Mexico was not inundated with a huge influx of people from other states in the way that Arizona has been, thus the state has stayed fairly isolated, allowing the conservation of Hispanic culture and language.
When both states applied for statehood, restrictions as to the use of Spanish in schools and by those in elected office were addressed through provisions to each state’s constitution, but in New Mexico three provisions were added, protecting the rights of Spanish speakers. New Mexico was admitted into the Union after succeeding in protecting the rights of Spanish speakers through the new constitution. On the other hand, Arizona took a completely different stance and thus begun the diminution of whatever power Spanish-speaking people ever had in the state. This is the nexus, at which both these states took divergent paths in their attitude towards Hispanics.
Throughout New Mexico’s history as a state, there has been a strong attitude towards preserving traditions and biculturalism. Until recently, New Mexico was not inundated with a huge influx of people from other states in the way that Arizona has been, thus the state has stayed fairly isolated, allowing the conservation of Hispanic culture and language. The Catholic Church in New Mexico has also played a huge role in promoting and preserving Hispano culture, and has been vocal in its opposition to Arizona’s new law, not as a racial issue, but as a humanitarian one. Today, New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics of any state at 44 percent, while Arizona is approximately 30 percent Hispanic. Hispanics have played a huge role in New Mexico politics, with the legislature being about 45 percent Hispanic while Arizona’s legislature is only 16 percent Latino.
Hispanics have played a huge role in New Mexico politics, with the legislature being about 45 percent Hispanic while Arizona’s legislature is only 16 percent Latino.
Since the late ’50s, Arizona’s politics have been a stronghold of conservatism. Barry Goldwater, an Arizona native and one of the most powerful U.S. politicians throughout the ’60s, not only cut the path for Ronald Reagan’s rise to power, he singlehandedly gave rise to the popular conservative movement and created a huge Republican youth movement that have become today’s conservative leaders across America. Arizona Senator John McCain is a son of this movement. Arizonans have always been reactionary and fairly independent, and somewhere in this cauldron a recipe for conservative extremism was created.
While New Mexico has had five Hispanic governors, Arizona has had one, and although New Mexico has had its fair share of political corruption, it is dwarfed by the white collar and political crimes that Arizona has witnessed—many of these crimes committed by people who have pushed racist conservative agendas or supported or been supported by extremists and hate groups. Arizona today is run by an oligarchy of carpetbaggers.
Evan Mecham was Arizona’s governor in the late ’80s. He is known for having cancelled the Martin Luther King holiday in the state and for using the word “pickaninny” when referring to black children. He is also infamous for his impeachment after being found guilty of obstruction of justice and the misuse of government funds.
Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio has been the very vocal face of the anti-immigration movement in Arizona. He has been plagued by charges varying from corruption to civil rights violations since he took office, and has been under investigation by federal authorities and human rights groups for years, yet he remains enormously popular in Arizona.
What is important to note here is that this corruption was committed by white U.S. citizens—yet the trend is to blame all of Arizona’s crime on Mexican immigrants.
Throughout all this, New Mexico has maintained a fairly innocuous stance on immigration, and we actually allow non-citizens to get driver licenses as a means of maintaining control of the issue. Recently, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, who came here from Nebraska, and his Chief Public Safety Officer Darren White, who came here from Texas, have adopted a much tougher policy toward checking citizenship status. Much like what happened in Arizona, if politicians move here from out of state and set their own personal agendas, they have the power to destroy tradition and the threads that have kept communities free from fanaticism. This has not been our history—but it could soon be our future.