“The Modern Arizona Scene” is the current state of Arizona’s art, music, and books. This art is uniquely ours--art that springs up from the desert, from the Grand Canyon, from the border, from the Colorado River. The identity of Arizona is ever elusive, a place in between. This state is torn between hate and love, differences and similarities, beauty and desolation. However, through the art of Arizona, we can make sense of Arizona’s identity and aesthetic.
Arizona is a place where both racism and diversity flourish. The role of the individual is to decide how to view oneself and one’s neighbors. To move forward, we must examine where we are now.
The Bad: Arizona banned “ethnic studies” in 2010 with HB 2281. By ethnic studies, Arizona school officials meant a specific Mexican American Studies (MAS) class at Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). Arizona leaders said the class was turning Mexican American students against America, said that it promoted “the overthrow of the United States government,” declared that it was making high school kids “rude.” 2010 is also the same year SB 1070 was passed--a law that allowed police officers to racially profile individuals to determine their immigration status.
The MAS program at TUSD was attempting to include Mexican American students who did not feel they had a place in the normal curriculum. In 2010-2011, the Latino population at TUSD was 56.2%, certainly high enough to justify changes that would include students. The course also produced results, decreasing dropout and raising graduation rates, respectively. Among the MAS students, the dropout rate was 2.5%, in stark contrast to the rate for Latino students nationwide, which was 56%. 66% of the students of TUSD MAS went on to attend college.
The students and teachers of this program were able to have their voices heard at a federal level. Judge A. Wallace Tashima, a federal judge from the United States Court of Appeals, overturned this ban in 2017. Seven years later. He said that the “racial animus”--meaning the hostile motivation against a certain race—was too transparent. It is obvious to the world that Arizona has a race problem, but it isn’t always obvious to Arizonans.
Commenting on the rise of ethnic studies to combat the bans, Ravi Perry from the National Association of Ethnic Studies emphasized that ethnic studies are “not about promoting an individual agenda. It's about understanding the importance of community solidarity." In the words of HB 2281 protestors: Don’t hate! Educate!
The Good: Arizona has the potential to flourish despite its differences. Because of its differences. Tucson’s birthday was August 20th, 2018 and the birthday celebration lasted for days. Tucson celebrated with a local mariachi band, Los Changuitos Feos, and a Tohono O’odham band, Gertie N the TO Boyz. They celebrated with flags (plural): the Arizona flag, the American flag, Spanish, Mexican flags, Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yaqui Tribe flags, and also a Mormon Battalion flag, with 28 stars.
In this one event, Tucson celebrated the cultures of the people who live in Arizona.
Not just accepting but understanding and celebrating our diversity should be Arizona’s priority. Our state languages should be English and Spanish, like New Mexico. We should teach kids about all the people who live here and teach them to be proud of it.
The Art: If we examine the art of Arizona, the personality of the state emerges. Embracing the art of the people who live here will help us become a better, more whole state.
Let’s celebrate the Modern Arizona Scene--have fun, see something beautiful, witness another person’s pain, understand who Arizona is.
Shonto Begay is an artist from the Navajo Nation. He shares often how his art helped him survive in America as a Native American, "I created my own alternative reality, my unconventional reality in which to place my own sanctuary. That is how I survived. Art allowed me to survive."
Logan Phillip , aka dirtyverbs, is a bilingual poet who creates work in English and Spanish and does performance poetry that explores the mythic desert landscape. This is an excerpt from his book, Sonoran Strange : Sky Islands.
Anglo bandits escaped here after raiding in Mexico,
Apache bandits escaped here after raiding in Mexico.
Mexican narcos stage here before smuggling into Arizona.
Phoenicians escape here in summer, to second homes.
Tucsonans slide here in winter, on Sonoran ski slopes.
Homeland of the Chiricahua people, homeland of the Huachuca agave.
Where the O’odham were born, where the thunder is born; psychogeographic landscape of myth.
Hollow with limestone caverns, punctured by prospectors. Lost treasure and endangered species.
Extinct zip codes and boomtowns and the holiest of places.
Baboquivari and Ramsey.
Timber and perennial springs. Suppression and crown fires.
Santa Rita and Catalina. Pinaleños and Peloncillos.
Tumacacori and El Tigre.
Sky islands float
like blue mirage,
under black thunderheads
and above waves of irradiant
Farah Alrasheed, an Arizonan from Kuwait, uses her Instagram to promote her photography, Faravisual. She captures the spirit of Arizona with In-N-Out, cacti, and the occasional desert storm.
Rising and powerful poet Anna Flores shares her experiences of being Mexican American in Mexicans Are Such Hard Workers, which she also performs as a spoken word poem. Arizona has official poets as well, like our state poet, Alberto Ríos. Phoenix also has a city poet named Rosemarie Dombrowski who showcases her work in The Philosophy of Unclean Things in which she includes the poem, “A Bird Is the Heart of Memory”:
“Only the birds can disregard
borders, make them invisible
like the shift between time zones
or the drop in the ocean floor.
If Li Po could hear this,
I’d tell him to build it in the shape of a birdhouse.
I’d warn him that even a poet can misread
the sound of birds,
the sack of a human heart.
If my mother could hear this,
I’d recite the nursery rhyme about Blackbirds
Fly away Jack. Fly away Jill.
In the Southwest, the sparrow prefers to skulk
in the thickets, and the roadrunner is a shaman–
its feathers protecting babies,
its X-shaped footprints confusing evil spirits.
In the Midwest, the bluebirds would wail for hours.
In the spring, they’d dream
of dying in the forest.
By late July, the yard would be filled with
impossible pieces of puzzle.”
Some art is easier to find. Murals bring life and beauty into parts of cities that are being revitalized--like Joe Pagac’s Mural in Tucson, Arizona, where reality meets magic.
Aurelie Sheehan, an author that took root in Arizona, published her book, Demigods on Speedway – Speedway being a main street in Tucson, Arizona – which explores myth colliding with the Southwest in intricately human ways.
“Living here is like being sent up to space in a capsule too close to the sun, or flying like Icarus right into the jagged rays of the sun, then shaken until you’re braindead as an old egg. Being here, in Tucson, the sun is commander--if you can picture that. The sun is everywhere, in every nook and cranny, and there is no nook or cranny left cool or dim.”
Another Arizonan author is Francisco Cantú who wrote The Line Becomes A River that contains tales of our borderlands, and Cantú’s experience with his time on Border Patrol and the humanity and horror he witnessed.
"As I swam toward a bend in the canyon, the river became increasingly shallow. In a patch of sunlight, two longnose gars, relics of the Paleozoic era, hovered in the silted water. I stood to walk along the adjacent shorelines, crossing the river time and again as each bank came to an end, until finally, for one brief moment, I forgot in which country I stood. All around me the landscape trembled and breathed as one."
Appreciate the art of Arizona. Read the words of Arizona. Wander downtown Flagstaff, look for Kachinas tucked away in art galleries, watching you watch them. Go to a book festival – pick any city’s book festival: Tucson, Tempe, Payson, Mesa, Flagstaff. Attend a poetry event downtown, like Juniper House or the Poetry Slam. Find an artist who had different experiences than you.
Find the Arizona that we all are together. Find the beauty in the desert, and celebrate our diversity. Shout out for an education that is a collage of our identities as Americans. Encourage Arizona to grow towards unity, a collaboration of what we are.
(A shortened verse version)
Looking for Arizona Culture :
Otherwise known as,
taking it back from those
who would push others out.
We, Arizonans, We all live here.
Dirt stretching to the horizon,
Cactus growing up through hard dirt and stone.
We all hate and love living here.
Everyone’s always a little covered in dirt.
Everyone’s had an encounter with a cactus.
Everyone – bragging about the Grand Canyon.
(the Havasupai living below its rim)
Sunsets--of reds, golds, pink hues
The kind we take pictures of.
Purple mountain ranges on the horizon.
Thunderstorms--grey clouds with blue rain,
lit up with destructive lightning.
Cities that shake with thunder.
We are a borderland,
We are a lot of things.
Arizona--the Southwest, sometimes the Wild West.
Arizona-- the Mexicans, Mormons, Cowboys, Cowgirls,
Arizona-- the immigrants, wanderers, and refugees.
Arizona--the Ak-Chin, Cocopah, Colorado River,
Hopi, Fort Mojave, Quechan, Gila River,
Havasupai, Fort McDowell Yavapai,
Kaibab Band of Paitute, Hualapai,
Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Salt River Pima-Maricopa, Navajo
San Carlos, Tohono O’Odham, Zuni Pueblo
Tonto Apache, White Mountain Apache,
Yavapai-Prescott Indians, San Juan, Yavapai Apache.
We are anyone who lives here.
And we are looking--
Looking for Arizona in art,
Looking for Arizona in poetry,
Looking for Arizona in books.
Appreciate the art of Arizona.
Read the words of Arizona.
Wander downtown Flagstaff,
look for Kachinas tucked away in art galleries,
watching you, watch them.