30 Years of Tucson Weekly: 1996-2001


Luis Alberto Urrea tells the strange yarn of two Mexican women who end up in trouble—and how he ended up smuggling them back into Mexico:

This is the story of Carmela and Mariposa, a secretary and her next-door neighbor, who have spent their whole lives in Hermosillo and never dreamed of coming to the United States. Carmela hadn't been across the border for more than 20 years. Mariposa had never been here. The Mexican economy, however, encouraged them.

Carmela's monthly salary was 100 pesos less than her monthly bills, and her husband's day-labor job was barely making up the difference. They had three kids, one of whom was attending university. His tuition was 7,000 pesos a semester; Carmela and her husband earned 6,000.

One day, a goat rancher named Don Chuy came into Carmela's office. This is where, unexpectedly, I enter as well.

Carmela had known my family when she was younger—she had been, in fact, a close friend to some of my cousins. Don Chuy, in his many journeys into Arizona, had somehow stumbled across a member of the extended family. You know how conversations can go over a few beers. Somehow, the connection was made, and Chuy and his associates hatched their plan after the get-together was over.

He told Carmela that he saw her suffering, trying to make ends meet. He also felt he owed her a favor, since she had looked out for him in a business deal. She was in luck. Did she remember the Urrea family? Of course, she said. Well, Don Chuy had an exclusive contract with the Urrea family. They owned factories in the U.S., factories so large that they hired busloads of Mexicans to work there. And since she was a family friend, he could guarantee her a good job within a week. Of course, there would be a small fee to get her safely across the border. But it would be much less than what the other coyotes charged. (The Urrea family owns no factories in Tucson.)

Carmela's husband was against the idea. He hated the thought of her going away, and he hated the thought of her crossing the dangerous border. "I have a passport," she told him. "I can just walk across the line with the tourists." But, he insisted, even if it was good old Don Chuy, how could he let her travel with a man?

Carmela had an idea: She'd invite Mariposa. Mariposa could be her chaperon, and between Mariposa and Don Chuy, Carmela was sure she'd be safe. They could travel, live, and work together. They'd come home together. And they'd have double the money.

Against his better judgment, Carmela's husband said yes.

—"Crossing the Line," May 9


Margaret Regan recalls how the wrecking ball destroyed downtown's barrios during the 1960s pursuit of urban renewal:

The wrecking ball swung slowly against the deep blue desert sky and then danced back into its target. Once, twice, three times it smashed against the old Del Monte Market on South Meyer Avenue. But the building had been around a while, and it didn't go without a struggle.

Leticia Jacobs Fuentes stood in her backyard behind the market and watched the battle, shading her eyes with her hand against the fierce sun. She didn't even have to think about whose side she was on. She was rooting for the market.

"No te dejas! No te dejas!" she called out to the old place. Time was, it had been a store where the manager let people slide on their bills until payday, where her kids used to hop in and out for sweets. "Don't let go! Don't let go!"

Despite her pleas, and the Del Monte's sturdy resistance to the demands of progress, it was no contest. Hit again and again by the wrecking ball, the market's old adobe bricks crumbled to dust and scattered to the winds.

Fuentes was safe in her yard for the moment, but soon her family and her neighbors would be scattered just as surely as was that adobe dust. The year was 1967, and urban renewal was abroad in the land. Cities from coast to coast, seized with notions of "progress" and "modernization," were gleefully demolishing their downtowns, leveling historic buildings, rooting out their poorest residents. More often than not the displaced were minorities, who bitterly nicknamed the federal program "brown removal" or "Negro removal."

In Tucson, the city fathers intended to erect a gleaming 20th-century New Pueblo upon the grave of the Old, a generic all-American city center that would in effect obliterate the adobe remains of the Mexican past. With the blessing of the voters, mayor and council had signed a death warrant for some 263 old buildings occupying 80 acres of prime downtown real estate. The barrio that would disappear in urban renewal was the city's oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood.

It took in some 29 city blocks, an irregular rectangle that sprawled from San Agustín Cathedral on the east almost to the train tracks on the west, and from Washington Street on the north to 14th Street on the south. The neighborhood, a mix of businesses, houses and apartments, was home to an estimated 1,170 people, mostly poor or working-class. It was a Mexican-American barrio, where Spanish was often spoken, but living there also were a sizable number of African-Americans and Chinese.

Under the ambitious urban renewal plan, the crooked pedestrian streets, with old-time names like Mesilla, Ochoa, El Paso and Sabino, would be replaced by streamlined semihighways built for drivers who had no time to amble. A new chain hotel would go up in place of the old rooming houses and neighborhood hotels like the Belmont. On the remains of old adobe houses would rise the anonymous modern towers of the county government center, the long monolith of the Tucson Convention Center, and its attendant parking lots. Space would be found for a brand-new Tucson Museum of Art. The city's old central square, the Plaza de la Mesilla, and its surrounding Mexican-American business district would give way to the faux-Mexican office complex called La Placita.

Once urban renewal was complete, it would be hard for newcomers to know that anything else had ever been there.

—"There Goes The Neighborhood," March 6


Gregory McNamee embeds himself with a team of wildlife biologists who are working on reintroducing wolves in eastern Arizona's Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area:

The presence of lobos along the Blue makes for nice historical symmetry, for it was in the Blue Range that Aldo Leopold, today revered as one of the guiding spirits of the American conservation movement, first came to know the wilds of the Southwest. Thanks to Leopold's later efforts, in 1925 the nearby headwaters of the Gila River became the nation's first official wilderness area. But before he did this good deed, Leopold worked as a government hunter, and he killed dozens of wolves in the area. He came to regret his work only after he mortally wounded an aged female, failing to make what hunters call a clean kill.

"We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes," he wrote in his now-classic memoir A Sand County Almanac. "I realized then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunter's paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."

That trigger itch remains a problem. On the morning of April 28, a camper shot and killed one of the males, known to government biologists as No. 156. The lobo was scarcely a mile away from his acclimation pen on Turkey Creek. In the months that followed, three more wolves were shot dead.

The killers remain at large.

The biologists have long been preparing for reintroduction, through years of study, of breeding captive wolves, and of politicking. Their work is far from over, for they still have to fend off the considerable controversy that surrounds their project. Many local ranchers fear the lobos will harass and kill their livestock. Other rural Arizonans fear the reintroduction will harm tourism and local industries alike. Arizona legislators have introduced bills to put a bounty on the heads of reintroduced wolves. And some environmentalists believe the program should be stopped because it does not do enough to protect the reintroduced wolves from unhappy humans—to say nothing of the German Luftwaffe, which has asked for permission to hold low-level training flights above the Blue Range.

At the beginning of June, I traveled into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area to watch how the wolves were taking to their new home—and, more pointedly, to observe how the government biologists were gauging the results of their work. As the following notes from the field relate, I found the wolves were just one element in a complex, divisive struggle between various government agencies on one hand and Mogollon Rim communities on the other.

And, as events have borne out, in that struggle it appears the wolves will emerge as the loser.

—"Fables of the Reintroduction," Dec. 3


Dan Huff assesses the big-box battle at El Con Mall:

Just like clockwork, as the blessed monsoons die down, here comes Tucson's Season of Contention. Have you noticed? Early mornings are getting cooler already; the traffic is slowly building up on the city's increasingly inadequate arterials; and—ah, sweet sound!—Tucsonans are screaming at one another again.

It's a time when the players return to our still-baking Capistrano and quickly turn up the heat on all the issues they left simmering on the back burner when summer first commenced to sizzle back in mid-May.

The biggest brouhaha of the moment would seem to be at El Con, the once-proud midtown mall fallen prey to age, younger, more vibrant competition and, to put it mildly, indifferent management skills.

El Con's owners, members of the Kivel and Papanikolas families—And what are we talking here? As many as 40 to 70 people?—can't seem to get their act together.

Camouflaged as just-plain local folks with the best interests of our community at heart, they've carpet-bombed the historic midtown neighborhoods of El Encanto, El Montevideo, Colonia Solana, El Conquistador, and Miramonte in a premeditated attack of heavy-handed arrogance, reaping in turn a firestorm of retaliation from the city of Tucson.

And it appears as though the war has only just begun.

—"Big Box Battle," Aug. 19


Margaret Regan examines the growing number of dead bodies on the border:

The death of Silverio Huinil Vail was by no means rare. In fact, it's No. 55 on the official Border Patrol death tally for this fiscal year in the Tucson Sector, which stretches 281 miles from the New Mexico border to the Yuma County line. The running count of people who perish in the desert begins each year on Oct. 1. Most of this year's victims, like Huinil, died of exposure; nine were killed in accidents; two drowned. Five were ruled homicides, says spokesman Rob Daniels; most of those victims suffocated after being squeezed into vans by the coyotes.

Huinil's death wasn't the last, either. In fact, since July 20, the day he took his last breath in his friend's arms, three more migrants have followed him into death. Two were found on Monday, July 24, one near Sasabe, the other in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. On Thursday, July 27, a man was found near Three Points, and his decomposed body suggested that death had occurred five to seven days earlier. The three new deaths push the toll up to 58 deaths in 40 weeks, averaging out to about three deaths every two weeks. With two months left to go, this year's total is already double the 29 deaths in the Tucson Sector in all of fiscal 1999. In 1995, there were 12.

Migrant deaths have become so commonplace along the border, reports Linda Morales, a social worker who lives in Naco, Ariz., that they "don't even make the headlines here."

—"The Death of Silverio Huinil Vail," Aug. 3


Chris Limberis attends driving school:

Some of my classmates still want to contest their tickets.

Max, for example, thinks he should be absolved for getting a ticket in Willcox for running a stop sign early one morning. He didn't hurt anyone. There were no other cars around. And, most important, the police were sitting in a car that had no lights on.

"What's up with that?" he asked.

Lawton turns to the Unocal kid, Don, and asks, essentially, "Why are you in here?"


There's a surprise.

"I was going down Oracle and my wife said, 'You better slow down. You're speeding.' I told her, 'This is not speeding. This is speeding. That wasn't fast. This is fast.'"

The cop agreed.

—"Speed Traps," Nov. 29

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