Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/12news/news/articles/0915independence15-CP.html

Valley Hispanics reflect on two cultures

The Arizona Republic
Sept. 15, 2003 12:00 AM

Angela Cara Pancrazio

The heart of Felix Ordonez has a double beat. One for America, the other for Mexico.

Patricia Marin often asks herself, "Am I Mexican? Am I American?"

Quetzal Guerrero feels a sense of responsibility to new immigrants from Mexico.

Ramiro Lozano worries that America's vision of Mexico is distorted.

Louis Olivas says his family members did not cross the border, the border crossed them.

On this Mexican Independence Day, which launches National Hispanic Heritage Month, Mexico means different things to those with ancestral ties, especially here in Arizona. Mexican-Americans here often identify where they are by the distance they or their families have traveled from Mexico.


Latinos are optimistic about the opportunities open to them in the Valley that were unavailable 10, 20 or 30 years ago, but still they worry about the obstacles facing new immigrants.

Five Valley Latinos shared their thoughts about Mexico and its continuing influence on their lives.


Ramiro Lozano


Ramiro Lozano, 30, of Tolleson, lived more than half his life in Rio Bravo, a small village just south of the Arizona border. It's a place without a traffic light, where everyone knows everyone's name. And where, at midnight every Sept. 15, the villagers gather at the plaza to hear the town's leader let loose the historic grito (cry) given nearly 200 years ago by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who is credited with starting the revolution that Mexican Independence Day celebrates.

Lozano said he was too busy playing soccer and chasing girls as a teenager to fully appreciate the rich cultural experience that shaped him. He left Rio Bravo at 16 but will never forget growing up there. Lozano is American-born but grew up in his father's native country.

His Mexico is one that few Americans experience.

"A lot of American people think they know what is going on in Mexico, but they don't," he said. "All they see is drugs and illegals.

"The picture they have in their head is like Tijuana: crossing the border and buying a bottle of tequila."

Clusters of farms surrounded Lozano's town near the Rio Bravo. The streets were filled with soccer games. The smell of fresh tortillas, chorizo and tamales always signaled lunch.

Lozano has lived both sides of the coin. He flips to his Mexico side every day as a deputy U.S. marshal. This has been the deadliest year on record in Arizona for undocumented immigrants trying to cross the desert into the United States.

On a day that he had 10 undocumented immigrants waiting for a court appearance, he doesn't use legal terms or cop words; he tells it to them straight up:

"I tell them they are risking death. They say, 'I want to live the American dream, make money, send it to family.' "

Through his own mixed emotions, he understands."They're from smaller towns outside of little towns," he said. "They aren't educated."


Patricia Marin


Patricia Marin knows both sides of the equation, too. Marin, 20, grew up in an El Paso barrio in a two-room house where bathing water was boiled on the stove and the bathroom was outside. Her mother cleaned houses. Her father was a laborer.

Both were Mexican-born; their families lived across the border in Juarez. The half-mile Cordova Bridge linked her relationship with both countries.

"They used to call me pocha. It means you're in between. I didn't like that term."

Pochas or pochos is slang for Americanized Mexican.

Marin resolved the conflict between her parents' homeland and her own, she said, not by hiding but holding her Mexican side close.

"By knowing that you're Mexican, you know your people are going to need you, and I am not going to forget about them," Marin said.

She moved to Phoenix after high school for more opportunities. Marin brought only her bed and a rock from El Paso that helps her to remember her roots on both sides of the border.

"Now that I'm older, I realize I'm not either one," Marin said. "I am part of both."


Louis Olivas


Louis Olivas, 56, assistant vice president of Arizona State University, uses the metaphor of a tree to help illustrate how many Arizonans view Mexico.

"Like a family that has not kept up with the relatives in all of its branches, many of today's residents may know less about their fellow Arizonans than they should or are unaware of Hispanics' contributions to the state."

Olivas, of Tempe, is from one of the oldest branches of Arizona's family; his ancestors date to the early 19th century in what was then the northern territory of Mexico. Tucson commands that same swath of land now.

Few realize, Olivas said, that Mexico's influence began long ago in this region.

Considering his own roots and those of other Latinos, Olivas said, "Hispanic influence is an ongoing story in Arizona."

"If it weren't for Mexico we would not be as strong," Olivas said. "We wouldn't have the rich history of cattle ranching, we wouldn't have a country that provides goods for U.S. exports," he said. "The work ethic and labor of how all immigrants have built America builds the character and fiber in any population.

Just as other immigrants before us, we have assisted in building America and Arizona."


Felix Ordonez


When Felix Ordonez of west Phoenix shares the story of his life, creases circle his face.

The son of a Mexican-born farm worker, Ordonez, 73, worked side by side in the fields with his father in the West Valley during the 1930s and 1940s.

The signs "No Mexicans" outside a public swimming pool hounded the ego of young Ordonez. So did taunts of "go back to Mexico if you can't do the job."

"My father passed on his language and my ability to be tolerant," Ordonez said.

But a quiet revolt simmered inside. He expressed it in poetry.

"Porque no vengo de un dolo sentido, Because I don't come from one single feeling, Sino que en mis venas corre sangre, within the blood that's carried in my veins, Y en mi corazon undoable latido, within my heart I feel a double beat. Soy de aqui, y soy de alla, I'm from here and I'm from there, Comos dos rios que un dia se unieron, Such as two rivers that one day united . . . "

Out of respect for his parents, Felicitas and Catarino, and his ancestral ties with Mexico, Ordonez created the Southwest Cultural Association in Avondale.

"To celebrate freedom, freedom my ancestors didn't have, freedom that I didn't have," Ordonez said.

The group hosts Avondale's Fiesta Patrias this weekend in celebration of Mexican Independence Day.

"Mexico is not my native country," he said, "but the culture and history I enjoy is Mexican."


Quetzal Guerrero


The culture of Mexico gripped Quetzal Guerrero long before he was born in Mesa. His great-grandfather, Pedro Warner Guerrero, was raised as an orphan by the Tohono O'odham who taught him their language.

For 21-year-old Guerrero, his great-grandfather is the symbol of his ancestral ties with Mexico.

"Some people get confused. My family's been here since it was Mexico," he said.

"I was raised with that awareness."

The Mesa man wakes up to the culture and history of Mexico every day. From the vibrant orange and purple on his walls and the Day of the Dead skulls his father made that line the living room, to the Latino jazz he plays on his violin.

"It's easy to forget about where you come from and not give to others equal justice . . . Americans these days are so intense in alienating Mexican immigrants and dehumanizing them," Guerrero said.

"Mexico is a country; a lot of different tribes and indigenous people. A Mexican from the north is completely different than a Mexican from the south - the food, the dress, the way they look, you can tell where they are from.

"People's memory doesn't go that far back, they just think U.S. is now, the border is now," he said.

"It's almost as if the Mexicans aren't immigrating into a new country, they're immigrating back to a land that was theirs originally."

Reach the reporter at angela.pancrazio@arizonarepublic.com or at (602) 444-8126.