Farewell, Arizona; muchisimas gracias
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 20, 2004 12:00 AM
O. Ricardo Pimentel, Republic columnist

This is my last column for The Arizona Republic

Many of you already know this, judging from the calls and e-mails expressing
emotions ranging from "ding-dong the witch is dead" to "say it ain't so, O."

On my part, suffice to say that leaving - to become the editorial page
editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - is bittersweet.

Arizona made it fun to be a columnist.

I've joked to friends that I leave because I've solved all of Arizona's

A colleague suggested I tell you that I'm leaving because all you folks
consistently upbraiding me for my liberal thoughts have simply converted me.
On to Wisconsin to spread the gospel of no tax cut too ugly and no problem
so serious that we can't shriek about it or craft a wacky ballot initiative
or legislation to make it worse.

The truth is, however, that I leave because I've been offered a grand
opportunity to run an entire operation centered on opinion, persuasion and,
ultimately, responsible local leadership. This is akin to trading in my
corner of the ranch for the whole spread.

And, still, it was a difficult decision for a variety of reasons.

Key among them is that Arizona could be on the verge of becoming
pragmatically serious about solutions.

The state will get there, however, only if we wrap our minds around the fact
that much of the change many fear is simply inevitable.

I'm speaking mostly, of course, of demographic change. Smart Arizonans will
embrace and appreciate it.

The trend is for more such change, fueled by immigration, mostly from
Mexico. Just ahead is a rich browning of Arizona, the Southwest and much of
the nation generally.

Last week, the Census Bureau released figures that showed the U.S. Latino
population increasing 13 percent to nearly 40 million from 2000 to 2003.

An earlier release projected a tripling of the Latino population by 2050.

Experts attributed much of the latest increase to immigration, a wave
undaunted by recent recession and the border crackdown following the Sept.
11, 2001, attacks.

John Logan, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Albany,
told the Associated Press, "This is the story of the whole United States

He added, "It's not just a New York or Los Angeles phenomenon."

But we've known that for quite awhile in Arizona. And I'm quite certain that
I'll find immigration a ripe topic of discussion even in Wisconsin.

That's because all of our states are, in effect, becoming border states.
And, in Wisconsin's case, I'm not talking about the Canadian border.

We can make all those doomsday predictions about what the browning of
Arizona and the rest of the country means or we can make sure that they
don't come true.

If we are content with having a heavily Latino workforce ill-prepared to
carry the burden as boomers retire, then we can continue to ignore the
state's schools and high school dropout rate. Unfortunately, this rate
disproportionately includes Latino youth.

Yes, there are no firm, reliable dropout numbers but there is broad
agreement that they are dismal.

So, we can continue believing that giving students high-stakes tests will
solve the problem or realize that smaller class sizes, more individualized
instruction and higher pay for teachers are surer bets. We can realize that
bilingual education, in fact, does have a role in the mix. It will work for
some students even as others thrive in English immersion.

Testing, of course, is cheaper, which is really why a lot of our politicos
are such true believers. Teach for the test, cull out over time those who
score low and, voila, we can claim victory.

It will be a Pyrrhic victory.

If altruism does not move us to embrace and appreciate our newcomers,
self-interest should dictate that we make sure we remove obstacles to
effective assimilation.

The mantra of "illegal is illegal is illegal" is just such an obstacle. It
has led us to simplistic yet draconian solutions that have failed to
acknowledge certain complexities.

Immigration is a phenomenon that will continue. Much of the fears
surrounding it are unwarranted, as attests our rich immigrant history.

Simply, it is quite possible for folks to love equally their culture and
their new country and countrymen. In any case, their children will love the
country even more than they do.

I'm proof.

I will miss Arizona but leave confident that a lot of people here have
hearts as grand as a particular canyon hereabouts.

Muchisimas gracias for letting me be part of your Tuesdays, Thursdays and

Reach Pimentel at
ricardo.pimentel@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8210.
His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

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