Hope, progress for Latinos in 2004
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 31, 2004
Despite challenges, Valley recognized growing clout of Hispanics

If we were writing a novel about the past year for Arizona's Hispanic minority, it might start out: "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

More precisely, there were signs of hope, progress and advancement, and signs of despair, anger, frustration and uncertainty.

It was a year when the Phoenix metropolitan area certainly recognized the rising impact of its fast-growing Latino (mostly Mexican-American) population. A few facts:

• Arizona now ranks sixth in Hispanic population in the United States, and between 2000 and 2002, it ranked first in percentage growth, ahead of Florida, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey and California.

• All this growth holds enormous economic significance, especially now that Latino households typically spend more in food consumed at home than other households.

No wonder Food City and Ranch Market are opening new stores.

The growth figures have impact in other ways.

• Latinos, including immigrants and undocumented workers, make up a considerable portion of the Valley's labor force, particularly lower-paying jobs in landscaping, construction, domestic help, and the restaurant and hotel business.


Immigration is remaking the face of the Valley on several levels.

In its annual survey of the top 10 stories in Arizona, the Associated Press considered several stories related to immigration. These include:

• Smugglers infiltrating pricey neighborhoods and in communities outside metropolitan Phoenix as they try to elude federal authorities cracking down on drop houses.

• Proposition 200, the anti-immigrant proposal approved by voters in November. A protest vote, a vote of frustration, it aims to block undocumented immigrants' use of public services.

Many Latino leaders feel that Proposition 200, which is now in effect but will face several legal challenges, is bad news for all Mexican-Americans in Arizona, signaling an era of divisive and bitter ethnic relations. Yet many Hispanic voters supported the initiative. They complain that their wages are being undercut by undocumented workers and that their neighborhoods are being degraded by the new arrivals living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

Interestingly, during the campaign over Proposition 200, a new generation of Chicano activists may have emerged. Educated, young, many of them children of immigrants, their activism could be channeled into all sorts of positive programs and issues.

There were other promising signs as well:

• The stupendous rise in popularity of Latino-oriented media, broadcast and print, with Spanish-language Univision now the most-watched station among young people in the Valley. Several glossy, well-produced Hispanic magazines have begun publishing. And earlier this year, The Arizona Republic launched its own weekly community section, ‘Extra!, geared to Latino readers in south and west Phoenix.

• Scores of younger Latinos are making their presence felt in business, politics, education and community affairs. Not all of them are household names yet, but over the next 10 years, Arizona will be better because of the contributions of people like Bettina Nava, Steve Gallardo, Areceli De Leon, Sammy Chavira, George Diaz Jr., Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell, Michael Frias, Sherry Vallejos, Laura Pastor, Gerardo Higginson and Andrew Pacheco.

A new year

The upcoming year offers the same challenges: expanding educational and economic opportunities, helping newcomers survive and prosper, resolving whatever problems and tensions might develop.

In addition, Proposition 200 must be implemented in a fair and judicious way, making sure that those here illegally do not receive services to which they are not entitled, but not denying benefits to those who qualify for them.

There are a lot of reasons to wish for a prosperous and happy New Year.