Northern Arizona luring Latinos
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 13, 2003
Angela Cara Pancrazio
Many migrants bypassing big cities for jobs, safety

A new wave of immigrants from Mexico is bypassing metropolitan areas to eke out the American dream in northern Arizona.

The most significant gain is not in the larger communities of Flagstaff or Prescott. Rather, Sedona and the surrounding Verde Valley's Hispanic population more than doubled in the past decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Sedona's Hispanic population jumped from 405 in 1990 to 907 in 2000, a 124 percent increase. Prescott climbed 46.8 percent, from 1,889 in 1990 to 2,773 in 2000.

With its burgeoning construction, golf courses, resorts and restaurants, red rock country has hooked immigrants from Mexico with an abundance of jobs in the hospitality industry and a safer, quieter way of life.

El Latino, a Spanish-language newspaper based in Cottonwood, is one of the newest barometers of the Hispanic surge in northern Arizona. The free weekly prints 15,000 copies of local and Mexico news for readers in Cottonwood, Sedona, Prescott and Flagstaff.

"I came here three years ago," Publisher Tomas Bialet said. "I realized there was no publication in Spanish in the area. I wanted to give us a voice in the Anglo community.

"There are community-based organizations in this area, but the biggest problem for the Latino community is the language." Bialet is a former Washington, D.C., advocacy lawyer who also is developing a Latino community center above his office.

El Latino's graphic designer, Guadalupe Castenada, 29, is representative of the new wave of immigrants from Mexico and the problems posed by the language barrier.

Because "the family of my brother-in-law lived in Los Angeles, they told my sister it's peligroso (dangerous)," Castenada said, so her sister and brother-in-law skipped California and landed in Sedona. Castenada and her two children followed.

"Phoenix is too busy," Castenada said. "This place is more tranquil."

And her 7-year-old son, Gabriel, has shed the cough he had grown up with in Mexico City.

Many immigrants are well-educated. Castenada, for example, is an experienced accountant. But the adults are too busy earning a living to learn the English necessary to advance their job status.

Castenada utilizes some of her professional skills at El Latino, where she designs advertisements and tracks finances.

In Bialet's upper office, Castenada attends a class to improve her English.

With the help of volunteers, Bialet hopes to expand the office with computer and citizenship classes, counseling and an Alcoholics Anonymous group.

His efforts to serve the Latino community are spilling over into Yavapai College's Verde Valley campus.

Three years ago, Assistant Dean Terrence Pratt said, lack of interest prompted the school to cut its English Speakers of Other Languages classes. This semester, all four classes are full.

Recruitment specialist Ing Kiland said off-campus Command Spanish classes are increasingly popular with grocery stores in Cottonwood, Camp Verde and Sedona as well as with Prescott hospitals and law enforcement.

Sedona Springs Resort offers its Spanish-speaking employees basic English classes; nearly two dozen workers have completed the first level, and a econd level is starting up.

Rather than sit in his office, Kiland, 29, a recent graduate of Prescott College, inserts leaflets about the classes in grocery store bags and sets up an information booth outside the Cottonwood and Sedona libraries.

In Sedona, other efforts go on to empower the emerging Hispanic community.

On a recent afternoon, as Castenada arrived at the mobile home she rents next door to her sister, her 4-year-old daughter, Xanath, ran to the front porch when she spotted a visitor.

"That's my Miss Judy," the girl said, referring to her Head Start teacher, Judy Favorite.

Six months ago, Xanath didn't speak any English. Now, she's a chatterbox.

Favorite was conducting a home visit to check up on immunizations and dental work for Xanath. Seven years ago, Favorite said, Head Start nearly shut down because there weren't enough families to sustain the program. Now, she said, there is a waiting list nearly three dozen names long.

Favorite is trying to include afternoon classes to accommodate the needs of working parents like Castenada.

"A lot of parents are working at the hotels. They have different shifts and different hours," Favorite said. "We're trying to let them know they are an important part of the community."

Recently, John O'Brien, Sedona's director of Community Development, said a cross section of the city's residents gathered to discuss leadership in the Hispanic community.

"There was a big discussion on getting the Hispanic population involved in city issues, to try to bring them into the mix," O'Brien said. "They are a big part of our community, they are a growing part of our community."

Linda Martinez of the Northern Arizona Interfaith Council added, "I think the city is becoming more concerned about housing and how they (immigrants) are treated."

Exploitation is not common, Martinez said, but it happens.

"Most people in this community recognize that immigrants are the backbone of our tourist economy. I think they're pretty much an invisible population. Yet they are well-integrated. Many have been here 10 years or more and raising families here."

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