(Roxana Vasquez/NYT Institute)
Don’t be afraid of the south side. That’s what I tell people who have never been to Tucson, Ariz. Every city in the world has what it calls a bad side or a ghetto. Though these places may be seen as a rough side of town, the cultures that exist there are not all bad. The important thing is to respect the tradition and beliefs of the people who live on the other side of the invisible line. The south side is an important and beautiful part of Tucson. It represents the future, success, the old and the new.
I was born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, but migrated to Tucson in 1988, so basically I’ve seen Tucson grow with me. The south side, to me, represents my Mexican-American culture and the rest of the people who share my identity. It holds within its streets and neighborhoods messages of how it has grown and changed.
Many buildings south of downtown Tucson, their paint peeling away with time, show how the architecture of the area has evolved over the years. Shrines from faithful individuals keep alive an ancient wall that has been up since the 1800s, where believers still share their wishes and stories by tucking letters into the cracks. How can we preserve such beauty and history? How can we show the world how much it means to maintain these old places?
Many people who come from Mexico or South America decide to stay on the south side of Tucson because of their fear of not being accepted in other areas of the city, like the foothills of Tucson, where the majority of the population is Anglo. Ely Muñoz, 28, from Oaxaca, Mexico, sells her oranges from a parking lot, helping her family with a little more money during the holidays. How threatening is that?
A hard-working mother raising a little more money is something inspiring. You’ll find sweet people hanging about the same way you might find bad people. Maria Lopez, 62, rests her arms on the fence in front of a house, waiting to speak to whoever will talk to her.
Many people who have moved from Mexico have been successful at the businesses they’ve established because they have catered their services to the local culture. But they have not denied or discriminated against anybody. They are there for everyone. You just need to cross the invisible line. Francisco Medina, 67, from Nogales, Mexico, owns his own barber shop on the south side, and he welcomes anybody who needs a haircut. With 42 years of experience, he’s unlikely to screw up your ’do.
Having people like Medina as a role model on the south side shows how dedication and hard work can make success possible. It helps members of the younger generation, like Martin Simpson, 14, to see those possibilities and understand there is a future for them. Simpson enjoys playing basketball, but he also enjoys working with computers — a great skill that will help him in the future.
There are many kinds of people on the south side. Don’t be afraid or shy to learn about a culture that has helped this great city grow.
— Roxana Vasquez
(Roxana Vasquez/NYT Institute)