Archive for the ‘Covering Tucson’ Category

An unwritten story

January 12, 2008

Sometimes choosing what makes it into a story and what doesn’t is hard.

It’s like standing on the ol’ playground in elementary school trying to pick the next player on your team. You have an odd number of potential players. Sadly, it seems like someone always gets left out.

For a story I wrote at the Institute, on Chicanos and Native Americans returning to the ceremony of the sweat lodge, I had a lot of great notes and perspectives that didn’t make the cut. One source whose story didn’t make it into my article was that of the Los Angeles rapper 2Mex.

(Note: To learn what exactly a sweat lodge is, read my story here.)

In 2003 2Mex released an album titled Sweat Lodge Infinite. Since I was doing a story on sweat lodges, I figured, Why not call this guy up? He might know a thing or two.

The LP, which I highly recommend, isn’t entirely about sweat lodges, but it is a great example of Chicanos making their Native American roots a part of their everyday life.

Nearly all the people I spoke with were finding themselves by finding their native traditions, and 2Mex was no different. He said that since about the time he’d gotten out of high school, he had been speaking with, reading and learning from any resource he could find on native culture. In his travels across the United States and to other countries, 2Mex has spent time with the Hopi, the Lakota, the Pima and countless other native peoples.

Taking part in a few sweat lodges, 2Mex said the most important things the ceremony gave him were a moment for pause in his busy day and a chance to speak with elders.

He brought up the point that there aren’t many lines forming around old people waiting to hear what they have to say. But at the sweats he took part in, everyone there was present in part to take time and listen to the elder. He asked, When do most Americans — especially those in cities — take the time to sit down and learn from their elders and the lives they have lived and the lessons they have learned?

He had a good point. We, the United States and the world, need a better sense of history.

As a journalist, my job is to talk to people. I’m here to listen and to pass on information. Yet often, for students and journalists, there is little time for the pause the sweat provides. For some, meditation is the answer. Others get their pause through yoga.

Right now, the only time I find pause is generally after midnight, just before bed, listening to jazz records (I prefer real vinyl 12s). After speaking with 2Mex, I think I need to create more time to speak with my elders — before they’re gone and their knowledge is lost.

— Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Say what?

January 11, 2008

Los Angeles. Jalapeños. Casa Grande.

Would you adjust the way you pronounce these words based on your audience?

In fact, some people would.

An informal study of Tucsonans conducted by two reporters reveals that people will often try to pronounce words of Spanish origin with a Spanish accent and pronunciation.

Others, however, will adopt the common English pronunciations of the Spanish-origin words, often to be better understood.

“If I was in Mexico or a Spanish-speaking country, I’d be more apt to change it to sound more with the accents and rolling the r’s,” said Amber Maker, 26, a barista at Wilko on E. University Avenue, near the University of Arizona. “But just here, I don’t really.”

Maker, of Tucson, said her high school and college-level Spanish is limited but she tries to adjust her pronunciation depending on her audience.

When she is around English-speakers, however, she knows she sounds “very American.”

Sometimes she pronounces things wrong on purpose.

“I really want to say ja-LOP-en-os,” Maker said of jalapeños. “Just because it’s funny.”

Anglos aren’t the only ones who switch pronunciations depending on who they’re around. Some Mexican-Americans do it, too.

Isaias Carrillo, born in Tucson but of Mexican descent, says he pronounces city names like Marana and San Francisco and other Spanish-origin named places without an accent “because the Anglo population doesn’t use an accent we kinda just follow their lead,” he said.

“When I speak to my Mexican relatives I would never say it like that. I’d say it with a Mexican accent,” Carrillo added.

But there are exceptions to his rule.

“I always pronounce Roberto Clemente,” he said. “I always say his name correctly.”

Some Latinos insist on always using Spanish pronunciations regardless of the audience.

Herminia Valenzuela, a regular at the El Pueblo Senior Center, said she always pronounces Spanish-origin words with a Spanish pronunciation in English.

“Maybe they don’t understand me,” said Valenzuela, 61, in Spanish. “I don’t like to change because that is the way it is pronounced.”


This non-scientific survey was conducted at two different times on Thursday night during dinnertime hours and on Friday around lunchtime. Fifteen participants read words from a sheet provided by two reporters. Reporters interviewed participants on the first day on E. University Avenue between N. Euclid and N. Tyndall Avenues, a location near the University of Arizona campus. Second-day interviews were conducted in South Tucson.

The testing words included: Casa Grande, Sahuarita, Marana, San Manuel, Mesa, Mexico, San Francisco, San Jose, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Boca Raton, Rio Grande, sombrero, mariachi, fajitas, jalapeños, enchilada, burrito, tortilla, guacamole, Tony Gonzalez, Roberto Clemente, Alex Rodriguez and Pedro Martínez.

– James Wagner and Nathan Olivarez-Giles

A city girl in the desert

January 11, 2008

I am what most people would call a city girl. I was born in Baltimore, raised in D.C. and now live in Brooklyn. I can navigate concrete extremely well. Taking public transportation, check. Walking long city blocks, no problem. But falling rocks and desert trails? Not so much.

Now don’t get me wrong — I’ve traveled outside the United States and spent childhood summers far south of the Mason Dixon. I’ve been west of the Mississippi, but San Francisco is no Tucson. Not even close.

So my first story outside the newsroom required me to travel to a desert museum. Now, I grew up in D.C., so I’ve been to plenty of museums. But one in the desert? I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Driving out to the desert, city blocks gave way to mountain ranges, and stoplights were replaced by “deer crossing” signs. The highway wound its way though the terrain — on my left, a mountain, on my right, certain death if I were to veer off that road.

When I arrived at the museum, a sign warned, “Don’t feed the coyotes.” Coyotes? I like my animals in cages in the zoo and properly labeled. (j/k) I quickly realized we’re not in Kansas anymore, although I am closer to it than I’ve ever been in my life.

It’s hard to explain exactly what a desert museum is, but essentially, it’s an outdoor exhibition of desert and plant life. Honestly, it’s charged admission to explore the desert. You pay, hand in your ticket and walk around outside. But it’s worth it.

As I meandered throughout the desert, desperately seeking sources, I found myself getting distracted time and time again by the scenery. I mean, I was in the desert, in Arizona, looking at Pumas, prairie dogs, Bighorn Sheep and the like. That’s good stuff.

I wasn’t exactly dressed for the occasion, as more than one visitor gave my shoes the concerned once-over, but I was able to navigate those trails with relative ease. Sure, I got lost a time or two and found myself without the recommended essentials (hat, water, repellent), but like any good city girl, I was able to figure it out. And I had a good time exploring the desert, even if I had great difficulty working in it.

Driving back, I kept thinking about how amazing the experience was. In the distance, I could see more mountains, unobstructed by tall buildings or billboards. I rolled my window down and breathed in the air, unpolluted by smog. It was beautiful.

I have traveled to different countries throughout the world and have been amazed by the cultures, the scenes and the landscape, enthralled by the newness of it all. But I forget, like many people, that I can discover and be amazed by new places right here in the U.S. I was reminded of that on Saturday, and Tucson, I am very grateful.

— Arcynta Ali Childs

Walking Tucson’s south side

January 9, 2008

South Side Tucson

(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

Tucson’s South Side

(Roxana Vasquez/NYT Institute)

Teenager Is Tucson’s First Homicide of 2008

January 5, 2008


Derreck Burrus (Courtesy photo) 

 By Tracie Morales

A 16-year-old boy walking home from a movie theater was fatally shot at 12:30 a.m. Saturday in front of a church at 1930 S. Wilmot Road on Tucson’s Southeast side, a Police Department spokesman said.

The boy, Derreck Burruss, and two friends had left the Park Place Theater when a suspect armed with a handgun approached the group in front of a bus stop about 1.5 miles away, near the Eastside Assembly of God Church, said the spokesman, Sgt. Fabian Pacheco.

Burruss was taken to University Medical Center, where he died. The police would not say where on his body he had been shot. The two friends, who were not injured, fled the scene.

The shooting was Tucson’s first homicide of the year. Last year, the city recorded 88 homicides. Murder Scene

Derreck Burruss, 16, was shot near a bus stop in front of the Eastside Assembly of God Church. (Roxana Vasquez/NYT Institute)

A helpful toolbox

January 3, 2008

Be smart, stay safe and use your psychological toolbox to talk to sources. That’s what every student journalist needs to know to cover Tucson, Ariz.

Oh, yeah, and a few other things. Activism runs in the water of this town because of its closeness to the Mexican border. Issues like illegal immigration, human and drug trafficking, development and drought are hot, hot, hot regional issues. As the second-fastest-growing state in the nation, Arizona is rich with story ideas — dead bodies in the desert, its status as the largest port of entry for produce.

Don Hecker

Don Hecker, the New York Times training editor, addresses the institute on Day One.

Don’t finagle information from your sources. Be honest and use the “psychological toolbox” that Don Hecker, the New York Times training editor, mentioned. You might need to coax, cajole or sometimes bully, but remember, each situation is different. Clarify with your source the difference between “off the record” and “background” information. The first is unusable information in any way, shape or form. Background information is not for attribution, but lets you ask better questions to verify information elsewhere. Remember to ask your sources whether you can tape-record the conversation. Otherwise, you’re violating New York Times policy.
1 in 3: Arizona voters who are independent
38%: Latino population in Tucson
22 : Native American tribes in Arizona

— Tracie Morales