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Falling for Phoenix

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By Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Phoenix is the kind of place where, when you move to it in the middle of summer from somewhere more – how do I say this gently? – temperate, at least for that time of year, people want to know: Why? Why would you do this to yourself? Really.

The answer to that question was easy enough for me when I relocated to Scottsdale last June: so that my six-year-old son (who was reading like a sixth-grader and doing math like a fifth-grader) could attend a program for highly-gifted first-graders at a public school in the Paradise Valley Unified district.

Fall rolled around. He started school. The city cooled off. And I slowly started to realize I had not actually made a huge mistake by moving to the deepest pit of hell, where eggs might be –what? – boiled in swimming pools.

In fact, I realized – and this with a bit of a shock, truth be told – that I had actually begun to like the place. The palm trees. The weird gacking birds. The huge skies and amazing hiking trails. Neiman Marcus. (I like shopping, so sue me.) The purple of the mountains at dawn and dusk. Like? No, no. That’s not it at all. I had begun to love the place.

Coming to Arizona, I did not expect to like it here. I expected vultures and cow carcasses, really. Listen, I have lived in lots of exciting cities. Boston, New York, Los Angeles. I’ve visited many more. I didn’t expect Phoenix to impress me. Maybe it’s because I’m from Albuquerque, originally, and I guess I just expected this place would be a bigger version of that place – which I love, but which is provincial and, I’ll just say it: boring. Plus, given the way the mainstream national media loves to show Phoenix as the center of, you know, the militant Minutemen, I wasn’t convinced I’d feel good as a Latina or daughter of an immigrant here, either.

But the media have it wrong. As did I. Phoenix is…well. No offense to Albuquerque, but Phoenix is a real city. By that I mean it’s huge, and it feels alive, contemporary, cutting-edge and interesting. It is beautiful in places in the same way L.A. is beautiful in places. It has world-class everything – sports, shopping, museums, etc. You name it, we got it. And we have great weather – er, at least for most of the year.

Oh. And the thing with the Minutemen? It’s nowhere that I’ve seen yet. The mainstream media have that part about us so totally wrong that all I can think of to explain it is that the xenophobes have…really good publicists.

Phoenix, to my great surprise and joy, is a vibrant, sexy, exciting Latino city. It is becoming exactly what our publisher Jim Diaz says it can be; Phoenix is to Latinos as Atlanta is to African-Americans.

That is to say, Phoenix is a hip city where Latinos are gaining in power and influence in every part of society. (Maybe what we need is better publicists?) And magazines. Better magazines.

Which is why I’m here. I want to be part of improving this magazine, as part of helping to improve the overall ways our stories are told to the rest of the world – of Latinos, of Arizona, of Latinos in Arizona.

So it was that when that “gifted” program and the school for my son turned out not to be all we’d hoped it would be, and we took him out – that mommy shocked her family and friends back home in New Mexico, and decided to stick around here anyway, and find another school.

We could have moved away, gone anywhere we wanted. But, it just so happens, I wanted to stay here. I am not ashamed to admit it: I have fallen in love with this place, and I’m here to stay.

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