The Arizona Border: Hottest Mexican Auto Insurance Destination
There’s two things you can always buy in Ajo, AZ. Alright, there’s plenty of stuff you can always buy in Ajo, but there’s two things the town wants you to know, via a subtle marketing campaign of desert neon and roadside billboards clumped in shockingly intense density, you can always buy in Ajo: Mexican Auto Insurance and RV Hookups.
That’s why folks come to Ajo. To go to the Border, to la Frontera, and break on through to the other side. It’s a weird world down here, near the largest open border in the world. Between Ajo and Mexico is the town of ‘Why,’ all of a Texaco station plus a small casino run by the adjacent To’ohno Ohdam nation. Were I Paul Theroux, I’d probably note that Why’s native signage seems a sort of question posed to the outside world of passers-through: ‘Why Why?’
I am not Paul Theroux. I think it’s pretty easy to answer why Why. Why? Because it’s crazy beautiful. Because at night when you hear the coyotes laughing it up, a part of you, the genetically imprinted part of you that wants to build fires and sit around smoke holes and go on vision quests, sighs happily. Because it is the God-given right of every American male to speed down desert highways while rocking out to classic rock. Remember how I mentioned ‘Break on Through to the Other Side’ earlier? You haven’t heard the Doors till you’ve heard ‘em under a blue-indigo-viole-treddish star speckled Southwest night sky.
And besides the beauty, as I said before, there’s the Border, which attracts workers from either side of its dividing line. Mexicans looking to work in America, obviously, but also American working to keep Mexicans out. All the motels in Ajo are flashing the ‘No’ on their ‘No Vacancy’ signs because of an influx of guys installing security cameras east and west of Sonyata, Mexico. I asked a skinny, shirtless old man smoking a Lucky outside of his Motel/RV Park how far said cameras would extend; he guessed 40 miles in either direction of Lukeville, AZ, smack on the border, home of the Gringo Pass Hotel. When I asked him if he thought the cameras would make the border more secure, he shrugged.
I doubt it was a shrug of apathy — just ignorance. No one here seems neutral on the hot topic of immigration and its latest policy child: SB 1070, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act , which makes it a misdemeanor “for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying legal documents…and cracks down on those sheltering, hiring and transporting illegal aliens.” 1070 has become a border — a dividing line — all its own down here. You see brown and white kids running around with anti-SB 1070 ‘Legalize Arizona’ t-shirts in Tempe. You see brown and white families scared shitless of violence that seems poised to spill into El Norte.
If the worries about security are real — and you’d have to be pretty damn naïve to think they aren’t — so are concerns over racial profiling. As much as Southern Arizona is a blend of Anglo and Mexican culture (not to mention plenty of Native American bedrock) it’s also a product of tensions between these two cultures. Maybe because it’s a land where so many people are from somewhere else, be they brown (Sonora) or white (Southern California), and there’s a sense of competition among transients (although, to be fair, there’s more native Arizonans with deep roots in the state than I expected).
Maybe it’s just good old prejudice. I can’t say for sure. But for all the lovely blending of the Anglosphere and Mexi-verse you see around here, I’ve picked up on some distinctly prickly vibes too — the sweet old lady who wonders why ‘they’ don’t learn English, or the Mexican-but-Mexico-City-born-and-pale bartender who curses her under his breath (in English, ironically).
The thing is: some folks come here to southern Arizona to pass through borders. Others allow themselves to be held by them. They take in the sunshine in towns like Tubac, or the ritzier subdivisions of the Valley of the Sun, and are happy with this light, and will tolerate no disturbances to this perfectly manicured bubble, except that bubble doesn’t have enough water to be sustainable and the perfectly manicured children of these perfectly manicured communities don’t want to work the perfectly shitty jobs of gardening, pipe laying, ditching digging, dish washing, etc that keep said communities functioning.
In the meantime, the border stays open. Folks cross, seeking freedom (because if staying behind a border is an act of being held, passing through one is surely an act of liberation). In Ajo, you seem them every day. Mexicans coming north seeking the freedom of safe, reliable work. Americans — from the look of it, Harley heads who wear their veteran badges on their sleeves, the sort of guys my own veteran dad, who never publicly flashes his service in anyone’s face, says never saw combat but want you to think they did — head south seeking the freedom to quad bike across Sonora. And as the rest of the country debates the border, the stars peek out over Ajo, and I have an excellent burger — most American of foodstuffs — topped with green chilis — the fruit of Sonora.
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