My family has been rooted in Arizona since the 1880s, but our process of uprooting began in 1993 when my oldest daughter moved to North Carolina after college. Over the next 20 years, my wife and I, our youngest daughter and finally my mother all followed her path. I, however, clung to the home of my heritage by serving on an Arizona-based corporate board that took me back eight to ten times each year.
But that final strand of the Jamieson Arizona root was pulled out of the desert soil when I didn’t run for reelection at the corporation’s 2010 annual meeting.
Disconnecting from the state where I matured personally, spiritually and professionally was jarring. Arizona gave me the opportunity to become who I am today by providing fertile ground to discover and grow my skills.
Arizona gave me dear friends and valued colleagues with whom I shared many deeply-meaningful landmarks in my life: the birth of my first child and the death of my dad; arriving in Phoenix as a young, newly-married man seeking his place in the world, and 25 years later, completing a successful political and business career; hearing a spiritual call that led to my ordination in the Episcopal Church.
Arizona educated my grandmother, my parents, my children and me. It was where my dad and my children spent their childhoods, and where my wife and I bought our first home.
I owe the state more than I have given it… more than I can ever give it. Yet, the Arizona I knew and loved has morphed into something radically different. It has become arid and hostile ground where I could not have launched a successful a career in my chosen field. The state’s politics are based on xenophobic fear and right-wing anger, and Arizona’s open, expansive landscapes stand in contrast to a narrow and restrictive social agenda. I, sadly, understand that I no longer have a place there… even though Arizona will always have a place in my heart.
I yearn for the “no-fear, let’s get it done” atmosphere that oxygenated Arizona politics in the late 1970s and early 80s. I covet the sunsets and never-ending horizons, the constant sense of discovery and opportunity that fueled migration to Arizona.
Now, instead of opportunity, people come looking to escape “the other”. Instead of cherishing the richness of ethnic diversity, they seek to wall out those whose skin color and heritage are different from theirs. These Arizonans are the “take back my America” crowd, a movement that will soon crash head on into a solid wall of increasing diversity.
Arizona’s current political leaders are seeking to create a refuge from the inevitable, and maybe it is ok that nativists have a place of their own… giant walled communities where they can live pretend lives while disparaging those who come seeking a better life.
I agree with an observation from Charles Blow, a columnist in The New York Times. He was writing about the anger and frustration of America’s political right, and speculated that they might find some relief in the 2010 election. However, according to Blow, they “may win the day” but not the age because their movement is an “intellectually bereft campaign of desperation and disenchantment, amplified by a recession. Great recessions don’t last. Great ideas do.”
This gives me some hope for Arizona. Perhaps great ideas will once again capture the hearts and minds of her people and the state will once again be a place of promise. I am not optimistic, but hopeful.
The Arizona I knew— the Arizona of my great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and children— the place of pioneers and opportunity— was conservative, but welcoming. It was a place where my business partner, a second generation American of Mexican heritage, could grow up shining shoes in a copper mining town, and then go on to serve as a leader in the state senate and as a prominent business man. It was a place where a child of privilege like me could find a new path, grow out of the narrow boundaries that had defined my upbringing, and flourish as a liberal.
America is changing, but Arizona has become a retreat house, an Alamo, for those whose passion is defending yesterday’s status quo. So I bid her fond farewell. The Arizona I knew and loved will always live in my heart, but the Arizona of today no longer calls me home.