encanto-park3
PHOENIX, AZ. If you know me, and if you are not my insurance agent, you may also know that I occasionally enjoy a good cigar. On major holidays (and, let me confess up front, Iconstrue this category rather loosely), I have a particular tradition of enjoying my smoke in the midst of a nice long walk. So on Sunday night, as dusk gathered, and with no particular destination in mind, I turned left out of the front door and kept walking. This took me through a couple of neighborhoods, across the municipal golf course (sprinklers be damned!), and at last to the local park.

When I arrived, the kiddy amusement rides had just shut down and the park was about to officially close. The scene remained festive. There must have been nearly a thousand people milling about the sizable park. Most were now packing for home, hoisting coolers and chairs into cars and trucks, but a couple hundred others were continuing to enjoy themselves. Families were finishing their dinners at picnic tables. Larger groups sat in circles orbited by dashing children. Soccer balls scooted along the ground. Preteens chased each other on bikes. Scattered plastic Easter eggs and bulging trash cans testified to the liturgical uses the park had received throughout the day.

Have I have left out anything that might help describe the scene? Hmmm, well yes, there was this: not a single person I encountered would count a Brit or a German or a Swede among his ancestors. Not a Kenyan or an Indonesian, either, for that matter. This was an exclusively Latino affair. Anglos constitute the majority in the surrounding neighborhoods. Are they unaware of the many and varied uses to which parks admit? Has our educational system failed them in some way? Are they simply frightened? (Despite what the average Scottsdalian apparently expects, I survived my stroll without being raped, mugged, pickpocketed, knifed, or beaten; at worst, I was politely ignored.)

As I left the park and entered an adjacent neighborhood — one composed of lovely, well-kept houses built in the 1920, ’30s, ’40s — I came upon an outdoor dinner party. Fifteen or sixteen white folks (I couldn’t tell if it was a gathering of family or friends, but I suspect the latter) were seated around a long, candlelit table; Sinatra wafted through the air. Bougainvillea, hibiscus, and citrus trees framed the scene. “The bourgeois interior,” I thought, remembering John Lukacs’s term. I liked it.

And I liked the park and the life that I found there. Here were two distinct patterns of social life. The differences have been explained in manifold sociological ways. We know that they have to do with wealth, familial living arrangements, the strength of extended-family bonds, the extent of a mysterious process known as Americanization, etc. But on Sunday night I was enjoying my cigar too much to think too much about all of that.

But what I couldn’t help ruminating about was that for all the great appeal of the bourgeois interior, anyone concerned about the atomizing and alienating effects of late modernity can’t have much, if anything, against the park. (If you’re inclined to hold all that trash against the Mexican park users, rest assured that others of Mexican ancestry will doubtless have the job of cleaning it up). Hasn’t America long had both the bourgeois interior and the park as cultural counterpoints? Can’t we still have both? Don’t we need both? And aren’t we in much more danger of losing the latter than the former?

Arguments against immigration that are founded on the issues of crime and jobs make perfect sense to me. I even have favorite policy solutions to those problems. One is realistic and has already been implemented successfully, arguably with some positive effect, in Arizona: employer sanctions. Stick it to the capitalists, says I. The other is alleged to be unrealistic but would surely be the best way to solve border- and immigration-related violence: halting the phony, stupid, unwinnable, and disastrous drug war.

Specifically cultural arguments against immigration may make sense in certain contexts and with regard to certain groups. I don’t deny that; I try not to be sentimental about these things. But anyone who would mount such an argument with regard to Mexican immigration, especially in an Arizonan context, isn’t arguing for the maintenance of a culture so much as its radical impoverishment. The American Southwest has rested on the interaction of Anglo and Mexican — and, of course, Native American — elements for several hundred years now. There is no American Southwest without each of those influences. I would be heartened to see a little more of their physical interaction on Sundays at the park.

Now, as to that troubling border issue, I have a People’s Republic of Sonoraland proposal that just might interest you. You see, we just need access to the Gulf of California. . . .

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture

18 COMMENTS

  1. Jeremy, I really thought this was going to be about the Latinization of baseball, but you overcame my initial disappointment. Thanks.

    That said, I would really like a Front Porch Republic explanation of the slow start to which Aramis Ramirez is off (not to mention Derek Lee). Conversely, how does one explain the astonishing play of Soriano this April as compared to the previous two?

    I take it for granted that all FPR fans are also Cubs fans . . . goes without saying . . .

  2. Come to think of it, the baseball park is the only park where I’ve seen Anglos and Latinos interacting.

    The really sad thing is the disappearance of pick-up baseball games. I honestly don’t know if that happens *anywhere* anymore. Tyrannical adult supervision of children (by the way, a vice that my park observations lead me to believe is much more advanced among Anglo than Latina moms), and lawyers would seem to be the main culprits.

  3. I live in Central Florida, and recently returned from a visit to Arizona. There are many differences: humidity, cacti, mountains; and many similarities: citrus, heat, Spanish-speaking immigrants. One notable difference — based, I’ll admit, on only a short visit, but dramatic for all that — was in language. Although we were close enough to Mexico to pass through a border patrol checkpoint, nearly every public communication, written or spoken, was in English. I saw a couple of bus ads in Spanish, but the billboards, restaurant menus, and road signs were exclusively in English (except, of course for names of Spanish origin). Occasionally I overheard restaurant workers speaking amongst themselves in Spanish (and other languages), but with customers they spoke excellent English. Here in Florida it is much different: bilingual and exclusively-Spanish signs and conversations abound. Judgment of which situation is preferable I leave to others.

  4. “The really sad thing is the disappearance of pick-up baseball games.”

    There remains, however, the pickup basketball game. For some reason this activity is alive and well. I’m thinking this is b/c basketball can be practiced on an individualized basis, whereas with baseball, if you want to have a catch, you need at least one other. The only way anyone can really practice hitting is with a batting machine, which doesn’t lend well to a spontaneous pick up game. The problem with baseball is that I think there needs to be a substantial community basis to get pick up games going. But with basketball, many a one-on-one, two-on-two, etc pickup game I’ve played began with me going out to a court to take shots. Basketball pickup games are more easily initiated by an “individual” playing on his own, with another “individual” saying, “hey you wanna play one-on-one?”

    Even though basketball is a team sport, its mastery requires substantial solitary practice. On the other hand, baseball requires community, in order to practice it.

  5. There is something about southern latitudes and their cultures that promote a more public life than do the northern european climes. The French and their street-side cafes and flaneurs…the Italians and their passeggiata and your latino park revelers. The street patois is rich…hip hop is an extension of it and would Anglo-Saxon Detroit dream of placing a “reader” at the head of the production line reciting Gogol or Hemingway to the workers? That cigar you smoked may have been rolled to the sound of Kipling rolling off a Castilian accent.

    But the northerner is not immune from the alluring pleasures of public space and expression. Head to Fort Greene Park, Central Park or Prospect Park in New York and Brooklyn and you will see every hue and age. The emergence of New Urbanism responds to the fact that the northerner is actually learning the pleasures enjoyed by their southern compadres. But, the Grey Eyed Devil still has a lot to learn in this regard, spending more time legislating against outdoor clothes lines than analyzing what goes into a successful Feast of Saint Rocco, Mardi Gras or Day of The Dead.

    We militated against the Irish around the Civil War era and now stain our rivers Green on St. Pattys. Worse yet, we locked up some of our best Japanese farmers in the blasted wastelands of the Great Basin while their sons kicked the hell out of the Nazis in WWII. Interestingly enough, German and Italian prisoners of war incarcerated in Utah were given leave and were frequently seen with local girls on weekends. I’ll never forget meeting some contractors on a job site on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Everyone was obviously reeling with all manner of conflicting emotions and I noticed that amongst the latinos , there was a distinct anger and emotional urge to tell us, the rich gate keepers of el norte that they too were sad and enraged that someone had snuck in and hurt all of us in such a perfidious act of xenophobic aggression. This was there home and their brothers and sisters had died too.

    The lovely conceits of our Declaration of Independence and the strong urge to work and better ones self in this country will continue to keep the immigration issue front and center. That agents of resentment and exclusivity continue to drive the issue is lamentable but tribalism is the gift that keeps on giving.
    Where I get off my respect for people who wish to preserve northern european ways of life is when they assert that somehow those 10,000 Wampanoags didn’t live between Narragansett Bay and Plymouth Harbor so that this was our God-given paradise to claim at will. From the very beginning, this continent was not a melting pot but a moveable feast…a constant Thanksgiving where a timeless ideal for self government could build a society that was simultaneously distinctive and similar. What could be better than a bit of Bratwurst in an Ansonia Beer Garden while watching some Punjabi lass flirt and Ibrahim Ferrer sings a song about dos gardenias? An elusively better people are built when they possess both a strong sense of ethnic tradition and an equally compelling urge to treasure a unifying culture of liberty. We abjure the felicities of our differences and we abjure the United States of America itself.

    In other words, Regulate yes but let it be a regulation informed by the poetry of life this cantankerous country is still refining with a hesitancy that ignores how well we have done…and how far we have come to this date. We’re a bunch of mutts with a few purebreds and with that kind of gene pool we might just avoid the debilitating effects of cultural hip dysplasia.

  6. Casey, I think you’re right. This is also relates to changing patterns of employment, urbanization, and also to the rationalization of everyday life. In the 1830s and 1840s, for example, the form of baseball played in Connecticut was known as “wicket.” In Hartford, early on summer mornings, a fellow who wanted to get up a game would walk around downtown yelling “wicket!” The clerks and other young men sleeping in their rooms above shops and offices would emerge, and 20-30 (the numbers were very flexible) would gather on the courthouse lawn for a game before work. Windows were sometimes broken, but the players reimbursed the owners, who seemed to tolerate it well enough.

    This kind of thing is unimaginable for all sorts of reasons now. . . .

  7. Jeremy, I think you’re on to something. My wife and I often walk through a beautiful, much-used park near our home in Plano, Texas. We rarely meet other white folks along the trail even though the surrounding neighborhood is predominantly white. Most of the walkers we greet seem to be of Middle Eastern, East Asian, Pakistani, Indian, African, and, of course, Mexican and Central American heritage. Judging from the accents, I’d say most are recent immigrants.

    You’ll find lots of white kids and their parents at the park for organized youth soccer and football games, but they rarely stray far from the athletic fields.

    Pickup games? Pretty much restricted to Latino kids playing soccer. Occasionally, on a Sunday afternoon, I’ll stop and watch an informal cricket match. Not a lot of white Texans play cricket.

    What gives? Are suburban white folks getting their exercise at health clubs? Have they grown suspicious of public spaces? Or are they just not getting out much anymore?

    A few years ago, I walked through the park after dark on Independence Day. The open spaces were full of families lying on blankets. Patriotic music played on car stereos and boom boxes. I heard much laughter, Spanish, heavily-accented English, and languages I didn’t recognize.

    I can’t say how much cross-cultural interaction goes on in this particular park, but I can say that one very large demographic group isn’t participating.

  8. I am a third-generation “Phoenician” who grew up enjoying Encanto Park: attending birthday parties at Kiddieland, swimming in their public pool, floating around the lagoon in a paddleboat, golfing at their wonderful municipal course. I’m Anglo, and my friends in the neighborhood there (which Jeremy mentions) were too, yet those birthday parties were multiethnic–and all featured the mandatory pinata.

    I am sorry to hear the park has been abandoned by the Anglos. They are missing out on the community. It is very likely that the Mexican-Americans using Encanto Park have roots in Phoenix, and far likelier that they plan to stay and make a home here. Unlike a huge proportion of the Anglos.

  9. Anglos? That’s a derogatory Mexican term. Most American whites are not derived from England. Can you say, “whites”?

    When I think of Kirk’s “America’s British Culture”, I’m not inclined to think he should have amended it to “America’s and Mexico’s British Culture.” The cultures are vastly different, and mixing them up in today’s liberal regime means the eradication of American culture and people.

  10. Alas, I’m afraid I’m more interested in “Catholic culture.” But I do wish the British cared more about “Britain’s British culture.”

  11. Were I to allow myself to be labelled “Anglo,” I would offend my German, French, and Dutch ancestors — and who knows what my Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestors might do to me in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, there’s a good deal of English in my background as well, and I suspect I would be caught up in the sweep of the term. But I’m an avid park-goer.

    Forced to think about it, I can say that our local parks are well-mixed, ethnically. Granted, you’ll see more black faces on the basketball courts and white ones on the tennis courts, but the playgrounds, picnic tables, jogging trails, and bike paths are melting pots — as, I may add, is the park staff.

    I’m a recent visitor to your Front Porch, and find it a delightful place, even though no one is resting in these rocking chairs! It’s a pleasure to listen in on the conversations of a community of thinkers who write well and writers who think well, where “conservative” and “conservationist” reveal their common roots, and where the comments rise far above the “Your a &%$#& moron!” level — though I sometimes suspect the last might be due, in part, to the writers’ having found a prettier way to say, “Your a &%$#& moron!”

  12. AC…..American culture has been self-eradicating and re-inventing for a good long while now and to suggest that this current wave of latin-american influx is somehow going to swamp it once and for all disregards all previous periods of influx. In particular, the huge proportional immigration of the 19th and early 20th centuries when Poles, Irish, Italians, Greeks and every other potential skell of the planet was streaming in here like a Mississippi flood. Even with this huge influx, the northern european-Anglo umbrella remained because it is not a wilting flower. The nitwits on the telly would have us believe the end is near. It aint, not by a long shot even though this government of the last 16+ years is doing it’s level best to sink the ship under a load of bullsh#*. The only end I would wish for is a quick and messy end for these squirrelly commentators, yammering on like Chicken Little in a Brown Shirt with an offshore bank account.

    That said, I’m with you in a scoffing derision of the sentimental “multi-culturalism” of the liberal persuasion…aka, the “melting pot” where all peoples are blended together into some kind of jello mold of sweet reverie and that this might result in a superior “everyman” that is made possible through checklists and government standard that is interested more in “leveling” than it is in distinction. One size don’t fit all and this is what makes this country so damned stimulating. If you want just one good demonstration of this, take a look at our Itralian friends and their vaguely gorrilla build of short legs and long arms which makes it a tad uncomfortable for Anglos to drive their cars. Although an American Anglo, I don’t even like Anglo cars because some sadistic twit named Lucas, the Knight of Darkness designed their electrical systems. A 62 Jaguar XKE , long , lean….positively spectacular in its leonine form is a cruel hoax with it’s insufferably obstinate electronics. For me, I’ll take my Harley Earle Buicks …..and my Prez Prado or Howlin Wolf 8 tracks.

    Because it was here firstest with the mostest, British culture will continue to inform the fluxfest of the United States and the evolving influx will just mean we have a whole hell of a lot better restaurants than if we would have simply stayed with the black Pudding and boiled beef crowd.

    As to Beer’s mixed crowds, in addition to the ballpark, one sees the same thing on the banks of the local river, fishing…..like some Palestinian of yore did. I do admit though, i aint seen many crips nor bloods or santa muerta thugs with bamboo rod and artfully Brittanic casting.

  13. Loved the article. Sounds a lot like LA –where I live– and to a lesser extent Austin and my hometown in Kansas.

    As to Anglo vs. white, I prefer anglo since it seems to point to cultural/linguistic characteristics over race. It is much more descriptive of my English/Irish/French/Dutch ancestry and my wife’s Lebanese/Syrian/Italian ancestry and my daughters’ Chinese birth: all of us speak English first (along with some knowledge of seven other languages). I guess we have become kinda Latino, because we have our kids’ birthday parties in Santa Monica parks. Yeah, carne asada, bulgoghi, rice, salsa, babaganoush and hotdogs.

  14. Jeremy,

    Though far from AZ, I have noticed the same pattern, if you will, in your former PA hometown. We go to the park or the elementary school playground and we are the only non-Mexicans, often the only ones speaking English. I always wonder where all of the other children–and families–are… home in front of the TV? Too busy working?

  15. Jeremy, you’ll have to head down to Tucson sometime and go over to Himmel Park, plenty of non-Latinos can be found there.

    I won’t speculate as to why, but I will point out that one Valley city might not be to happy to have you in its parks.

  16. Oh, I’ve got it. You’re reading too much into this, I think. While it is true that the social/public culture in this country has declined, the reason you didn’t see any white folk is a simple cultural difference rather than some portent of the times. While folk like to go to the park, but they like to go home for dinner. Latin folk like to go to the park in the afternoon and have a long meal there. By the time you go there, the gringos had gone home to eat. I was in Encanto Park last June in the middle of the day and despite the fact that it was the middle of the week, and despite the heat, there were quite a few people of all sorts there.

  17. I think Anglo culture, since it has gotten access to single family homes with back yards over the last 60 years, values public parks less.(The fact you call this thing Front Porch Republic means that you wish Anglos would be less confined to their back yards. And, face it, this is an Anglo site! And during the crime wave of the 1965-90 era, and especially the child molestation hysteria of the 80s, Anglos lost trust in public space altogether. We’re starting to get it back now, as every New Urbanist knows. But there still is a lot of distrust of just “hanging out” especially among People with Kids. One of the biggest separations within Anglo culture is between People with Kids and People without Kids.

    On a similar note, many schools in Irvine, California, have two PTA’s. Irvine is mixed Anglo and Asian. The Asians value music, mathematics, and intellectual effort, and the Anglos value sports, band, and social development opportunities. So, separate PTA’s.

  18. Linda,
    I don’t know where you were in Phoenix, but it’s sure not the Phoenix in which I live! Even the department signs in Target are in Spanish here! But then, again, I work almost exclusively with the Spanish-speaking immigrant population, so I see their presence everywhere. Plus, I live and work in central Phoenix, not in any of the suburbs.

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