I've been pretty hard at work most of the time since arriving (although the work part of the trip is now over), but a few impressions are worth recording.
As always, the scenery blows my mind. The mountain ridges, foothills, intense blue sky, scarlet stars of bougainvillea flowers clinging to adobe-hued walls, palo verde trees whose branches are tipped with cadmium yellow blossoms, saguaro cacti signaling mysterious messages with their arms, quail marching across lawns, white-winged doves ...
Magic. But there are disturbing signs. On the ride from the airport, the southwest side looks seedier than I remember it. Clearly there is severe poverty around. But also a Third World aura: big houses in the foothills, gated "communities," lots of high-end cars. (White is the fashionable color.) The contrast between rich and poor has gotten more drastic.
One topic is on everyone's mind. You don't have to go far out of your way to strike up a conversation about it.
Everyone I have talked with believes that Mexican colonization and drug smuggling are out of control. My wife and I just came back from dinner at the Village Inn, a casual restaurant. The people in the booth behind me were going on about the leaky border. You hear the usual stories. "Immigrants" who want everything on their terms, including their language. Schools overwhelmed by anchor babies. Children kidnapped and held for ransom in Phoenix. Delinquents sans frontieres who get crocked to the eyeballs on cerveza and tequila shots, want their half of the road in the middle, and have an unsettling habit of turning themselves and various innocents in other cars into shredded flesh.
The open talk is new in my experience. When I lived here from 1999 till 2002, Anglos may have thought the same things, may have expressed them but only among close friends. Now the inhibition is gone. Anglos -- including a concierge at the fancy hotel where my seminar was held and a pharmacist in a drug store where my wife got a prescription refill -- have been up front about the crisis and their anger over the federal government's refusal for decades to do anything about it.
It's hard to say how this is going to play out. But some emotional dam has burst and feelings long held in check are in the open. It's past the point of being a question of political philosophy. Arizonans are afraid. Afraid that their beautiful state and neighborhoods are falling victim to reconquista. Afraid for their safety. Someone put up a billboard by the highway as a memorial to a policeman who was killed by an illegal.
But I perceive more than fear. I sense determination, a feeling that it's now or never. Time to take a stand, whatever the cost, or it will be too late.
I've concluded more than one conversation in Arizona these past few days with the words:
"The Mexican Invasion stops here. And it stops now."
I don't know if I believe it. But I've received in return wholehearted agreement.