Best Of :: La Vida
If there's anything going down in Guadalupe, William Robles is the first to know about it. That's one reason why so many reporters stay in contact with the local community activist, who can often be seen doing security for different private and city events or patrolling the square-mile municipality of 5,000 souls on his bike.
If Robles spots something happening, like a fire truck pulling up to a blazing home or MCSO deputies arresting a fellow Guadalupano, the 40-year-old acts as a one-man news outlet, firing off e-mails to local TV and print reporters. He also keeps them apprised when there's an important town hall meeting, a religious celebration, or a festival coming up.
Robles seems to be at every protest and every community gathering of note. And his activities are not just confined to Guadalupe. When the MCSO did a sweep of faraway Avondale, Robles was there to protest the sheriff. When Zack de la Rocha came to town last time, Robles was there, too, marching with his big drum, banging out a beat that seems to keep the nativists and Minutemen at bay.
In fact, days before the big May 2 march led by de la Rocha, Robles walked all the way from Guadalupe to the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Phoenix, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio keeps his offices. It was his personal protest for those suffering in Arpaio's vast incarceration complex. Dressed in black on a hot spring day, he carried before him a flag bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
When he's not on patrol or involved in a demonstration, Robles is usually studying computers at South Mountain Community College or spinning a combo of hip-hop and Yaqui music as "DJ BigWill" on the Yaqui tribe's radio station, KPYT 100.3 FM in Tucson. Robles is part Yaqui, like Guadalupe itself, which is half Yaqui Indian and half Mexican-American.
An easygoing guy, Robles is quick with a laugh and a joke. He likes Dr. Pepper and Chinese buffets and razzing his friends. Truth be told, it would be hard to imagine Guadalupe without him.
To paraphrase an old saying about a dead cat, you could swing a baseball bat in this town and hit a piñata. Many grocery stores sell them, and you can easily cruise 16th Street in central Phoenix and find a wide selection. But would it be wide enough? This year, our little princess didn't want a princess piñata. She wanted a piglet. And not just any swine would do; she wanted Piglet — you know, from Winnie-the-Pooh. After exhausting our brick-and-mortar possibilities, we got online and found Arizona Piñatas. We called, and a cheerful employee complied, agreeing that Piglet would be ready by Friday. And would we like it delivered? What? We just about dropped the iPhone, we were so happy. Yes, absolutely. And, sure, throw in the matching stick to whack the thing with. This endeavor wasn't cheap, we'll warn you. But, boy, was it worth it. Piglet arrived on our front porch on time as promised and was the life of the party until, well, until he wasn't.
People often refer to Phoenix as a young city, but our burgeoning metropolis has a pretty old soul. That's why our hearts delight when we have the opportunity to drive past what used to be the El Mural bar in west Phoenix. It's been years since anyone's hoisted a drink there, but the outside is still emblazoned with the beautiful work of Victor Caldee. Though of Cuban origin, the artist (with the help of Miguel Dominguez) brought together a bevy of Mexican icons: music and entertainment heroes Beatriz Adriana, Lola Beltran, Vicente Fernandez, and Jose Alfredo Jimenez, and revolutionaries Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. The spirit of old Phoeniquera barrios is further connected to a past long gone via the depiction of a Mayan figure and pyramid surrounding El Mural's entrance.
For the past several years, the Desert Botanical Garden has thrown the best Dia de los Muertos party in town. This year, the festivities — held Halloween weekend and the first week of November — promise to be grander than ever, with performances, food, and hands-on crafts for the kids. Oh, and a mercado! We'll be sure to stop by to check out the wares offered by Bets and Nancy Nenad, two adventurous Phoenicians who travel through Mexico to bring back a fine, fun selection of skeletons in many forms — from plastic to papier-mâché. Hey, it's a living.
The Hispanic equivalent of the bat mitzvah or "Sweet 16" party, the quinceañera marks a Latina girl's coming of age. It's easy to find a respectable dress for the event, but only at a true tiendas de bodas can you get service to fit a quince's exact needs. Owner Ofelia Martinez understands the Hispanic market and, more importantly, understands young Hispanic women. Her shop carries a wide range of colorful gowns and specializes in "plus sizes," which means girls with curves won't have to stretch and tug their way into a stick-girl dress. Fluffy, traditional quinceañera dresses in shades of peach and robin's-egg blue are plentiful. If the quince is a modern gal, perhaps a more contemporary sheath dress — in ivory white to please la familia. The shop also does in-house alterations and carries latilla veils, rosaries, crowns, and gloves to accessorize the little princess. Whether the quince wants to look like Cinderella or J-Lo in The Wedding Planner, Ofelia has her covered.
At one end of this cavernous, winding mishmash of spaces is a room packed with all kinds of crosses — metal, tin, wooden. At the other end, there's a room full of hand-tooled gun holsters. In between is just about any Mexican tchotchke you can dream of: small wooden guitars, leather wallets, ceramic pots, embroidered dresses. We felt like we'd died and gone to Nogales. Beware: The neighborhood, across the street from the Arizona State Hospital, is in a rough part of town near Van Buren Street. Obviously the owners are aware of their surroundings. The place opens at 9 on weekdays, but whatever the time of day, you'll need to ring the bell before they'll let you in.