Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2009

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Best Of :: La Vida

Best Pro-Immigrant Activist

If Phoenix human rights activist Lydia Guzman has ever had a lazy day in her life, we haven't seen it. Guzman, who heads two vital immigrant rights organizations, Respect/Respeto and Somos America, is usually a blur of motion. You might hear her voice on Spanish-language radio, urging listeners to call Respect/Respeto about being racially profiled. Or you might get the seat next to her when she's at the Legislature keeping an eye on hateful, anti-immigrant bills being considered there. And if Arpaio's doing a raid of a local business, collaring mothers and fathers and other regular workers at candle-making factories or car washes, Guzman will be there, too.

You might catch her on the evening news, talking about the hunger strikers in Joe's jails or the MCSO's atrocity du jour. But you won't catch her for long. Part of her duties at Respect/Respeto is gathering "testimony" of civil rights abuses and racial profiling. So she spends a lot of time on the phone with moms weeping because one of their grown children has been nabbed by the MCSO for being in the country sans papers, or interviewing crying children who've lost their moms and dads in the same manner. Often, she ventures into the jails, like to Estrella, to visit with Hispanic women who allege injuries at the hands of Arpaio's detention officers.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Guzman also cries a lot. The tears flow when she sees others recounting the pain or abuse they've endured. As you can imagine, it's emotionally draining, less a job than a calling. Something she has to do. Ask her what she wants for her birthday, and she'll tell you, "Joe Arpaio indicted and the 287(g) program ended." She's a selfless individual. But, hey, she ain't no saint. She can cuss up a storm when she's pissed. But she never forgets to give you a bear hug when you bid her goodbye.

Earlier this year, Guzman was elected president of Somos America ("We Are America," in English), a patchwork quilt of local organizations that came together during the 2006 pro-immigrant marches and demonstrations. The organization's prime directive is "to mobilize for social justice and equal rights for immigrant communities in Arizona." In other words, Guzman has her hands full. Again. Here's hoping she remembers to take a vacay once in a blue moon. Because one thing's for certain in "Ari-bama": the suffering and injustice will be here when she returns.

Best Piñatas

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.

Best Old-School Mural

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.

Best Day of the Dead Festival
Desert Botanical Garden

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.

1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, 85008
MAP
480-941-1225
Best Place to Buy a Quinceañera Dress

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.

1640 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 85006
MAP
602-252-6961
Best Mexican Imports
Mexican Arts — Imports

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.

340 N. 24th St., Phoenix, 85008
MAP
602-275-9552
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Best Pro-Immigrant Activist: Lydia Guzman

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