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Best Of :: La Vida

Hero Worship
Santiago Gonzalez

See: a video interview with Santiago Gonzalez.

Santiago Gonzalez is one of the good guys, and not just because his family produces 3 Amigos Tequila — a delicious, smooth tequila made exclusively from blue agaves untouched by pesticides.

Sure, the taste rivals any of the top-shelf tequila brands out there — and costs way less — but Gonzalez isn't my hero for that. Well, not just that. He's the kind of guy who cares about integrity, hard work, and above all else, family.

Attitudes like his are in short supply these days.

Gonzalez was just a boy when he moved to Phoenix from Mexico in 1968. In the mid-'80s, he and his brothers started G Farms with 200 acres on which to grow watermelons, onions, potatoes, corn, and alfalfa. Now, they farm more than 4,000 acres and have a couple of side businesses — including a family-owned distillery in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where they handcraft and bottle 3 Amigos Tequila.

His family's business ventures have suffered with the economic downtown, but he forges on, confident that better times are ahead.

"It isn't about the money," Gonzalez says. "It's about a good quality product. My father would always tell us that you don't want to die rich. You want to live rich." — Monica Alonzo

New Times staff writer Monica Alonzo, who swore off tequila until she met the three amigos, interviewed Santiago Gonzalez on August 14 at his El Mirage ranch.

I love Phoenix because this is where we came in when we came from Mexico. I was 11 years old. I fell in love with the state. This is home.

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up and become a pilot. But here I am. I am a farmer and a tequila maker.

While I am driving, I think about all my family and I thank God, mainly because of everything we have and all our blessings.

Phoenix could use more tequila, for sure. And could be a little easier on Mexicans.

Phoenix could use less crime and a lot less prejudice.

You know you've had too much tequila when you start talking too much.

Never drink tequila without your three friends.

My favorite crop is, believe it or not, watermelons. Second is agave.

I love the smell of wet dirt, because I'm a farmer and the dirt is God's gift and we eat off the dirt. The land feeds us.

I would love to spend the whole day with my wife.

My hero is my father. He was a man who had a lot of foresight, and he had a lot of love for people. He was a wonderful man.

Right before I go to bed, I thank God for my family and for friends and for all the blessings.

Best Calle of Dreams

Barrio Cafe chef Silvana Salcido Esparza turned 50 this year, and she was pissed. It wasn't the number of candles on her cake or years she's spent building her restaurant business on 16th Street — it was Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Esparza's been glued to the news and images of Arizona's Mexican community in all its lackluster glory on the big screen. "Oh, we have a vibrant community here," she says. "We just need a center for that community to really shine." So she started with her back wall. Esparza brought in El Moises to paint a mural, and then she was struck with a vision: a Calle of Murals. She set up a Facebook page, then an e-mail address, then a website. She has almost 20 artists and 500 Facebook fans. The first official "Calle 16" mural will go up in October. "They can't stop us," says Esparza. "I want the city to crawl back to us and ask where they can help."

2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 85006
Best New Showcase for Latino Art
Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center/Galeria 147

Art with a political edge is what this town's been needing in the worst possible way, and Phoenix's new Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center/Galeria 147 has been delivering. In a state where Latinos are under the gun, both literally and metaphorically — from the Legislature, in the form of the ethnic studies ban and SB 1070, to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's notorious anti-immigrant sweeps of Hispanic neighborhoods — ALAC's providing an outlet for the indignation and outrage of an entire people. ALAC's debut presented works from old hands like painters Ramon Delgadillo and Luis Mena, in addition to new ones, such as muralist Francisco Garcia, whose work depicts the sacrifice, the pride, the victimization, and the beauty of Arizona Latinos. Out of the crucible of oppression often comes the stuff of great art, and ALAC/Galeria 147 seems to be proving that with its very existence.

147 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 85004
Best Pinata Art
Mutant Pinata Show at Bragg's Pie Factory

It was a collection of tentacles coming out of a Starbucks mug. How could we not love it? And that's just one of the bizarre creations we got to see at the Mutant Piñata art show at Bragg's Pie Factory. This annual event never fails to tickle our imagination with papier-mâché vampires and anatomically correct (or so we're told) baboons. You may be used to candy-filled piñatas, but we're telling you that the real treat is the eye candy you'll see at this show. Leave the bat at home. The mutant piñata show happens each March, during Art Detour, and the word is that several pieces from last year's show — including a fabulous vampire by Tempe artist Mike Maas — will appear in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's People's Biennial in October 2011.

1301 Grand Ave., Phoenix, 85007
Best Pinata Politics

Want to beat the crap out of Jan Brewer? Now's your chance — though at $85 a pop, we're not sure you'll want to deface your purchase. Leave it to Scott Jacobson — he of the impish grin and years in the middle of Arizona politics doing public affairs for a big, bad utility company. These days, Jacobson's pushing piñatas rather than power — though, really, his political spin on papier-mâché wields a strength of its own. E-mail him if you'd like one of his piñatas for your very own.

Best Day of the Dead Festival
Desert Botanical Garden

One of the best events of the year is the Dia de los Muertos festival, hosted by the Desert Botanical Garden on Halloween weekend and during the first week of November. The festivities include Mexican folk arts, storytelling, dance, and poetry, as well as a mercado with awesome wares for sale. Wander the garden paths and check out the ofrenda installations, pause to make crafts with the kids — like decorating your own calaca (smiling skull) mask or molded sugar skulls. There is enough pageantry and, yes, food to keep you entertained all day. Who knew celebrating death could be so fun?

1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, 85008

Hero Worship: Santiago Gonzalez


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