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.

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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.

Alberto Alvaro Rios is a writer with a keen eye and an open heart who knows how to get out of the way of his own material. And the man's got some material. Born in Nogales in 1952, the son of a Mexican father and an English mother, he chronicles the real and imaginary borders that divide us as well as the unlikely things that bring us together. Regarding his childhood, Rios once said, "Spanish was all around me, but my mother was there, too — with a British accent. I had a zoo of sounds." His memoir about growing up on the border, Capirotada (it's the name of a popular Mexican bread pudding), won the Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award, and was designated the One Book Arizona choice for 2009. He's also written 10 books and chapbooks of poetry, the most recent of which is this year's The Dangerous Shirt, and three collections of short stories.

If you've been to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, you've probably seen his poem "The Museum Heart" engraved on the wall in the building's lobby. In 2005, when Vicente Fox, then the president of Mexico, visited Arizona, Governor Janet Napolitano asked Rios to write a poem commemorating the occasion. He did, in English and in Spanish. The poem concludes: "Let us turn the map until we see clearly / The border is what joins us / Not what separates us." For over 27 years, students at Arizona State University have had the benefit of his instruction; these days, he's a Regents' Professor there, with an endowed chair in English. He's also tried his hand at playwriting, and he hosts Books & Co., the locally produced PBS show featuring interviews with contemporary authors. Rios has lived all over the state, and now resides in Chandler. Fittingly, the Arizona Historical League has bestowed its lifetime achievement award on him, designating him an Arizona HistoryMaker. Gracias, Alberto. Thank you.

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It's the coolest clique in town — a group of female artists who practice their craft(s) in the name of their heroine: Frida Kahlo. Once a year, the Phoenix Fridas throw a birthday party for the enigmatic late artist (she would've turned 102 this summer) and every day, they make art that — in one way or another — honors her spirit. The best-known member is Kathy Cano-Murillo of "Crafty Chica" fame, but local painters Tracy Dove and Emily Costello are also members, as is Leticia Amezaga, who does everything from playing in a band to designing a line of clothing — and she's a pro at the Bedazzler. ¡Viva la Frida! And long may the Phoenix Fridas craft.

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Barrio Cafe

There is only one chef in the Valley who would have no qualms about referring to the majority of the men in the culinary world as "10-foot-high tokes."

With her cropped hair, unedited demeanor, eclectic art collection, and some of the best leg tattoos around, Silvana Salcido Esparza is clearly as badass as they come. Oh, and she's also one of the Valley's best-known and most respected chefs. Esparza owns and runs Barrio Café with her partner, Wendy Gruber, and serves up some of the best "Mexican-inspired" cuisine, as she calls it, that we've ever had.

It says, "Save water, drink tequila" in a footnote on her menu, but Esparza's secret, she says, is love. From the enchiladas del mar to the decadent slow-roasted pork with achiote rojo and sour orange with salsa Yucateca, Esparza puts her heart and soul into her food. "You cook with love," she says, and she makes sure of it every day (if she's angry or upset, she says, her food refuses to turn out right).

A baker's daughter from Merced, California, Esparza has her mother's recipes memorized on her heart, as she puts it, and she puts her father's bread on the table for every meal served at Barrio Café. She spent six years working in a bank in Miami, Florida counting the cash brought in daily by cartels, before she gave it up and went home when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She spent a year learning about her Mexican roots through her mother's food and helping her fight the disease before taking her place at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in the early '90s.

Then, in 2000, just as she turned 40, she quit her job, cashed in her 401(k) and sold or gave away everything she had but her '68 VW. She headed to Mexico to spend the next year of her life learning from — and cooking with — the people of Mexico. She slept on mats in huts in tiny villages and went from place to place by bus. She told the people she met that she had come to Mexico to get in touch with her soul, and to find her voice. She did.

Esparza has taken a true Phoenix barrio, at 16th Street and Thomas, where her restaurant is located, and turned it into one of the Valley's culinary draws — all without selling out, or compromising her roots, or becoming any less badass.

"We put it together with love," she says of the restaurant. And we love to eat there.

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