The 2016 edition of New Times' Best of Phoenix is out now, featuring a series of "as told to" profiles that explore how our city's proximity to Mexico makes it better.
In 1988, I was in my mid-30s, and had just broken off a relationship and was feeling sorry for myself. My mother said, “Come to Mexico with me.” I didn’t even take any makeup with me. I met Sixto; he was working in a hotel there, training as the manager. He didn’t speak a lot of English, and I didn’t speak a lot of Spanish, but we got to talking that night, about the Bible of all things. The next morning, he asked me to walk around the village, and he sang me a song sitting up in a church tower, and that was it. I was in love. I left the next day, gave him my business card, and didn’t think I’d hear from him. And then he called some weeks later: “I am in Nogales.” I got in my car and drove down there.
We sat on benches for hours, talking. I wanted him to come across the border with me, but he didn’t want to do it illegally. He grew up as a Mennonite, and is very law-abiding. So I thought, I’m a journalist, I’ll just call people and ask them what to do. I got all the forms, got my employer to say that I had a job. We got all the paperwork together, and Sixto went down to the consulate. They turned him down. Twice.
We were desperate. What were we supposed to do? I felt quite betrayed by my country. This was the love of my life, I jumped through all the hoops they told me to, and they wouldn’t let him in. Then one of the people from the church in Nogales took Sixto to a hole in the fence, and he was here. He got on a bus and came up to Tucson; he had a Mexican passport, and the border patrol guy got on, and Sixto gave the passport to him, and that was it. We got married, and that was 28 years ago. My husband eventually got his citizenship, his green card.
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The vilification of Mexicans isn’t terribly new. When my husband got here in 1988, we would drive around Phoenix and he would say, “But there are so many Mexican people here!” I would say, “They prefer to be called Latino or Hispanic.” How do you explain to someone who grew up in Mexico that his nationality is not a compliment here?
Arizona has set a horrible example, one that’s being followed on a national scale with Donald Trump talking about building walls. We went through that in 2010 with Senate Bill 1070 and Sheriff Joe Arpaio doing his worst.
The border is a very special place where two countries come together, where ideas and cultures come together. That’s an exciting thing. But there’s been so much focus on erecting barriers instead of trying to make the most of what both sides of that border have to offer. The vilification of Mexico in particular has been validated at a national level, and it’s going to take a long time to repair. — As told to Robrt Pela
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2003, Linda Valdez is a columnist for the Arizona Republic, a member of the paper's editorial board, and the author of the memoir Crossing the Line: A Marriage Across Borders.