December 29, 2009 | 3:36pm
In a conversation this morning via phone, Tucson native and rock legend Linda Ronstadt denounced Sheriff Joe Arpaio's reign of tyranny in Maricopa County and promised to march alongside thousands of activists planning to converge on Phoenix this Saturday, January 16 for a National Day of Action, which will include a walk to Arpaio's jails and a rally and concert afterwards.
The Grammy-winning recording artist, whose career has spanned four decades and multiple genres, said she was moved by the situation in Arizona and Arpaio's abuses of power to participate in the demonstration, which is being organized in large part by the California-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network and Phoenix civil rights activist Sal Reza's Puente Movement.
"He's a sadistic man," said Ronstadt of Arpaio. "He doesn't have great respect for the law. I come from a police family. My brother was the chief of police in Tucson for many years, a real law man...He was the one who made me understand that when the law is unevenly applied or badly applied, it weakens all law. That's what's very concerning about Sheriff Arpaio."
Ronstadt, who maintains a home in Tucson where she lives part of the year, cited Arpaio's raids against the undocumented, his mistreatment of prisoners in his custody, and the deaths in his jails as reasons for criticizing him. She also blasted Arpaio's police state tactics against those who speak out against his iron rule.
"Any of us could be snatched off the street without a warrant because of the way Arpaio is applying the law," noted Ronstadt. "He's had people go and arrest Republicans that have opposed him...They have these trumped up charges, and then later on they go, `Oh well, I guess we weren't right about these charges.' By then the damage is done and people are terrified of him. That's what happens in places...where they have dictators."
The lady once dubbed the Queen of Rock described at length her deep roots in southern Arizona. Her paternal grandfather Fred Ronstadt was born in Mexico and emigrated to the U.S. during the 19th Century to apprentice at wagon making. (The Ronstadt family name is German, she said, and is indicative of the European settlers who migrated to Mexico and intermarried with locals.)
Fred Ronstadt later owned a large hardware store in downtown Tucson, which closed in the 1970s. Linda Ronstadt grew up eating tamales during Christmas and singing family songs in Spanish. She eventually turned these songs into an album she released in 1987 called "Canciones De Mi Padre," or "Songs of My Father," a huge commercial success for her.
Ronstadt said she's always considered herself to be Mexican-American. This family history and her ties to the state give Ronstadt further motivation to join the protesters against Arpaio in mid-January.
"I have a couple of dogs in this fight," she stated. "I love Arizona. I've always been very proud of being from Arizona. I don't want this awful man to make me ashamed that I'm from this state or that I'm from a law enforcement family. I don't want to be ashamed of that. I want to be proud of that. He's making me ashamed of it. I'd like for him to stop. I'd like for the people of Maricopa County to wake up and see what they're doing, because there are going to be repercussions from this. Eventually there will have to be some action taken if they keep returning [Arpaio] to office, a boycott or a strike."
Of particular concern to Ronstadt is the treatment of the undocumented and Arizona's prison industrial complex, which she sees as intertwined. She perceives the prison lobby as yet another lobby like "the beer industry or the gambling industry," which makes enormous profits from the criminalization of the undocumented. For the prison industry, someone like Arpaio is a godsend, Ronstadt contended.
Ronstadt said she's also been to the Arizona-Mexico border and to the Arizona desert with individuals working with organizations like No More Deaths. She decried the current economic situation which forces Mexicans to risk death in the desert for the hope of survival in the U.S.
"They're contributing in tremendous ways to the economy up here," Ronstadt commented of Mexican migrants, "and to the labor force. And people are taking advantage of them, and then treating them like dirt, and throwing them back over the border.
"I've held a woman in my arms crying and sobbing at the border because she wanted to get back to her children. She was willing to do anything she had to do to get back across the border and get back to her child, like any good mother would."
The result of this situation, asserted Ronstadt, is a "permanent underclass" that "has to resort to crime to survive." The solution must include a pathway to legalization for the undocumented.
"There has to be some kind of a fair way for them to get citizenship or work permits," she told me. "These are decent, hardworking people who want to live fully in the limits of the law. They don't want to live outside the law. That's much more difficult. They're here. It's a fact. We're not going to keep them out. So we have to figure out how to make it legal for them [to be here]."
Unlike many pro-immigrant activists, Ronstadt declined to criticize the Obama administration's policy towards America's estimated 12 million undocumented, claiming that Obama has his hands tied by Congress and cannot "wave a magic wand" over the issue. She also dismissed concerns that her participation in the march would make her a target for right-wing and nativist attacks.
"You have to stand up for what is right, otherwise bad stuff just overwhelms the whole process," she insisted. "You have to stand up and say, `This is wrong.' I'm going to stand in solidarity with these people. They have a right to have humane treatment."
On January 16, Ronstadt is expected to join UFW icon Dolores Huerta, and Rage Against the Machine/One Day as a Lion frontman Zack de la Rocha, in a walk from Phoenix's Falcon Park to Arpaio's jail complex near Durango Street and 35th Avenue. There, organizers intend to march around the jails, then end with a rally that will include a performance by the Tejano act Little Joe y La Familia.
Ronstadt said she helped garner the inclusion of Little Joe y La Familia in the event, calling them, "one of my favorite acts in the music business." She left open the possibility that she might join them in song at the end of the march.
"It depends on whether or not we have time to rehearse," Ronstadt explained. "I've never performed with [Little Joe]...but if I can, I'll get up and sing a song with him. I just want to go, to show up and show my [opposition to Arpaio]. He's not a good lawman. He's breaking the law and making the law weak. People in Maricopa County need to realize this."