Two summers ago I did field research in Arizona and New Mexico. At the time I knew I liked New Mexico, what I didn’t know was that I was going to love Arizona. Arizona is a out-sized biogeographical fantasia. It upholds those aspects of American culture that I enjoy: friendly, indwelling small towns; discount liquor in the corner store; cheap motels; intelligent progressive cities; a darkly glistening spider’s web of two-lane blacktop to take you anywhere you want to go. At the same time, it violates magnificently one of my least favourite aspects of American culture, that being an obsession with private property. In Arizona (and the Southwest generally), the unofficial rule is that if you can camp anywhere that doesn’t say “no trespassing”, and there aren’t many “no trespassing” signs in Arizona. The coda to that rule is, if you have to open a gate, close it behind you.
It took me a little while to get used to the idea that I could pull my rental car onto any dirt track road I could find, drive until I found a nice view, and spend the night. But I got used to it.
Nor were there a lot of police to enforce any private property rules that might exist. I don’t actually recall seeing a single cruisier in my time there. Although when I was down around the border I did see a whole lot of green and white border patrol vehicles.
So it’s sad to me that Arizona passed legislation giving police the power to stop anyone for whom they have “reasonable suspicion” of being an illegal immigrant, and arrest them on the spot if they aren’t carrying proof of their immigration status with them. I like an Arizona that represents freedom. Arizona as symbol of creeping fasicm I like less.
I know that my little gripe is just a little one. This law isn’t really about me. This law will be about brown immigrants and anybody who looks like a brown immigrant. It will be a new tool for Joe Arpaio and his gang to wield in their vendetta against the town of Phoenix. It will give the the Tuscon Police Department something to selectively enforce against residents of the Old Town, and a new way to dodge search-and-seizure regulations when they’re on fishing trips in the war on the drugs. And it will also be used against the “bad guy” illegal Mexican immigrants.
I doubt if any straight white Canadian males camping out on the high plateau will actually get shaken down for proof that they aren’t illegal Mexicans, whether they cave in and keep it in their pocket or not. But that feeling of freedom was mostly a dream anyway, and I’m sorry to feel that particular corner of the American dream slip away from me a little.