Joanna and I have lived in Arizona twice; I’ve told people that we couldn’t believe how bad it was the first time, so we went back to confirm it. But despite the oppressive summer heat (“But it’s a dry heat.” “Yeah, so is my oven, but I’m not climbing in.”), allergy-inducing plants, Valley Fever, and the fact that Phoenix has done its best to become a hotter, dryer version of Los Angeles, we generated many happy memories there.
While in Arizona, we enjoyed beautiful desert scenery and sunsets. We spent the earliest years of our marriage away from in-laws, letting us work out the intricacies of our relationship ourselves. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary on the rim of the Grand Canyon. We met and worked with wonderful people. Joanna owned a small electronics company, and I did some of the best work of my career as a reporter and editor (even drawing editorial cartoons for a brief period).
On the other hand, once when Joanna and I were trying to fill out some bureaucratic paperwork for some now-forgotten function, we were asked to prove that we were American citizens. Considering my pale skin and Nordic roots, it seemed an odd question, but we were in Arizona. And of course I was standing next to Joanna, my darker-hued wife of Portuguese/Polish descent who often has been assumed to be Latina or American Indian (making her subject to more scrutiny and/or prejudice for many in the West even decades before more recent reactionary lunacy related to immigrants).
About immigration: As with almost everyone else in this country, our ancestors came from elsewhere. And some of my most meaningful memories involve the times we lived in a bus or a pickup camper and worked with other migrants. I spent much of one summer at a Phoenix factory, working outdoors at temperatures well over 100 degrees, going after work to a cantina across the street to drink beer, share stories and complain about work. Joanna and I both worked on an Easter Lily farm on the Oregon Coast, where we shared meals with Mexican workers and where my nickname — “Lazy Gringo” — was given with laughter by foreman Raul, who also gave me a pair of rubber boots that were too big for him after we shared a lunch of tortillas and frijoles that he had made.” I was the slowest, clumsiest and generally least capable member of the crew, most useful (because of my height and relative strength) when crates of lily bulbs had to be lifted high onto the back of a truck.
One of the things we enjoy most about visiting New York or Seattle is the mix of cultures and languages, and one of the few things we miss about living in other parts of the country or in a bigger city is the relative lack of diversity in Eastern Washington. Our volunteer work has let us share experiences with immigrants from around the world, and we don’t blame any of those immigrants for wanting to be here — or for wishing they could be back home, wherever “home” may be, in a more secure environment. They want what all of us want, and perhaps think more about this time of year — love, security and perhaps a new start.
Of all the places we have been able to visit in New York, Joanna’s favorite (and perhaps my favorite, largely because of her reaction to it) was Ellis Island. The recorded immigrant experiences in the excellent museum there brought my wife to tears on several occasions, and we left only when they herded us out onto the last boat of the day. We left feeling saddened, exhilarated and extremely blessed — pretty much the emotional range we might hope for on any given day.
Dan Seals captured some of the complexity of immigration issues, and of much of life in general, with “Bordertown,” one of my favorite songs. Another favorite is “They Rage On,” though I also like Seals’ bigger hits “Bop,” “Everything that Glitters (is not Gold),” and “Meet Me in Montana“(with Marie Osmond). I even devoted a post to Seals on my other blog after his 2009 death.
Before embarking on a solo career, Seals had been half of the 1970s pop duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. They produced such hits as “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” “Nights Are Forever Without You,” “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again” and “Love Is the Answer.”
“Bordertown” lyrics here, with video below.