Musings On The Southwest As A Region, By A Southwestern .

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Musings on the Southwest as a region, bya southwestern SouthwesternerDavid Yetman, Research social scientist, The Southwest Center, the University of ArizonaDefining the Southwest is intuitively simple but practically difficult.Inevitably, regionaldisagreements about inclusion or exclusion erupt, cultural divergences complicate, physiographicboundaries interfere, and political boundaries deceive. Generous definitions include either all of NewMexico or only that portion west of its eastern plains, the Llano Estacado. How much, if any, of California,Colorado, Nevada, Texas, and Utah to include gives rise to xenophobic sentiments. Chihuahua and Sonora,Mexico have strong affinities for the American Southwest, culturally, economically, and physiographically,but just where to draw the southern line is an elusive problem. Arizona alone lies unequivocally anduncontestably within the Southwest.The definition is complicated by a century or so of shamelesspromotion of a region championed by hucksters, developers, and investors eager to capitalize on regionalimages they connived to create. But at the same time, it is a region that most Americans would view asour most exotic and, perhaps, romantic.For purposes of this essay, I will adopt the definition offered and argued by James W. Byrkit in hisprofound and lengthy 1992 essay The Southwest Defined, published in the Journal of the Southwest. Byrkit,after a sustained and nuanced discussion, proposed the boundaries as the area encompassed by 29 to 39 Latitude North and 104 to 117 Longitude West. It stretches from the east slope of the mountains ofeastern New Mexico to slightly beyond the western edge of the deserts of Southern California. It includesportions of Mexico’s northern Baja California, Chihuahua, and Sonora to the northern limits of the MojaveDesert, much of southern Nevada, the Slickrock Country of Utah, and a representative slice of southernColorado. This definition is satisfying to many scholars of the Southwest, for it includes virtually all thecultures, contemporary and pre-Columbian, that comprise the more popular conception of the Southwestand the most notable physiographic features, the most prominent landmarks, those basic definitions ofplace, and the loci of native peoples who provide the history and content to Southwestern heritage, areincluded. Even Texans are afforded their appropriate inclusion—El Paso, historically prominent, isretained, and the Guadalupe Mountains sneak through the eastern boundary. The California inclusion doesjustice to the Salton Sink and Death Valley, the grandest, hottest, and lowest of drylands. The 39 Northand 104 West coordinates extend well into Colorado. For better for worse, Las Vegas, Nevada is in.1

Byrkit’s definition is marginally arbitrary—the limits could be adjusted a few global minutes inany direction without doing violence to the idea of the Southwest. I would advocate setting the westernlimit at 116.5 West Longitude rather than at 117 , since 117 just barely excludes San Diego and Tijuanaand includes too much of Southern California's urban mass for my liking.But his boundaries seem tosatisfy the intuitions of those who study the region in detail. For example, the Anza-Borrego Desert isjustifiably Southwestern and the Mojave National Preserve clearly belongs to the Southwest, but the GreatBasin and the Sierra Nevada do not. And Byrkit’s Southwest offers an enormity of topics to the scholarand the essayists, an unending gradient of objects of fascination and complexity, in a background oftraditional southwestern imagery. The Southwest is home to the most celebrated geological phenomena,the most prototypical deserts, the greatest concentration of present indigenous peoples of any region, andoffers unmatched heat, drought, and biological diversity. Included, quite logically, are the entirety of thenorth-south reach of the Río Grande with its gathering of Puebloan peoples and its rift-related lavas andmountain ranges, including the San Luis Basin in Colorado, the river’s headwaters. The Grand Canyon andits associated Colorado Plateau tableau of geological spectacles and revelations lie inside; the massive SanJuan and Sangre de Cristo ranges of southwest Colorado are in as well, as are much of the four greatAmerican Deserts: the Chihuahuan, Great Basin, Mojave, and Sonoran. The boundaries enclose the mostspectacular American archaeological sites. By the inclusion of Sonora and Chihuahua north of the 29thparallel, the northern Sierra Madre Occidental, the land of the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries andmissions, and the northern Gulf of California as well as a chunk of adjacent Baja California’s endemic florajoin the mix. The southern limit also brings in that most enigmatic of indigenous peoples, the Seri orComcáac and the volcanic landscape of the Sierra Pinacate.The Southwest is also the quintessential land of aridity in North America, a region of little waterand great imperial thirst. Its two rivers of substance, the Colorado and Grande, though minor on an absolutescale, are themselves and their waters the subject of countless lawsuits and treatises on water use, misuse,supply, lack of supply, allocation and over allocation, and interstate and international intrigue. The crossborder controversies about water allocations/deliveries from these rivers to Mexico and to upstream vs.downstream users and consumers occupy entire volumes. When we include the headwaters and principaltributaries of the Río Yaqui, northwestern Mexico’s most important source of surface water, the realm ofscholarship takes on a more international aspect. Conflicts related to dominion over water from the Yaquiform the most important dynamic in Sonoran history. Ojinaga, Chihuahua, at the mouth of the Río Conchos,Mexico's contribution to the Río Grande (Río Bravo in Mexico) adds to the water equation.Together, Arizona, New Mexico, northern Sonora, and southern Utah contain the greatest varietyof extant indigenous cultures in North America. The list of language families alone is impressive—Algonquin, Athabascan, Indo-European, Keres, Tewa, Tiwa, Uto-Aztecan, and Yuman, plus two linguistic2

isolates— Seri and Zuni. 1 The largest indigenous nation of the region—the Diné or Navajo—also possessesthe largest reservation in the United States, with territory in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and the largestindigenous population north of central Mexico. The youngest indigenous landholding—the Yaqui land inArizona—occupies a tiny area, but Yaquis bring with them a deep tradition of resistance to conquest andcultural perseverance in the midst of prolonged persecution.Pueblo Indians and their forebears, theAnasazi or Ancestral Puebloans, had trading and cultural ties southwest through the Hohokam into southernArizona and with peoples of the Mogollon Culture deep into Chihuahua. Superimposing their overlappingregions of influence yields a map surprisingly congruent with the heart of the Southwest.The proliferation of pre-Columbian peoples is a setting for contrasting treatment of natives byEuropeans. Anglo settlers, yeomen pushing westward from the East Coast, adopted a policy of expellingor eliminating indigenous peoples, while Spaniards, arriving from the Veracruz on the Gulf Coast weremore inclined to convert and exploit them. Spaniards, always hopeful of higher ranking and disdainful oflabor, were inclined to mingle with Indians, both of them subjects of the King. Anglos were more inclinedto plow and ranch using their own hands, hoping to escape the reach of any king.The results of these contrasting approaches to conquest are still present. Ironically, that same preColumbian Southwest already contained the most intensive agriculture north of Mexico. When Europeansarrived, irrigation systems had been engineered, laid out, and administered by agricultural communitiesalready ancient in their tenure of the land.The Southwest dominates the list of celebrated archaeological sites within the U. S. The bulk ofpre-Columbian sites preserved in the National Park System are located in the region. Mesa Verde andChaco Canyon are unrivaled for size and sophistication, while Paquimé in Chihuahua links to the southwith central Mexico and to the north with Pueblo cultures. The Hohokam tradition of southern Arizonaprobably represents the earliest agriculture in the United States, extending back at least 4,000 years. Thearidity of the region, especially in habitats where desert varnish forms, preserves the endemic andsophisticated pre-Columbian rock art widespread in the Southwest.The Southwest dominates the national park system. National parks--Arches, Black Canyon of theGunnison, Bryce Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Death Valley, Grand Canyon,Great Basin, Great Sand Dunes, Guadalupe Mountains, Joshua Tree, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, Saguaro,and Zion—are as varied as the terrain. Southwesterners expect to live in proximity to such naturalmonuments.In non-indigenous circles, especially those with a high proportion of Easterners, exotic peoplessymbolize the Southwest. To enhance investments, commercial interests used photographic portrayals of1Pre-Columbian California had a far greater linguistic diversity and a population of at least 200,000.3

Native American cultures and traditions—especially dances---and what outsiders consider desirableartifacts for acquisition, especially, arts and crafts—Pueblo pottery, Navajo rugs, Apache and Papago(O’odham) baskets, Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni silver, and ceremonial dolls. Though promoted initially byrailroads and later by chambers of commerce and bureaus of tourism, when marketed by Indians with longhair wearing quaint clothing, they prove irresistible to tourists. Any number of popular symbols projectwhat their promoters hope will build a lasting a Southwest Image: the saguaro cactus; the Grand Canyon;a pueblo pot; a stylized sun; Monument Valley; Taos Pueblo, a Navajo blanket, strings of dried chiles,Yaqui deer dancers; a mountain’s silhouette. With the advent of passenger railroads and commercialpromoters of the Southwest, traditional ceremonies and dances proved irresistible to outsiders, who havenow succumbed to the lure of Indian casinos as well. More than any other region, the Southwest possessesa marketable gradient of endemic images. Saguaros grow only in the Sonoran Desert region; there is onlyone Grand Canyon; only one Slickrock Country, only one collection of pre-Columbian pueblos, only onepeople producing Kachina dolls. Nowhere else in the United States must diners express a preference forred or green chile.Scholars and observers reap the harvest of the abundances of the Southwest as new research toolsand findings emerge. After only a half-century of the understanding of plate tectonics comes an explosionof explanations of the previously incomprehensible. Volcanism has been rationalized and tied to migrationsand famines. From satellite photos and advances in dating of rock samples come the discovery of colossalcalderas of the Jémez, the Black Range of New Mexico and the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. Fromprecise measurements of tectonic movement and intimate study of both terrestrial and oceanic deposits, thedeep history of the upper Gulf of California and its connection to the San Andreas Fault via the Salton Seaand the origin of the Grand Canyon are emerging. Basin and Range extension created human habitats andimmense pools of water. Tree ring research originated in the Southwest, but applies to large parts of theworld. The rings from Ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, and bristlecone pines, dwarf trees of the highestelevations, tell of past climates and clarify the role of regional droughts in human conflicts and migrationsand suggest that they will continue to emerge. Linguists’ ability to date the evolution of languages from acommon proto-language also sheds light on cultural history, migration, and conflict.The major cities, Albuquerque, El Paso, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson all demonstrate theexplosive growth in the Sun Belt during the last five decades, but each in its own fashion, each with theSouthwest as an underlying theme. Albuquerque and Tucson rose as sites of native peoples and emergingconflicts with settlers. El Paso grew over four centuries as a vital cog in north-south transportation, aninternational trade link. Phoenix is by far the largest city of the Southwest, and, despite its name, it is hardlya site of rebirth. It has expanded in one century from nearly nothing, promoted alternately as a haven frompunishing winters or as an agrarian desert enclave with ample water resources (or so it proclaimed),4

ballooning in size only after the general availability of air conditioning. Las Vegas, hardly an ancient siteand equally dependent on refrigeration, shed its Mormon origins and derived its glitz and popularity notmerely from vice and easy self-indulgence, but from the sunshine and aridity of, yes, the Southwest. Theso-called Imperial Valley, much of it below sea level and stiflingly hot, was originally the Colorado Desert,a name dirt peddler from the east feared would dampen the prospects for land sales, and hence the elegantbut misleading revised label. Finally, it is difficult to imagine a city like Santa Fe existing in any otherregion, now self-represented on a tenuous premise and prospering on cultural fraud, exhibiting itself as thesymbol of the exotic Southwest while clinging desperately to a history based on violence and imperialconquest.Each of the seven states involved is different from the others in a degree ranging from subtle topalpable. New Mexico has a Hispanic tradition wholly different from that of its neighbors. Its food isdistinctive, as are its evident cultural idiosyncrasies, the pervasive remnants of a somewhat isolatedHispanic heritage. Arizona's culture lies closer to traditional Anglo, a reflection of Eastern-financedextraction industries, with pockets of indigenous persistence removed from the urban centers andcontrasting with the settled ways of the more eastern Pueblo cultures. Older New Mexico towns feature aCatholic church fronting a plaza, often faced with city hall. Towns elsewhere usually have a variety ofchurches of a host of denominations, but no plaza, and, probably, a randomly located city hall. EvenTucson, with Hispanic roots, has no central plaza. Compared with Las Cruces, an emerging vibrant collegecity, El Paso seems but an adjunct to sprawling Ciudad Juárez. It is more a border city without politicalconnections, a confusing and somewhat dreary entrepôt, rather than a metropolis representing the largeststate of the contiguous forty-eight. To the east, beyond El Paso's influence, broad Texas confidence slowlyoverwhelms, and the Texans’ cowboy ethos views New Mexico as a quaint outpost of otherness, a usefulcolony of Abilene, Amarillo, or even Dallas. To the west of Arizona, the few Californian towns and citiesthat exist--Needles, Blythe, El Centro, Indio--connect to Los Angeles, not to Phoenix. Utah’s Southwesttowns are heavily Mormon--uniformly so--with Mormon church(es) the dominant structures, the populationuniformly white, and the bulk of inter-community relations politically and socially gravitating towards thenorth and Salt Lake City. The land, though, is everywhere tinged with Triassic Red, from Zion to Moab,from Panguitch to Kanab, which connects the landmass with the south and the Colorado Plateau—theessence of the Southwest.During recent decades, suburbanization of the cities of the Southwest has diluted any remainingurban symbols of exotic Southwesternism and yielded a uniformity of appearance and, apparently, politicalideology, that seem at odds with the particularity of the Southwest. Culturally, this invasion of Angloinspired urban blandness has diluted the sense of regionalism and the influence of indigenous and Hispaniccultures. Indians now represent less than 5% of Arizona's population, just fewer than 10% in New Mexico.5

Yet, as the Southwest inevitably loses its cultural distinctiveness, the physical landmarks remain as deepsymbols of place, as long as we cherish them and remind ourselves and our compatriots of their singularsignificance.Recommended readingsByrkit, James 1992. "The Southwest defined." Journal of the Southwest 34: 257-387.Coyle, Edwin 1941. Desert country. New York: Duell, Sloan, and PearceLummis, Charles 1921. Land of poco tiempo. New York: Charles Scribner and Sons.Nichols, John 1978. The magic journey: a novel. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.Wilder, Joseph C. and Karen Segar, editors 1990. “Inventing the Southwest.” Journal of theSouthwest, 383-606.6

Basin and the Sierra Nevada do . And Byrkit’snot Southwest offers an enormity of topics to the scholar . Nowhere else in the United States must diners express a preference for . common proto-language also sheds light oncultural history , migration, and conflict. The major cities, Alb