Arizona's subdued rainbow is about to bloom in full color

by Linda Valdez, columnist - Oct. 13, 2012 02:10 PM

And after it rains

There's a rainbow

And all of the colors are black

It's not that the colors aren't there

It's just imagination they lack.

"My Little Town,"

by Paul Simon

For a long time, Arizona has lacked imagination about its changing demographics.

Fear, not vision, wrote a script aimed at covering up the colors that are there.

In a state where the median age of native-born Latinos is 18, paying attention to the needs and interests of Latino kids should be a top priority. They are the future. The median age of non-Latino Whites in Arizona is 44; for non-Latino Blacks, it's 31. The numbers come from the Pew Hispanic Center.

Yet instead of leaders who nurtured the talents of young Latinos, Arizona got the four horsemen of the anti-immigrant apocalypse: former state Sen. Russell Pearce, Gov. Jan Brewer, Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. All Republicans.

Instead of celebrating a marvelous cultural heritage, Arizona outlawed bilingual education, criminalized undocumented workers, institutionalized racial profiling, denigrated Mexican-American students as gangsters, banned ethnic studies and made it official state policy to harass the undocumented -- many of whom are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins and classmates of Arizona's young, U.S.-born Latino residents.

But there is a rainbow.

Some Latino kids are finding an all-American way to push back.

A political movement called Adios Arpaio is aimed specifically at ousting the sheriff who has become a symbol of hard-line immigration policies. Sponsored by Promise Arizona in Action Political Committee and the Campaign for Arizona's Future PAC, the effort is largely funded by the service-workers union Unite Here, says Daria Ovide of Campaign for Arizona's Future.

Volunteers registered 34,327 new voters in Latino neighborhoods before last week's voter-registration deadline, according to Brendan Walsh, co-director of Campaign for Arizona's Future.

Most of the volunteers are high-school students, Ovide says. As many as half are not citizens, and about 80 percent of them come from mixed-status families, she says.

They grew up seeing their loved ones targeted.

Petra Falcon of Promise Arizona says the group has documented more than 1,000 volunteers in this effort.

"They are tired of being bullied," says Falcon.

Yaraneth Marin says her father was deported two years ago. She heads a team of about 20 young people who went into malls, neighborhoods and apartment complexes to get Latinos registered to vote. Now, they will focus on making sure those new voters cast a ballot.

"I may be only 16, but the things I'm capable of are humongous," she says.

Joel Juarez, 19, says his uncle -- a 23-year resident of the Valley and "the life of the party" -- was deported a year ago. Now, Juarez, too, is part of this grass-roots political movement.

Yes. These kids are being guided by adults who have political views of their own. But the community-organizing lessons these young people are learning will serve them -- and Arizona -- far better than the dehumanizing stuff that's been coming at them from Arizona's Republican elected officials.

They know the odds are against beating Arpaio. But they're in this for the long haul.

"I want to make Arizona a better place," says Martin Cortez, 16, who was brought here as a baby by his parents. Like many in his high school, he was afraid to admit he is undocumented: "I didn't think I had a voice."

Now, he's waiting for approval of his application under President Barack Obama's administrative Dream Act -- and he's telling citizens why they should vote.

He's part of a rainbow Arizona should start appreciating.

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Promise Arizona in Action / PAZ en Acción