Who came first? Hispanics in Tempe

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Originally published May 7, 2010 – Ever since this column debuted in January 2007, its sole intent has been to provide interesting and intriguing tales of Tempe’s past in, as they say, 500 words or less.

The emphasis is history — not politics. But sometimes the past bumps up against politics. A case in point is what just occurred in the 49th Arizona Legislature.  It brought history and politics into clear focus.

Unless you have been vacationing outside the Solar System you know that SB1070 — the infamous Immigration Bill — has thrust Arizona into the undesirable glare of national and international spotlights.

In just a couple of weeks since its enactment, the new law has become one of the most divisive Legislative actions in recent memory — on which everyone has an opinion. And that got me thinking – just who was here first?

The first peoples to reach the Southwest may have arrived as early as 16,000 B.C. Of course we know that long before Arizona was a Territory or state the Valley was inhabited by a sophisticated prehistoric culture called the Hohokam.

More than a half-millennium later the evidence of their time here between approximately 1000-1400 A.D. abounds — in the form of petroglyphs, canals, villages, homes and remnants of everyday life.

Spaniards entered the region as early as 1528. Just yesterday if you acknowledge the calendar goes back 18,000 years.

In 1840 Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, searching for the legendary seven cities of Cibola’s treasure of mythical gold, led an expedition through Arizona and New Mexico.

Coronado never found his fortune but his expedition did encounter various indigenous thriving cultures.

When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it quickly laid claimed to present-day Arizona.

Shortly after, American mountain men explored Arizona in their search for game and hides. Soon they discovered the abundant mineral resources overlooked by Coronado.

The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the 2-year Mexican-American War. It gave the U.S. possession of all but the southern third of Arizona. Five years later the remaining portion of the state was acquired for $10 million in the Gadsden Purchase.

By the time Charles Trumbull Hayden was trapped at the base of the Butte by a raging Salt River in 1866, Tempe and the Valley was populated by Mexican farmers who had already been working the land for more than four decades.

It was the maturity of the agriculture in a fertile valley and an available labor force that motivated Hayden to settle here.

The Hispanic history of Tempe is as integral to our story as all those followed. Latinos provided the manpower that reconstructed the ancient canals, built the town, worked the fields and added immeasurably to the character of the new community.

That’s why I feel ashamed and sad that the last to arrive now choose to exercise absolute sovereignty over people who have been a contributing part of this land for nearly two centuries.

Editor’s Notes

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