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Posts for August, 2009

Sunday Driver: Coffee In Arivaca

Jim Burroway

August 30th, 2009

Coffee shops have been springing up all over the world, with Starbucks leading the way in the commodification of the beverage. But there are still plenty of coffee shops which offer a uniquely enjoyable experience, either by their service, flavor or setting.

One such coffee shop is in a most unlikely location, on a little-traveled road in the middle of the nowhere. The Gadsen Coffee Company’s Cafe Aribac, just outside of Arivaca AZ, is one of our favorite places to spend an afternoon, although we rarely get to go there because it’s so far out of the way from where we live in Tucson. To get there, you leave the city far behind and head south toward the Mexican border, get off the Interstate at Amado, and go west on Arivaca road, a winding country road that dips and swerves through the hills and brush of the Sonoran Desert.

It’s a winding, 25-mile drive from Amado that takes close just under an hour, but the result is worth it. I can guarantee that there is no more peaceful, restful place in the world to enjoy a cup of joe and homemade desert than on Cafe Aribac’s front porch. The Buddhist prayer banners flutter in the breeze, hummingbirds buzzing around the feeders, and the peaceful desert vistas and mountains rising all around.

My partner and I found the coffee shop quite by accident, and we came to it from the opposite direction. We were taking one of our many wandering weekend drives one day alongside the Baboquivari mountains just to the west, when we decided it would be nice to find a way to cut across the San Luis mountains to the east in order to catch I-19 home. The only road going through was Arivaca Road, so off we went.

When we reached the road’s namesake less than halfway across to the interstate, we found a village caught in a time warp. The town itself is barely a couple of blocks long, and some of it looks little changed from the days of the Gadsden Purchase. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot to do there, so we continued on our journey. And that’s where we found the coffee shop, not even a mile outside of the other side of town.

That’s where we learned that there’s a whole lot more to Arivaca than meets the eye. It was originally a Pima Indian settlement, then a Mexican Land Grant ranch know as La Aribac. After the Gadsden Purchase, it was an outpost for the Buffalo Soldiers, and then a small settlement for European and Mexican miners and ranch hands. The late 1960’s saw the arrival of several bands of hippies. I don’t know how they fit in with the more traditionally-minded ranching culture, but they stayed and started a few small businesses in the area.

Arivaca is typically very tranquil, but tranquility is not synonymous with boredom. Arivaca has found itself caught up with an influx immigration and drug smuggling activities, along with a larger Border Patrol presence. That has everyone just a little bit on edge. To add to their worries, a family was attacked just last May by an offshoot of the nativist Minutemen hate group. The father and his nine-year-old daughter were killed. The mother and another daughter escaped.

But before you worry about whether Arivaca is changing, just remember where it came from. It’s been here long before the latest troubles edged their way in from outside, and it’ll still be here long after those troubles recede. Just sit back and sip some coffee, and take in the expansive view at that little cafe, and you’ll rediscover that truth all over again.

Like I said, we rarely go there because it’s so out of the way. Locals like to say “If you found Arivaca, then you’re really lost.” But if you want to get lost, it’s probably as good a place as any. Sometimes losing yourself is the best way to find yourself in this fast-paced right-this-instant-messaging world we’ve made for ourselves. Some retreat to sanctuaries or monasteries. Chris and I, when we are particularly stressed, are more likely to say, “How about a coffee in Arivaca?”

And why not? Whatever you’re looking for in a sanctuary or monastery is right there in Arivaca. There, you will see both permanence and impermanence existing side by side. You’ll see delicate beauty in a harsh landscape, harsh strength in a delicate people, and unassailable truths in a confusing world. Arivaca is barely a blink on a windy desert road, but it is a blink that has outlasted generations, centuries and nations. In that way, Arivaca is both different and indifferent: it can take us or leave us. We could all go to Arivaca only to leave it behind again, but it will always be there. One way or another, it will always be there.

Extremist Watch: Minutemen In Arizona

Jim Burroway

June 14th, 2009

Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas was shot and killed in his church by a right-wing extremist on May 31. The murderer, Scott Roeder, had extensive ties with militant anti-abortion groups, some of whom see Roeder as a hero. Stephen T Johns, a security guard at the Holocaust museum was gunned down on June 11 by James von Brunn, an avowed racist and Holocaust denier. Von Brunn is being lauded as “a hero and a martyr” by many who share his beliefs.

I saw yesterday in the Arizona Daily Star that an arrest was made in a May 30 home invasion in Arivaca, Arizona, a picturesque little village south of Tucson barely ten miles from the border with Mexico. It’s a rough-and-tumble place populated by aging hippies, artists, and Mexican-American families who trace their deep roots in the region from before the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. Entering the town is like simultaneously crossing the border and a couple of centuries. It is so out of the way, the locals have a saying: “When you’ve found Arivaca, you know you’re lost.”

Arivaca, Arizona (Photo by Jim Burroway/BTB)

Arivaca, Arizona (Photo by Jim Burroway/BTB)

My partner and I have enjoyed spending a few afternoons at a small rural coffee shop just outside of town, sitting outside on the porch with the stray dogs and the hummingbirds. The idea that a home invasion could occur there is quite unsettling. One in which father and nine-year-old daughter were killed is even more out of place in such a tiny little place. As rough as Arivaca may be, this is the sort of thing that happens in Tucson and Phoenix, not in an out-of-the-way village in the Sonoran desert.

Shawna Forde (Arizona Daily Star)

Shawna Forde (Arizona Daily Star)

So who would pull off such a thing? Well, it turns out that the ringleader of the three-person assault force was Shawna Forde, the leader of tghe Washington-based Minutemen American Defense. Also participating was Jason Eugene Bush, who serves as operations director for the group. (There are at least three different groups operating in the area calling themselves Minutemen.) This gang of extremists allegedly targeted the home on the suspicion that the father, Raul Flores, was dealing in drugs.

Regardless of whether Flores was dealing in drugs or not (news reports are ambiguous on that), this is just one more example of right-wing extremists not just taking the law into their own hands, but seeking to become a law unto themselves. And just as there are racist extremists, anti-immigrant extremists, and anti-abortion extremists, there are anti-LGBT extremists out there as well. And some of them may well be goaded by some of the more inflammatory rhetoric among more well-known opponents to LGBT equality.

This country has changed in many remarkable ways in the past decade, and the changes that LGBT people have experienced have been especially significant in the last five years. In just this year alone, five new states have added marriage equality, while more than a third of all Americans live in states allowing at least some form of recognition for same-sex couples. This must be galling to many of our more extreme opponents.

There are crackpots out there who would do us harm, and they are becoming increasingly desperate. This is a time for vigilance and a time for all of us to be very careful about our personal safety. But our prudence must not come at the expense of squelching our voices or halting our steps.

Let’s be careful out there.