Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 2, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Adam Diaz


  • Adam Diaz, the first Mexican American elected to the Phoenix City Council, celebrated his 100th birthday. Learn more about the life of Diaz.
Category: Culture

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
He was the first Mexican-American elected to the Phoenix city council, and this morning Adam Diaz celebrated his 100th birthday at a senior center named for him. The community celebration was put on by Phoenix vice Mayor Tom Simplot. Producer Paul Atkinson tells us more about the life of Diaz in a story done a while back, when the former councilman was turning a young 90 years of age.

Announcer:
He is slight in stature, and a bit slower with age, but few ever elected to the Phoenix city council possess the honesty, wisdom, and heart.

Adam Diaz:
Once I was elected I felt that it would open doors for some of our Hispanics.

Olivia Diaz:
Emotion on demand.

Adam Diaz:
This is very difficult to do, you know.

Announcer:
On his 90th birthday, Adam Diaz meets his daughter Olivia outside old city hall. She's writing a book on the family's history. Lisa, his granddaughter, is also along, wanting to learn more about her grandfather's life a half century ago.

Adam Diaz:
I love this car. It's way back. We played Mexican music, you know. Dance around her little skirt around.

Announcer:
In the early 1920s, Adam Diaz helped his father build their home just east of downtown Phoenix. He had an older sister and two younger brothers. Adam would be the first to attend high school. His dad was seeing the vat.

Adam Diaz:
We graduated from the eighth grade, where we'd all want to work to help out the family, but he said you're going to go to high school. So he managed I believe something like $40 which is enough to buy books, the old days we had to buy our textbooks.

Announcer:
Shortly after graduating grammar school, Adam's father died suddenly of pneumonia in 1924.

Adam Diaz:
The world kind of tumbled on me because instead of going to school, I had to figure out what I was going to do, I was the eldest. And I had my brothers and my sister to take care of and my mother.

Announcer:
15-year-old Adam spent the $40 on a bike in hopes of becoming a messenger for western union. He wasn't old enough. Adam latched on with a different messenger service, earning five cents per delivery. The uniform allowed Adam to go to parts of Phoenix Hispanics and other minorities were not allowed.

Adam Diaz:
Gave me an opportunity to go north of Van Buren. And I was amazed at the beautiful homes and gardens and lawns and I of course began to wonder, OK, why is it that it's so different from that part of town and our part of town?

Announcer:
The Lewer’s building is where Adam works next, running the elevators. He soon befriended the owner of a business school who offered free shorthand, typing, and bookkeeping classes, despite working full-time he didn't lose out on teenage years, he hung out with friends, dated numerous girls, even took trips to California. He was now helping George lowers Jr. run the lowers building and lowers tower. A month after he and wife Phyllis bought a home on 25th and Monte vista, neighbors knocked on the door.

Adam Diaz:
Finally said well, we came to tell you that you can't live here. I said well, that's odd. I don't see why we can't live here. We're American citizens. We're born here. Our children are born here.

Announcer:
Adam told them he'd get a lawyer and fight.

Adam Diaz:
And my wife said no, you don't. Said we're going to get out of here. We're not going to stay here one minute longer.

Announcer:
Adam had a home built south of downtown, across from Lowell school.

Adam Diaz:
Here we are. Chamber, this is nice. I want you to see this.

Announcer:
The old Phoenix Council chambers is now a ceremonial room. But it's full of memories for Adam Diaz.

Adam Diaz:
People like Barry Goldwater he's the one that first asked me, he said you've got to run on this ticket. We think that you could be of great service.

Announcer:
Goldwater and others wanted to end corruption at city hall. They asked Adam to run for city council in the late '40s. He declined. But finally agreed in 1953 and easily won. Prior to his election, the only jobs Hispanics could get with the city were low level positions, that changed. So too did politics as usual, where bribes were commonly 0ered to elected officials.

Adam Diaz:
And I would say no, gracias, I don't need it. And I needed it. I could have used in one case I could have used $10,000 that somebody offered me. And I said absolutely not. That way I could keep my head up, my chin up, and my kids don't have to be ashamed of me.

Announcer:
After two years on the Phoenix city council Adam tapped Val Cordova, attorney, to take his place. Cordova was one of many Hispanics to enter politics thanks to Adam Diaz.

Alfredo Gutierrez:
His legacy isn't a building or a specific act of legislation. His legacy was the fact that he broke through.

Announcer:
Former senate majority leader Alfredo Gutierrez was a Chicano activist when Adam Diaz pulled him aside.

Alfredo Gutierrez:
Adam was one of the few folks who was able to embrace that movement, temper that movement as well, I mean, he bridged generations.

Announcer:
Adam Diaz has led a remarkable life, forced to go to work instead of high school. He went from a bike messenger to an elevator operator at the lowers building, Adam retired 52 years later as manager of the lowers properties. He and George lowers Jr. remained best friends throughout it all. An avid sportsman throughout his life, Adam always made time for family and friends. Yet despite all he's done, there is much more to Adam Diaz than hard work, honesty, and heart. It's his humbleness.

Adam Diaz:
I don't feel that I've done enough. I wish I could have done more.

Ted Simons:
Diaz didn't shy away from public service, after he left the council he was appointed by President Clinton to a task force on aging and he's worked on various efforts to get housing for seniors. Coming up on "Horizon," the cause and effect of growing enrollment at Arizona's community colleges and we'll fake a look at an award winning public history project in the city of Chandler. That's Thursday at 7:00 on "Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

What's on?
  About KAET Contact Support Legal Follow Us  
  About Eight
Mission/Impact
History
Site Map
Pressroom
Contact Us
Sign up for e-news
Pledge to Eight
Donate Monthly
Volunteer
Other ways to support
FCC Public Files
Privacy Policy
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
Google+
Pinterest
 

Need help accessing? Contact disabilityaccess@asu.edu

Eight is a member-supported service of Arizona State University    Copyright Arizona Board of Regents