Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 27, 2013


Host: José Cárdenas

Alfredo Gutierrez: Author


  • Former Arizona State Senator Alfredo Gutierrez talks about his new book "To Sin Against Hope: How America Has Failed Its Immigrants: A Personal History."
Guests:
  • Alfredo Gutierrez - "To Sin Against Hope - How America Has Failed Its Immigrants - A Personal History," Author
Category: Immigration   |   Keywords: author, immiration, arizona,

View Transcript
Josè Càrdenas: Thank you for joining us. Former state lawmaker and immigrant rights activist Alfredo Gutierrez just released a memoir. He uses his life story to tell the history of Mexicans in the United States, immigration and border policies. It's to sin against hope: How America has failed its immigrants. A personal history. Joining me is Alfredo Gutierrez. Welcome back to Horizonte. You have been on the show many times to talk about these inbounds. it's tempting to get your opinion on a lot of things going on today, but I want to focus on the book and a what it is and what it isn't. At least from my reading. You have some near the end of the book what you refer to as obituary comments from some of the people who have written about you over the years. I want to quote one of them. This is Richard from the Arizona Republic. Three generations of Arizonans know him by his first name, Al agreedo. He is a singularly constant I evolving and complicated public figure whose career has spanned parts of five decades crossing swords with Republicans. Over the years he has been a student protester, businessman, consultant, bon-vivant and democratic gubernatorial candidate. That's the Alfredo Gutierrez most people were expecting to read about in this book. There are elements of that here. That would be a great book but that's not what this is about. It's really to my mind not so much a personal memoir as much as it is a firsthand account of the struggles of Mexican people in this part of the country. I was there, what I saw. What I thought. Do you agree with that?

Alfredo Gutierrez: I do. I do. I saw my life story as I related it in this book as the structure, using my life, using my family's life, as almost a chronological line on which to be able to weave the story of Mexican in the United States since 1948, to weave in a personal way what it was like to live under that circumstance of intense discrimination that we passed through in the 50's. How that final break took place where we now term the Chicano movement. That almost convulsions in our community I think was of much lesser importance to the larger America but to our communities it was a convulsion that ultimately led to the community we're today. It was also the personal story provided the structure from which to tell a story.

Josè Càrdenas: We're talking immigration, this is the clothes line, to put a lot of things on here. This book is so much. A primer on immigration. You talk about the laws that have been enacted over different periods of time, the pseudo-scientific thinking that was the basis for many of them, theories about Mexicans and how educable they may be. It's a social history. What the book is about is captured by a section I would like you to read if you wouldn't mind.

Alfredo Gutierrez: Of course.

Josè Càrdenas: At the end of chapter seven, page 181. You begin there with really the summary. The paragraph that says at the end of the 20th century.

Alfredo Gutierrez: At the end of the 20th century 164 years since the end of the Mexican war Latinos, Hispanics, Mexican Americans, Chicanos, Mexican Americans face the most virulent anti-immigration climate since perhaps that war. Certainly in my lifetime. I'm old. For three decades so-called government and foundation funded civil rights organizations have portrayed the Latino community as a dysfunctional people incapable of bettering itself. National immigration rights organizations founded by liberal organization continued to peddle a comprehensive immigration reform program. As apprehensions climbed Wall Street and immigration and custom enforcement have made investment opportunities out of human tragedy an deportations have reached record levels and continue to stack high especially under democratic administrations. Families destroyed, children deported alone and abandoned in Mexican borders, and death at the border is the daily bread of our immigration policies.

Josè Càrdenas: It strikes me that's really what this book about about. I want to unpack that as best we can in the short time we have. I want to go back to the beginning of the book and you talk about the crossing and the message you give students every time you talk to them about your Mexican heritage.

Alfredo Gutierrez: My family's crossing, I adopt think it was a typical one, but because it was atypical people didn't talk about it. You denied you were undocumented. You denied you had ever been deported. You denied you crossed. To talk about that openly was to place yourself in danger, your family in danger. So this secret shroud fell upon that crossing. It took a challenging my father, challenging my mother to understand what it was. Some of that happened as a child but much of it happened when I was in college and began to realize what operation wet back was. To begin to understand what it must have been to have been deported.

Josè Càrdenas: As your father was.

Alfredo Gutierrez: Who was an American citizen. So it's how we retain our history as a people and our personal history. It's exceedingly important that we understand the sacrifices that our parents and grandparents made so that we might have lives in this country. Those were immense sacrifices that should never be forgotten.

Josè Càrdenas: The first few chapters are a very colorful picture of life in Miami called Miama, Arizona. Both the discrimination that existed and the role of the union there and which actually in some respects is a microcosm of the Communist scare and how that was used against them.

Alfredo Gutierrez: It's exceedingly foreign to recognize that in the post war era it was -- even before but certainly the post war era, in the 50's, period of extreme discrimination throughout the southwest, it was unions. It was the left unions that allowed Mexicans -- you have to recall most unions certainly all of the craft unions wouldn't allow Mexicans to join. The international -- referred to as a Communist union was one of the few who recruited Mexican miners. They became those unions, those leftist unions became the civil rights organizations who fought for equality, fought for immigration. Schools were integrated. It was the unions that made that possible. That fought for it and immigrated the schools. To my mother's great chagrin. She was not happy that the schools were integrated but it was unions. At the same time that unions were doing this they were referred to of course in the period of the 50's, the McCarthy era, as essentially Communist, some of the most important figures leading our community. Corona went on to found Napa. The original founder of the council. All of these people were at one time or another declared Communists by congressional committees or by leading political figures. It was the moral equivalent of calling someone a terrorist today. It was exceedingly destructive to a career outside of labor, outside of the union. Yet these people fought on and in effect changed the way we were treated.

Josè Càrdenas: In a mining town which you grew up in. I just want to touch on a few personal incidents. You end several of the chapters with kind of an event that triggers a new phase in your life. One of them the minor brush with the law that led to you joining the Army.

Alfredo Gutierrez: Well, it is still a legend my hometown, people of my generation still refer to it. The fact is that the whore houses, a number of them. I mention three of them in the book, but I'm reminded every time I go there there was many more. By the late 50's, because of public pressure, and perhaps because there were competing establishments in Maricopa County, they began to die off. There was the last one was called the Keystone Hotel. It only opened on weekend by the late 50's and early 60's. We were always curious what was going on in there and as a teenager we decided to find out. We broke in. What we found was horribly disappointing. Rooms the sizes of cells, reeked of urine smell. The only thing about it was alcohol. We found a lot of booze and we took it away. One of the guys we broke in with, a guy we used to call big head, he and his brother decided that the loot was too paltry an went back and stole a refrigerator. They carried it away in a little cart. It was a huge refrigerator they put in this cart and started taking it up the street. Of course the police found them and they confessed and we were picked up. I had the choice of going to fort grant, which was a pretty notorious juvenile detention center in southeast Arizona, or joining the Army. The military. I immediately chose to join the military.

Josè Càrdenas: You're in the service. The Vietnam war is going on but you don't see combat. Ironically until you get out of the service and you come home and that's another one of those personal instances that influences your life. Somebody almost killed you.

Alfredo Gutierrez: Very, very close to it. I was working in the mine. I was a mucker. It was hard work. Labor work. These are tough towns. Tough times. At the end of a shift especially on weekend, shift ended about 11:00 at night, we all jumped in cars and made it straight to the bars. We fill the cars with cases of beer and went off to favorite places along the creek where we drank and people would sing and this would go on until the middle of the night. On one occasion a fellow joined us, a good friend who was on our crew of muckers, and his father was -- he and his father had a horrible argument, he sent him away but he came back armed with hunting rifles. He had made him up with Shineola--

Josè Càrdenas: As if he was in combat.

Alfredo Gutierrez: That's right. He came back and opened fire. He almost killed his father. Leg had to be amputated. There was a fellow singing Mexican immigrant. He shot him in the head and he fell immediately. He started to shoot us all. I jumped into the creek in my military training came to great benefit and I immediately started crawling up the creek so that I didn't present any kind of profile. He knew all of the tactics. He had been a combat veteran started chasing me and shooting at me. It was miraculous that I survived.

Josè Càrdenas: You end the chapter saying you decided that maybe it was time to go-go to school. You end up at ASU, end up a student activist, a founder of a student organization. You talk about your experiences there and Robert Kennedy campaign and how that impacted you. Also your first meeting with Cesar Chavez. You were a little disappointed in him personally because he wasn't the huge, impressive figure you thought but later on you do have some criticisms of them. I want to get to those, but to make sure we cover all that, eventually you get into politics.

Alfredo Gutierrez: That's right.

Josè Càrdenas: You ran against an entrenched Senator. You went in a Robert Redford type moment, now what do we do? You had not expected to win.

Alfredo Gutierrez: Not only had I not expected to win, I had accepted a fellowship for a Ph.D back east. I was expected to be there late September. The election -- it was a primary, September 2nd. But the whole idea is to lose and thereafter I was meant to head off into the sunset.

Josè Càrdenas: The strategy --

Alfredo Gutierrez: That was certainly what I was accused of by the opposition. But the other part of this was trying to embarrass this candidate. He represented the poorest area of Phoenix. There was no Medicaid, no access. There was no health care to speak of. The County hospital was military barracks. Army surplus. It was an Army surplus hospital that sat in southwest Phoenix. There was no transportation, public transportation to speak of for people to get there. It was a dismal situation in central and south Phoenix. There were no bridges between south Phoenix and the rest of the city. Each time it rained south Phoenix was abandoned.

Josè Càrdenas: You wanted to shine a spotlight on that.

Alfredo Gutierrez: Absolutely.

Josè Càrdenas: You went to the Senate and fairly soon you become the majority leader.

Alfredo Gutierrez: Within less than two years.

Josè Càrdenas: You work with some of the most historic figures in the history of Arizona. I want to run through them and get your comments on them. You touch on many. Your refer to the extraordinary Burton Barr.

Alfredo Gutierrez: Barr is singularly one of the most impressive human beings and leaders that this country has ever produced. He was a war hero. And showed extraordinary leadership in World War II. He was very successful business person but as a political figure, he was unique. He was -- unrelenting energy. A sense of humor that never stopped. He just -- it was not possible for him to. But at the same time he was making a joke he was considering some of the most public policy --

Josè Càrdenas: He was the leader of the house Republicans.

Alfredo Gutierrez: That's right. At the time we used to say the house was members of the house surrounded by Burton Barr. He was the most extraordinary figure. I have met presidents of this country, a number of U.S. Senators, et cetera. Historic figures but I can tell you without hesitation that the leadership skills, the intelligence, the raw intelligence of that man is unmatched.

Josè Càrdenas: You don't have quite as high opinion, almost the opposite of of governor Raul Castro, who you refer to as a Mexican American of his generation.

Alfredo Gutierrez: One of the reasons the story is there about Raul was to show the tremendous difference between the new generations, what was then referred to as the Chicano generations, the new generation felt -- didn't feel the strain by the Americanizers, by being white, by that set of rules. This new set of rules. That's what that sentence refers to. He was clearly a man of that generation, that earlier --

Josè Càrdenas: Not a very effective governor.

Alfredo Gutierrez: Well, he made a number of mistakes I think. Some of them were irreparable. His first even before he was sworn in he decided that there should be a governor's mansion in Arizona. There's a wonder there's never been one. He insisted on it. He came upon a scheme to do it, very wealthy Arizonan would donate the house to the state. We would provide the individual with a tax benefit for that. Then we would rebuild the house so that it would be safer and become the appropriate place for a state mansion. There was tremendous resistance to doing that but even before he became governor, that act, and we did, by the way, I was the majority leader, I was as responsible as anyone in persuading Burton Barr that we were going to do it. We passed a piece of legislation that did that. But it left an indelible feeling that somehow he wasn't serious. That somehow this wasn't about public policy, it was about this house. We spent probably the first three months debating the house.

Josè Càrdenas: He goes on to be ambassador and is replaced by someone whom you have a high degree of respect. We're talking about Bruce Babbitt.

Alfredo Gutierrez: I have great respect for governor Babbitt and I thought he was -- his tenure was even as we look back on it was one of the most productive eras of this state. He had tremendous vision and was able to accomplish it, but he decided at one point he was going to be president. There was a cost to it. The strike, the union was in strike in Morencia and in Clifton against Phelps dodge. Very early on in the strike a little girl, she was 11, Sandra Talent, was killed. She was in her bedroom. A shot came through. She died but she was in the hospital. She was taken to the hospital, and --

Josè Càrdenas: The union was blamed?

Alfredo Gutierrez: Immediately.

Josè Càrdenas: I apologize for going through this so quickly, there's some other stuff I want to get to, but you had some regrets you defended Bruce Babbitt an his decision to call out the national guard.

Alfredo Gutierrez: You know, I never defended it, but I never criticized it and I never criticized what I knew to be happening. The governor had what we then called Arizona CIA, this task force that had infiltrated both sides, infiltrated the company side and infiltrated the union side. And on the union side was trying -- this is on record. This is not speculation on my part. Was trying to run a sting on the miners, offering them things. On the mining side, they confirmed that the company was importing shotguns, weapons into the mine.

Josè Càrdenas: There's a lot in the book about that and a very difficult time in Arizona history. I apologize, we have less than two minutes, and there's a theme throughout the book, a criticism of organizations, civil rights organizations in the Mexican American community. You say it was my view they were making extraordinary progress in this country. There you have very harsh things to say about national council of La Raza, give us -- a very concise statement about what your concern is there. You give them some credit for the good they have done but --

Alfredo Gutierrez: The criticism is this. National council of La Raza was originally the southwest council of La Raza. Its underlying philosophy was major divisions in our community. But the underlying philosophy was that of empowerment, of organizing the community so they might responds politically, electoral, responding to issues that they faced. There were organizing efforts set up by folks to empower the community, to demand what it deserved.

Josè Càrdenas: We have 30 seconds.

Alfredo Gutierrez: The Nixon administration made sure that they were -- that was shut down. Forced to change. What happened is those agencies, organizations were forced to -- they chose to become welfare agencies. As a consequence of calling themselves civil rights agencies were demanding more an more federal funds, we became defined as a people that could not better ourselves. Victims.

Josè Càrdenas: On that note --

Alfredo Gutierrez: The so-called civil rights agencies.

Josè Càrdenas: We have to end the interview. Obviously there's so much more to talk about. People need to read your book. We'll get you back on to talk more. Thanks for joining us. That is our show for tonight from all of us here at Horizonte I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

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