It’s warm here in Tucson, Arizona – we’re supposed to have a high of 78 degrees today – and for some people, that would be reason enough to go on living in the desert southwest. After all, it’s January 17th and we’re enjoying what passes for summertime weather in most of the northern states. But since I moved here a year ago (tomorrow it will, in fact, be exactly one year since I finished hauling the rest of my junk across the country, this time via plane, and settled into my Tucson existence), many many many people who know me, love me, and wish I was “Back East” have questioned my decision to make Tucson my home. Hey, fair enough: over the course of the year, circumstances beyond my control have given folks a lot of reason to wonder what the hell I’m doing out here.
Let’s see…there was the passage of SB1070, that lovely little law that takes the immigration debate ten steps too far; Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s proud declaration that he “already [has] a concentration camp. It’s called ‘Tent City,’” as he described his probably illegal, definitely immoral housing of county inmates; a plethora of Tea Party rallies (one, notably, attended by Sarah Palin and John McCain), marked by horrifyingly racist posters and obscenely dangerous rhetoric (“lock and load!”); the election of Jan Brewer as Governor, despite her support of 1070, her stance on immigration issues in general, and her seemingly non-stop lies about…well, about everything; last week’s shooting that killed six people and injured 13 others while gravely wounding Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; and today’s refusal on the part of the state to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.
WAIT! Arizona does, in fact, celebrate MLK Day, and was not even the last state in the Union to recognize its existence (that would be New Hampshire, which until 1999 celebrated “Civil Rights Day” instead; South Carolina was the last state to offer the day as a paid holiday to all state employees). Granted, our celebration of the holiday wasn’t codified until 1992, after a second public referendum on the topic (the first one went down in flames), several gubernatorial orders against the holiday’s statutory inception, and an NFL Superbowl boycott of the Sun Devils stadium, but we DO celebrate MLK day, and have for nearly a decade.
But this morning, Rev. Al Sharpton and MSNBC host Donnie Deutsch publicly wondered if Arizona should secede from the union since they don’t celebrate the holiday. And I can’t tell you how many times people have mentioned this to me over the past year, wondering how I could move to a state that doesn’t recognize the contributions of our country’s most influential Civil Rights leader.
So why the discrepancy between fiction and reality when it comes to Arizona’s celebration of MLK Day? More to the point, why is the discrepancy so pervasive and widespread that very educated newspeople, friends, and family members of mine all had or have it firmly embedded in their brains that this state insists on ignoring a holiday that, in reality, we’ve been celebrating for a decade?
Why, indeed? More on that tomorrow.