Arizona, again

My Great-Grandfather Zacarias Tellez Jr. and his documentation

In case you think what’s happening in Arizona is something new, I’d like to share this small bit of my family history with you. As cliche as it is to say, those who do not know history are destined to repeat it. Or is it those that know history remember how to repeat it?

In the early 1900s my great-grandfather Zacarias Tellez Jr. along with his parents and siblings traveled from Arizona to Cananea, Sonora, MX to work in the copper mines. It was a fortuitous journey. It is where he met and married my great-grandmother Matilde.  However, returning from one of his trips to Cananea,  a strange thing happened…

The Tellezes spent their whole lives traveling around the Southwest working the copper mines: Miami, Lordsburg, Silver City, Morenci, etc.  Traveling and moving for work was a multi-generational practice. Zacarias Jr’s grandfather (my great-great-great grandfather Candido) was a freight shipper, moving goods across the Southwest before the arrival of the steam engine train. I imagine the intimate relationship my family had with the geography, the trees, rivers, and buildings all familiar marks of their travels. The roads that ran between Southern Arizona, Southern New Mexico, Chihuahua and Sonora were well-known to the family. This land was their home.

In 1927 on a return trip from Cananea, Zacarias Jr., born in New Mexico, was told he needed to prove his US citizenship. The document above reads:

“Naco, Arizona 3/4/27. Holder hereof returned to Mexico to await securing his birth certificate to prove his claim of US citizenship.”

His “claim”? That’s what gets me. How must he have felt being told he needed to prove he belonged in his home by some Yankee bureaucrat? When he probably knew the Southwest better than most of the recently arrived settlers? Zacarias Jr’s father and mother were both born in Arizona, even his grandparents had been born in the US (except it happened to be Mexico at the time) but he was singled out perhaps because of his name, his color, or maybe because he was bilingual. In today’s unfortunate vernacular one would say “He looked illegal.”

Eventually, he was allowed back home after showing the proper documentation.

“Birth certificate presented showing birth in Lordsburg, NM Dec 13, 1895”

I wish I knew more about this story but unfortunately, Zacarias Jr. died of pulmonary tuberculosis, Miner’s Lung in 1929 while working the copper mines in Miami, AZ. After his death, Matilde, my great-grandmother brought the family to come live with her mother here in Los Angeles.

Nearly eighty years later, this sad occurrence could happen again.

Boycott Arizona!

6 thoughts on “Arizona, again

  1. All her life through the 1960s, my mother was told she had to carry a blue card that looked exactly like a green card, but it said she was a US citizen on it. She was born in ELA (Maravilla). When I was a kid, I told her that this was just stupid and she didn’t have to prove shit–just like all other US citizens didn’t have to. Another case of ethnic profiling.


    Yes Chimatli, it is still going on in Arizona, the poor guy and his wife were fortunate that they had copy’s of thier BC or they might have suffered the same idiotic bullshit that your great grandfather did.

    BTW, did you know up until the sixties there were still two wage levels in those copper mines of Arizona and New Mexico, yeah the white wage and the Mexican wage, for doing the same work.
    And the prejudice was still going on recently, I have a friend in Silver City “Raul Nanez”, a very sharp guy, who was fired from the Phelps Dodge Santa Rita mine in SC because he wanted to be an electrician and was thwarted at every attempt. He would go work with the electricians anyway and was finally fired for not knowing his place.
    Boycott Arizona!

  3. Throughout the ages, the industries that demand and get their cheap labor are always off the hook, its on the individual to settle his beef with the governments. Since they play both sides of the immigration game, they just sit back and laugh while they watch the money roll in.

  4. That’s an awesome story, Chimatli. I wish I had stories about my great-grandparents.

    But yes, history repeats itself. And “repatriations”—the deportation of ethnic Mexicans with US citizenship—may be underway soon again too, just as they occurred during the Great Depression.

    My 22-year-old brother and his girlfriend were pulled over about a week ago in Phoenix (yes, all my family chose to move there a few years ago, of all places). She was driving and she had her driver’s license, so no problem there. But he didn’t have any ID on him. They ended up being held up for nearly an hour as the cops questioned him about whether he was really “legal,” despite his obvious LA accent in English (and his disastrous Spanish).

    Probably the most appalling thing is that the cops didn’t even make any allegations about an infraction on the driver’s part. They were pulled over merely because they looked “suspicious.”

  5. “Suns to wear ‘Los Suns’ jerseys for Game 2
    Suns owner Robert Sarver issues a statement this afternoon saying wearing the jerseys on Cinco de Mayo was a way to ‘honor our Latino community'”

    The above is from todays Arizona Republic News.
    I smell bullshit from owner Robert Sarver, BFD! Would Sarver, a huge and important benefactor and leader of the Arizona White People’s Party aka The Republican Party of Arizona, be so concerned about Arizona’s Brown population if it wasn’t the NBA Playoff season?
    Doubtful in my estimation, but his statement does show that the Arizona powers that be are scared shitless of the money loss’s and ridicule that Arizona is enduring and will continue to endure due to there blatant xenophobia and draconian SB # 1070.

    I say screw the phony ass “Los Suns” kiss Sarver is blowing to the Latino community, it’s strictly PR and motivated by fear, financial considerations, and the possible spectacle of brown people demonstrating and calling for a boycott of Arizona on national TV and in the worldwide media. during the Phoenix Suns playoff games against possible opponents with big Latino communities.

    Boycott Arizona!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *