Desert Cities
The Environmental History of
Phoenix and Tucson

Michael F. Logan
(University of Pittsburgh Press)
Remember that old boff about having to spend a month in Philadelphia one weekend. Better now to substitute Phoenix, Arizona. There, at certain times of the year, one can enjoy 120-degree temperatures while inhaling life-enhancing draughts of exhaust emissions, ozone, and carbon monoxide, all the while having to put up with people whose forefathers published, in a bulletin of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce: "Phoenix a modern town of forty thousand people and the best kind of people, too. A very small percentage of Mexicans, negroes or foreigners." An earlier volume on town life reported:

    While there are many of the lower class of Mexicans, they are much less numerous here than in New Mexico, and much less widely diffused over the Territory. The Indians, who are seen everywhere even in the best settled districts, are now mostly inoffensive, and even industrious in many cases. Like the Mexican peons, they are useful laborers in the simple agricultural tasks.

Not to be outdone, an early city directory of Tucson proclaimed, "The Barrio Libre ... means the Free Zone, and in earlier times was allowed to remain without legal restraints or the presence of a policeman. Here, the Mescalin could imbibe his fill, and either male or female could, in peaceful intoxication, sleep on the sidewalk or in the middle of the streets, with all their ancient rights respected."

Desert Cities is designated by the publisher as "History of the Urban Environment," but thank god, it is more than that --- and more fun, too. There is sufficient space given over to the key developing impetus of the two cities: the first being the use (and abuse) of river, floodplain, groundwater, and aquifers; the second concerning specific influence of the Anglos in Phoenix, and the Mexicans in Tucson.

Tucson started out as a Spanish presidio in 1775, thus had been in existence a hundred years before Phoenix. The latter came into being "in the center of the Salt River valley in 1870." It may be hard to accept the fact that the present blighted moonscape they call Phoenix --- an oxymoron if there ever were one --- came into being as a fertile area with dozens of interweaving canals, originally dug by the Hohokam Indians. From the very beginning, the boosters who pumped up the water (and the city) emphasized its Anglo character: "a modern town ... Peopled by a progressive, American class."

    Here are none of the sleepy, semi-Mexican features of the more ancient towns of the Southwest.

This was a not-too subtle dig at Tucson, whose "long history through the Hispanic period became a fact that shaped its future development."

    Even as Anglos began to take control of the local economy and government [writes Logan], the large and vibrant Hispanic community served to mitigate against the most onerous forms of racism and ethnocentrism.

Phoenix always billed itself as "modern." Tucson viewed itself as "diverse." Both cities played on their salubrious climate. One travel brochure proclaimed, "Children of the Sun live here, brown, sturdy, rosey-cheeked [sic] --- growing into robust, vigorous youths."

One of the most engaging chapters in Desert Cities has to do with the evolution of Arizona from the home of the cattle ranch to the center of the dude ranch. "Everyone dressed up in western costumes from sombreros to high-heeled boots," wrote one observer in the 1920s, "and there was much talk of wrangling, roping, and rounding up, despite the fact that there was not a sign of any cattle within fifty miles." Logan observes,

    One of reason was the problem of flies --- ever present around the munching herds. One sure way to free the guests from the nuisance of flies and the obnoxious smells generated by the milling cattle was to remove the herds.

--- R. R. Mierly

The Jews in

From Equality to

Michele Sarfatti
John and Anne

(University of Wisconsin)
There was little notice of the beginnings of attacks on Jewish rights in Italy, which the author tells us started at the same time as the invasion of Ethiopia in 1936. Loyalty to the state was paramount, and it was said that Jews and other minorities could not be relied on in time of war.

According to Sarfatti, the new policy appeared in a letter from Mussolini to the Ministry of the Interior in February 1936. It stated, simply, "It is not advisable to grant citizenship to Jewish immigrants," they being mostly those fleeing the pogroms of Germany.

Hints of the direction of fascist Italy came about in an earlier ruling applying to the Italian colonies of Eritrea and Somalia. It codified a study by the demographer Lidio Cipriani. "Those nations," he wrote, "that still today indifferently welcome inferior races to their bosom and proclaim their members as 'citizens' with the same rights as men of the white race, are condemned, inevitably, in my opinion, to early decadence."

At the beginning of the 1930s, almost 50,000 Jews lived in Italy. With the coming of anti-Semitic legislation and continuing denunciations in the press (along with the refusal of the Holy See to intervene), the figure had dropped to 35,000 by 1939.

According to "the Jewish Virtual Library"

    During the war, the Nazi pressure [on Italy] to implement discriminatory measures against Jews was, for the most part, ignored or enacted half-heartedly. Most Jews did not obey orders to be transferred to internment camps and many of their non-Jewish neighbors and government officials shielded them from the Nazis. Some Jews were interned in labor camps in Italy.

But after the north was occupied by the Germans in 1943, the Nazis embarked on a vigorous program of deporting Italian Jewry to death camps. In some cases, resistance from the Italian public and officials stymied the efforts, but 10,000 eventually perished, being deported from Rome, Florence, Bologna, and Milan through the Brenner pass.

The only safe haven to those without access to sea-going vessels was through the Swiss border, but German and Italian troops, according to the commandant of the 2nd Monte Rosa legion, "guard the border tirelessly, along all paths, even the most risky, in any weather and at any time, with shifts of service voluntarily lengthened. They guard the borders," he concluded, "in order to counteract all the obscure and threatening activities of those damned children of Judas."

Although many Italian Jews perished in the Holocaust, the estimated number of Jews killed in the Shoah was significantly less in Italy than in many countries of Europe. In Poland, of 3,300,000 Jews, only 300,000 survived. In the Baltic Countries, 90% perished. The figure was 88% in Germany and Austria.

Interestingly, in the Netherlands the figure was 75%, and in what we used to call "plucky little Belgium," home of King Leopold II, it was 60%. By comparison, in Italy the figure was 20%; in Russia, 11%, and in both Denmark and Finland, 0%.

Sarfatti's volume is no lightweight. There are six appendices, and over a hundred pages of notes. The tone is quiet, an obvious desire to inform rather than condemn. But at times, the strangeness of the times does leak through. This is a quote from Primo Levi, in what the author identifies as "the thinking that stood in the way of choosing the path to exile:"

    This village or town or region or nation, is mine. I was born here, my ancestors are buried here. I speak its language, have adopted its customs and culture; and to this culture I may even have contributed. I paid its tributes, observed its laws. I fought its battles, not caring whether they were just or unjust. I risked my life for its borders, some of my friends or relations lie in the war cemeteries. I myself, in deference to the current rhetoric, have declared myself willing to die for the patria. I do not want to nor can I leave it: if I die, I will die "in patria;" that will be my way of dying "for the patria."

--- Federico Zefirelli
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