A “warrior nation” produces a warrior legislator…
Today’s politics are simultaneously depressing and infuriating. From President Trump on down to Republican-dominated state legislatures, right-wing Republicans revel in promulgating racist, hate-driven, anti-people policies. Democrats aren’t blameless either. If the Democratic establishment had not sabotaged Bernie Sanders’ campaign, we would have President Sanders in the White House rather than Trump, and the national political climate would be vastly different.
But fortunately …
At the local level virtually every community can count on politicians who are truly rooted in their community and sincerely care about the people they represent … who are visible and accessible and have the courage to get in front of issues and do the heavy lifting rather than simply cast safe votes.
One such politician from my state (Arizona) is State Representative Sally Ann Gonzales, whom I highlight here (from time to time I’ll highlight others—there are too many to do justice to them in one blog). A member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Rep. Gonzales is the senior member of the Arizona legislature’s Indigenous Peoples Caucus.
The Yaquis: a “warrior nation”…
To put Rep. Gonzales in context, some Yaqui history is instructive. The Yaqui Nation is international. Its Mexican portion is concentrated along the Río Yaqui in the Mexican state of Sonora. Its American portion is concentrated in Arizona, particularly Tucson, the tribal government seat.
The Yaquis are known as a “warrior nation.” In 1533, the Yaquis defeated a Spanish military expedition searching for slaves, and between 1608 and 1610 Spanish forces repeatedly attacked the Yaqui people, and each time the Yaquis beat them back. Circa 1684, when silver was discovered in the Yaqui River Valley, the Spanish began taking sacred Yaqui land. In 1740, the Yaquis coalesced with the Mayo tribe and forced the Spanish out of the Indian lands.
For the next 190 years, the Yaqui people continued to fight the Spanish, and then the Mexicans (after they won their independence from Spain). Throughout the 1800s, the Yaquis fought off the Mexican government who was trying to take over the rich and fertile Yaqui lands. The Yaquis were persecuted mercilessly and even enslaved. It was during this period that Yaquis in large numbers settled in Arizona. Some were forcibly relocated by the Mexican government, others fled Mexican persecution and what many felt were the genocidal intentions of the Mexican government. In 1918, the U.S. Cavalry intercepted a group of American Yaquis on their way to take firearms to Yaquis in Sonora, Mexico, who were still fighting Mexican troops. Yaquis experienced military defeats, but even now Yaquis say that morally, they are undefeated.
In the late 1800s, early 1900s Yaqui communities such as Guadalupe outside of Phoenix and Old Pascua Village in Tucson were formed. In 1978, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona became federally recognized, and the Pascua Yaqui Reservation, where Rep. Gonzales lives, officially came into being.
Sally Ann Gonzales reflects her Yaqui heritage…
Sally Ann Gonzales does her Yaqui “warrior nation” heritage proud. For she indeed is a fighter. Throughout her adult life, Sally Gonzales has been engaged in issues and activities that promote the rights of people of color, especially Indigenous and Mexican American communities, who are the historical and cultural backbone of Arizona.
In the words of a veteran of the Chicano civil-rights and the women-rights movements: “Sally is one of us. She goes where the people are and listens to their concerns and then represents those issues before the decision makers (the legislature where she serves, of course, but also city councils and school boards). Sally engages with her constituents on a real, meaningful level … she is not about showing up for photo ops or to be seen. She stays and listens and participates (in the meetings or whatever the event is). And she is not afraid to speak truth to power, whether it’s the legislative leadership, the Governor, mayors, or even leaders of her own party. She is fearless.”
Two issues illustrate Rep. Gonzales’ community orientation…
Both of Rep. Gonzales’ degrees (BS, MA) are in education, and she began her professional career as a bilingual teacher. She has managed programs at two Arizona state universities that train Indigenous teachers and provide support to American Indian college students. Rep. Gonzales also served as the Director of the Division of Education for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Not surprisingly, one of the issues Rep. Gonzales is most passionate about is education.
In 2012, when Arizona deemed that Mexican American history and the teaching of that history were illegal and books and teaching materials having to do with Mexican Americans were confiscated and banned in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), a popular movement to save Mexican American Studies emerged. While some politicians gave tepid support to the movement to save MAS, and many other politicos avoided the issue, Gonzales participated fully in that movement, attending rallies and addressing the TUSD school board several times in support of the students, their parents, and the community (the schools involved in this controversy were in her district).
And, arguing that the MAS ban was racist and unconstitutional, each year from 2012 to 2017, Rep. Gonzales introduced a bill in the legislature to repeal the MAS ban. The students, the community, and Rep. Gonzales were recently vindicated when a federal judge ruled that the MAS bas was indeed racist and unconstitutional.
In 2013, the all-Democratic Tucson Mayor and City Council set out to turn over a municipal golf course to developers, which would have destroyed the two Chicano barrios (which are in Gonzales’ district) that surround the golf course. This precipitated a barrio-based movement comprised of over 20 neighborhood associations and other organizations, such as unions and church groups, to stop this attack on the barrios. Because the people we were fighting were Democrats, politicians avoided us like the plague. Only three elected officials supported us openly. Rep. Sally Gonzales was one of them. The other two were State Representatives Macario Saldate and Bruce Wheeler.
Rep. Gonzales attended our meetings—and stayed the whole time, as opposed to making an appearance and then leaving for “a prior commitment”—and participated in our rallies, and she spoke on our behalf at City Council meetings. We won that fight due to the strong community support we enjoyed, including the support of Reps. Saldate, Wheeler and Gonzales.
It’s important to note that some of the MAS and barrio movement activities discussed above occurred when the legislature was in session in Phoenix, and Rep. Gonzales drove over 200 miles (round trip) to come support us.
Rep. Gonzales is in front of many other issues…
The above two issues are presented to illustrate the depth of Rep. Gonzales’ commitment to her community and to principles of right and wrong. She has been a consistent voice regarding many other important issues. Recently, she played a central role in putting together a coalition of 10 Indigenous women, elected officials and community leaders, to condemn President Trump’s use of the term “Pocahontas” as a racial slur
Some members of the Arizona House of Representatives recently protested when a member, Rep. Athena Salman, offered a prayer that invoked “… the humanity that resides within each and every person here, and each and every person in the city, and in all people in the nation and world as a whole.” A Republican member asked for and received permission from the House Majority Leader to “correct” Salman’s prayer and give a “proper” invocation in Jesus’ name. Only two House members, both members of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, rose to speak in support of Rep. Salman. One was Rep. Gonzales. The other was Rep. Wenona Benally (Navajo).
Rep. Gonzales was also the primary voice in fighting for public employees to form and join labor unions and participate in collective bargaining. To appreciate this, it is important to know that Arizona is a “right-to-work” state, meaning that the majority of the legislature is virulently anti-worker and anti-union.
She also fought hard to make all private prison records public to the same extent that is required of state prisons. The private-prison industry donates millions of dollars to politicians in Arizona and other states. This is of import in that the majority of people in prisons are people of color. For example, the most racist Sheriff in America (and current U.S. Senate candidate), Joe Arpaio, kept Arizona’s private prisons full of Mexicans ensnared in his illegal and racist raids. Although they are funded by public money, these private prisons operate in secret.
Sally Gonzales is a strong proponent for health care and children’s and women’s rights. She sponsored and/or co-sponsored legislation addressing lead poisoning prevention, solar and clean energy incentives, teacher salaries, maternity benefits, postpartum care, diabetes treatment, gang prevention, charter schools, and environmental justice.
Space limitations prevent a full and in-depth discussion of Rep. Gonzales’ work, but the above suffices to paint a picture of a true public servant. As noted above, such politicians exist in every community. They may be a numerical minority, but still … The way to improve the political culture is to nurture more people like Sally Ann Gonzales and run them for office. c/s