Author Tayari Jones: Hell no, she won’t go (to Arizona)

Author Tayari Jones is boycotting Arizona, a state in which she once resided. In a letter to the organizers of the Pima Summer Writers Conference in Tucson, Arizona, she explains her decision to avoid the state:

Due to the passage of the Senate Bill 1070 which sanctions racial profiling and police harassment against brown people, I cannot return to the state of Arizona. Yesterday, I spoke with a dear friend who is an American citizen of Mexican descent who said that he would not feel safe in Arizona, although he (like me) used to call the state home.

Almost a decade ago, I supported the economic boycott of South Carolina in protest of the Confederate flag flown on the statehouse grounds. This offense, which spoke to one the darkest chapters in the history of our nation, was serious, but symbolic. The issues raised by SB1070, on the other hand, are not merely rhetorical or psychological. The newly-granted powers will allow the police to detain and harass anyone who looks like he could be an undocumented immigrant. Although some lawmakers suggest that a person’s shoes will be a more significant indicator than that person’s race, I find this difficult to believe.

That people should be legally required to show proof of citizenship is similar to the antebellum mandate that black people produce “free papers” proving themselves not to be slaves. It recalls the pass system under South Africa’s Apartheid. Sadly, visiting Arizona for a conference or a vacation without fear has become an ostentatious display of privilege. . . .

There are those who would argue that this is just a “Mexican thing.” Even if this were the case, I would still stand with the protesters. A “Mexican thing,” is a human thing. Moreover, it would be naive to think that this gross exaggeration of police power would be aimed at only a single group. My sentiment is captured in James Baldwin’s famous letter to Angela Davis: “If they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”

Isn’t it sad that, in the 21st century, there are still states in the United States that are so repugnant and reactionary in their treatment of, and regard for, minorities—ethnic and sexual—that thoughtful people must struggle with their consciences even to visit them?

A reader at Andrew Sullivan’s blog wrote this today:

Whenever I read about the absurdity of the Arizona law (and of course, the lawyer that I am, I went out and read the law), my thoughts turn to my family.  I’m half Cuban, my family has been here for more or less 40 years – citizens, naturalized or natural born, all.  What I think about most is my 85 year old grandfather (or my 75 year old great aunt) whose English isn’t very good (it’s deteriorated a lot in the last ten years since my grandmother passed away).  He’s a naturalized citizen, he doesn’t have “papers.”  He may have a passport, but are we really going to say that you have to carry your passport for domestic travel (which, by the way, is unconstitutional)?  How, exactly, is he suppose to prove his citizenship?  Or for that matter, my mother, who was so young when they came to the US that she was naturalized because her parents were naturalized?

And another of Sullivan’s readers made this observation:

A person who gets stopped and doesn’t have adequate proof of citizenship will get fined $500. In other words, if you go out for a jog and don’t have your drivers license or whatever the police that stops you thinks is appropriate, you’ll get fined. That will happen to people who are legally here…even citizens. Matter of fact, the only people that would get fined are legally here, since presumably the undocumented would get put into federal custody.

This means, in theory, that everyone needs to be carrying papers constantly in case they get stopped. Of course, many people know full well that they won’t get stopped. This is the main reason why the Tea Party crowd, who cry “fascism” throw up pictures of Adolf Hitler for things like health insurance reform, are not the least bit outraged by this.

Ironic, isn’t it?

But don’t call them racists, and still come on in with your money and enjoy the hospitality of their wonderful state.

Yeah, right.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to Author Tayari Jones: Hell no, she won’t go (to Arizona)

  1. andrewclunn says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. Because the federal government has not secure its borders effectively, and people are still expected to provide basic services (like an education) through taxation to people who are here illegally, Arizona has been forced to pass this blatantly racist law as an act of self defense. It’s either go fascist or go bankrupt. The welfare state inevitably leads to in-group out-group morality. Arizona will not be the last state to pass a law like this, and the boycotting effort will do nothing. This (sadly) is only the beginning, and it’s disheartening to see so many people blame the symptom and refuse to acknowledge the disease.

  2. santitafarella says:


    False choice: “go fascist or go bankrupt.” No Western state is “bankrupt,” and if it were going bankrupt, it wouldn’t be because of illegal immigration. My bet is that the economic productivity of illegals in a state is at least a wash (they put in as much economic wealth as they take out), and more often than not, their economic contribution is positive. Illegals come to California, for example, to work in agriculture, and after the growing season in central California, frequently return home until the following year.

    There may be good reasons to curb illegal immigration, but the economic argument is not one of them.


  3. santitafarella says:


    The article that you directed me to puts Arizona’s illegal population at 500,000. This number is in a state that has over 6,000,000 residents, about 40% of whom are Hispanic.

    That suggests that roughly one in five Hispanics living in Arizona are undocumented. Why not just naturalize them and be done with it?

    They’re here. They’re young. They’re productive. They’ll raise nice families with lots of productive children. And they’re easy to assimilate (as there are already well over 2,000,000 Hispanics Americans in the state).

    What’s not to like? We don’t want to become a gentrified society, do we? As a libertarian, you should be with me on this. And the older people in the state of Arizona should be happy to have the young people living there with them who can work, pay taxes, keep the economy going etc. while they enjoy their sunset retirement years.

    What, exactly, is the problem here?

    On a personal note: I’ve lived in Hispanic majority counties all of my life (in different parts of California). There’s nothing to fear. The water is fine. California is wonderful. It’s one of the richest and most desirable areas of the world to live. My kids are learning Spanish, they go to a multiethnic school, and I’m a white guy teaching English (and wish my Spanish was better).

    Long experience swimming in a multiethnic cultural environment tells me this: Red, yellow, black, brown, white: humans are all the same; we are of the same sad tribe. We share the same follies and merits, and we ought to care for one another more, and value one another. Life is short, and alienating each other is dumb, dumb, dumb.

    And what is all this walling off of people from one another?

    I wish we would get away from fear-driven nationalism and provincialism and start thinking of ourselves as the human crew of spaceship earth.


  4. andrewclunn says:

    I’d love to naturalize them! But doing so without first changing immigration policy would just mean that more people would come across illegally.

    Ideally there would be an open immigration policy in the US, but that’s not possible so long as we’re giving stuff away and expecting the people who are already here to pay for it.

    I don’t like the policy, and see it as a move towards a police state, but the alternative is basically the US financing a Mexican invasion of the US.

    This is much like how I would love to legalize drugs to end the drug trade violence. However, as long as they are illegal and the border is left open, this kind of legislation becomes necessary.

    Freedom is an uncompromising mistress. If you allow the government to over legislate part of your life, tighter controls and more legislation will become needed to try to correct for the problems that the first creates. So is people end the welfare state and legalize recreational drug use the solution will become simple, naturalize them. But until then don’t be surprised be reactions like this. They are merely the natural next step in the Statist line of thinking.

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