Long before the Interstate 8 connected Arizona and San Diego, there was the Old Plank Road. The name is what it sounds like. Wooden planks provided cars with a way to travel over the Imperial Sand Hills. The first planks were laid in 1915. It was a bumpy ride back then.
My uncle George remembers old stories of Phoenix families making it a tradition to spend much of the summer in San Diego. At that time a healthy chunk of Phoenicians were without air conditioning. He recalls swamp coolers. San Diego represented an escape. “Often moms would go with the kids, without dads,” he told me. “When I lived there I had friends whose families were long time generations of Phoenix families that had been going for years to San Diego. Don’t forget that San Diego was really a small town until recently and attractive for that reason too.”
The tradition continues, even with air conditioning. San Diego, a great place to visit, still shares its beaches with Phoenicians during the summer months. Much like the “snow birds” that vacation in Phoenix during Midwest winters, Phoenicians take flight to escape the oppressive desert heat. The mythical Phoenix burned and emerged from ashes into a fresh body. The roadrunner, on the other hand, runs away from the heat. Perhaps “Roadrunners” is the better name for the wave of Phoenicians who leave for San Diego when things get hot.
Seasons dictate migration. Sometimes it revolves around work.
My uncle George moved to Phoenix, Arizona for work in 1979. He was fresh out of grad school from UC Berkeley. His career eventually took him to San Diego, where today he is the VP, Chief Operations Executive, for Scripps Mercy hospitals in San Diego and Chula Vista, California
The Pérez family stretches out beyond the Southwest. Generations of sons and daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren have emerged and become part of the fabric of American life. Today, our family’s doctors, teachers, engineers, public servants, lawyers, musicians, artists, and entrepreneurs define “possibility”–a long road from our family’s beginnings.
As a child my grandmother helped her parents with the pisca, or harvest. Her little hands were perfect for snatching cotton blooms from the unforgiving branches. If she tired her mother would lay her down on burlap and drag her down the line.
My great-grandparents moved like Monarch butterflies, according to the season. Apricots in June. Cotton in August. Cantaloupe in September. Every month, every place according to the fruit.
My people immigrated from the South, escaping the upheaval of the Cristero Revolution against the anti-Catholicism of the 1920s Mexican government. Most of them went through El Paso, some up through Arizona to work in the mines, and most made way to California.
Movement happens. Sometimes it’s inevitable.
I give you the Repatriation Act of 1930–President Hoover’s solution to the Depression. The plan: rid the country of Mexicans, even those who were U.S. citizens. My great-grandfather, who had nurtured a decent life for his family in the east Bay Area community of Pittsburg, California, took them of his own accord (dodging forceful deportation, also known as the free train ticket) to their “vacation home” in Encarnación de Díaz, Jalisco.
When you think of vacation home, think farm. Think of life without running water. Think of life without electricity. Think permanence. They did.
Lucky for me, some fifteen years later, the first of many relatives, unaccustomed to rural life, dreaming of the city he left behind, made his way back to the United States.
Destination: San Pedro, California. Soon more relatives followed. Some went on to Compton, Lakewood and Norwalk. Some stayed there, others went up to Azusa. Some stayed there, others back up to Northern California where my uncle Cruz, uncle George’s father, took harvest from his own backyard.
Fernando Pérez is a writer from Long Beach, California. He currently lives in Tempe, AZ where he teaches writing at both Arizona State University and Mesa Community College. He holds an MFA in Poetry from ASU.
*Photo courtesy of Oggie Dog.