In 1981, Joel Garreau wrote a popular book called The Nine Nations of North America. His conceit was that state lines and even national borders were meaningless in understanding the "true regionalization" of the continent.
Arizona was split between "Meximerica" and "The Empty Quarter," with Phoenix and Tucson lying in the former. Of Meximerica, he wrote, it was "a 'booming place'...characterized by a sense of no limits."
They say that the only limit to growth is the human ability to dream. By the way, does that sound familiar? Where did our President grow up? In Los Angeles and the Southwest. Reagan’s vision of the world was formed by the way this part of the world works.
As for the Empty Quarter, "It is very dry; water is a constant preoccupation; it is very fragile...Very few people live here, and as a result it is politically powerless."
This is the last "colony" of the nine nations. The idea is that we are going to chew this up and spit it out to get us into the next century. But there is one hitch. This is also the place that has the last great stretches of wilderness and quality-one air; so, if we chew this up and spit it out, we can kiss the Rockies goodbye. And of course there is a political context to that too, because there are a lot of people who don’t want to see that wilderness despoiled.
So far, so OK. Except Arizona has little in common with Texas; Phoenix little commonality with Houston or Los Angeles. And the name Meximerica wouldn't get very far with the Kookocracy.
Now a new author wants to reorder things. Colin Woodard, according to the Washington Post, "says North America can be broken neatly into 11 separate nation-states, where dominant cultures explain our voting behaviors and attitudes toward everything from social issues to the role of government."
Of El Norte, he writes:
The oldest of the American nations, El Norte consists of the borderlands of the Spanish American empire, which were so far from the seats of power in Mexico City and Madrid that they evolved their own characteristics. Most Americans are aware of El Norte as a place apart, where Hispanic language, culture, and societal norms dominate. But few realize that among Mexicans, norteños have a reputation for being exceptionally independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and focused on work. Long a hotbed of democratic reform and revolutionary settlement, the region encompasses parts of Mexico that have tried to secede in order to form independent buffer states between their mother country and the United States.
This certainly wouldn't go down well with the Anglos of metropolitan Phoenix, particularly the supporters of SB 1070 and the hatred and hypocrisy directed toward the illegal immigrants on whose backs so much of the 1990s and 2000s "booms" were built.
The southern half of Arizona, particularly Maricopa County, has almost nothing in common with the pieces of New Mexico and Texas in which it is lumped, much less LA or old Mexico. There's more similarity to the so called Inland Empire of California.
So where does Arizona "fit"?
In political shorthand, I put it in the New Confederacy, which consists of the Old CSA plus much of the Midwest, all of the Great Plains states, and the Intermountain West with the sometime exception of Colorado. But even this is a simplification, based on those who actually vote in a state with notoriously low turnout.
Still, elections have consequences. So Arizona is deeply "conservative," with exceptions for Tucson and much of the city of Phoenix. Denver and Seattle and environs are politically strong enough to make Colorado and Washington purple states. This is mostly not true outside of a few congressional seats in Arizona and control of Phoenix city hall.
Like most red states, Arizona is a net taker in tax dollars and has a weak economy.
Among the majority Anglos, Arizona has been deeply destabilized by massive migration from the Midwest. Many people want Des Moines in the desert.
The old Western and (especially in Phoenix) Southern roots have been largely lost. With it is a history that made Arizona amazingly diverse — from Tubac established as a presidio in 1752, to the mining districts of central Arizona, to the wild High Country and beyond. All so different from each other and from Phoenix. And from Santa Fe, where I assume the author took his "oldest" trope. (And this leaves out different and sometimes warring tribal cultures).
Three other elements stand out in forming the composition of today's Arizona, and separate it from El Norte. First is a "lifestyle" mentality, built around sunshine and at least the pretense among even people of modest means of living in a resort. Second is the influence of a reactionary element of the LDS, which can be contrasted with the Utah Mormons who are committed to infrastructure and the public good. Third is the large number of Anglo retirees, who also tend to be reactionary and see "home" as where they came from, Arizona as a sunny disposable destination. The rugged individualism imagined of the Old West is merely a convenient hook on which to hang all manner of selfishness and Kookery.
Arizona is certainly not alone in the dolorous consequences of suburban sprawl: civic disengagement, weak cultural institutions, what urbanist Jim Kunstler calls a "cartoon landscape...not worth caring about." But because Phoenix lacks the city bones of a Denver, Portland or Seattle, the results are more pronounced.
I'm painting with a broad brush. Metro Phoenix is not Arizona and there are little pockets of originality to be found. Still, I don't see much El Norte in Bullhead City, Page, Prescott Valley, Green Valley, or Snowflake. The norms, plastic architecture, and "everything built around the car" mentality is pervasive. Where is the uproar about developing crapola just outside the gates of the Grand Canyon?
As was the real goal of SB 1070 and ongoing voter suppression measures, Hispanics are largely in the shadows, the kitchens and hotel housekeeping hallways and shamefully underfunded schools. That won't change until they vote in large numbers. Meanwhile, Arizona can claim better Mexican food than much of El Norte. That's about as close as it gets.