In 1847 the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded the Southwestern portion of the United States from Mexico. The newly acquired territory, like with the cases of manifest destiny prior, inspired religious devotees alongside pioneers in search of spiritual and worldly treasures. Due to it’s remoteness on the wide frontier, the Southwest’s survival placed dependency on the knowledge, labor and trade with both the local Mexican and Native American populations. This was somewhat reflected in the make up of Phoenix’s early populace, which was nearly half of Mexican origination. In the days of it’s foundation, it was commonplace for shopkeepers to advertise in both English and Spanish, similarly many of the townspeople spoke the two languages, depicting the close relationship they shared living and working together. For all intensive purposes, the city was culturally, architecturally and economically mixed, though it is important to note, that politically this was not the case, even with the town’s demographic make up.
Half a century later Phoenix endured the flooding of the Salt River, which is now and was then the town’s primary water source. With the damage consolidated in the southern half, affluent families, a majority of whom were anglo-saxon, relocated to the northern parts, away from any future flooding. With the new vacancies, the real-estate market was in turmoil and land was being sold for a fraction of it’s value. This gave way to the possibility for working-class families (the larger proportion stemming from Mexican and African descent) to purchase their own land. This had inadvertent social implications, effectively dividing the town between white and non-
A couple of decades following this division would be further reinforced with the laying of the first southwestern rail line. This would create a physical barrier, a new point of reference, to understand the city, a north and a south, and the dormant stigmas to come. Besides this, the railroad also brought about the access to new trade routes with the costal U.S., relieving Phoenix from it’s Mexican trading posts. This created a ricochet effect, from one day to the next Mexican skilled workers were replaced by their white counterparts, and in turn creating a venerable, unemployed Mexican workforce that succumbed to slave wages during the cotton boom. And finally, the railroad brought with it a new wave of settlers, furthermore, their ideas. They brought with them money, nostalgic european culture, and most scathing, racist ideologies fueled in the instituting of slavery. The once ubiquitous adobe homes were replaced with victorian-style homes, the shops that once advertised in Spanish and English, fell back on the latter. The division had now been made visible, further pronouncing the city’s two classes. Pushed outside of sociopolitical life, the Mexican-American communities counteracted these changes by creating their own organizational life, centered around community businesses, family activities, church services and protective associations. Each neighborhood received a name, creating a sense of shared identity, and thus the barrios were born.
A decade later, the municipality purchased a modest airfield, which would later become known as Sky Harbor Airport, which was located just south of the tracks at the edge of the original downtown. After the U.S. Air Force made an offer to set-up it’s main Southwestern airbase in Phoenix, it funneled in millions of dollars in monies, greatly expanding and modernizing the perviously modest facilities. A few years later, the Air Force retreated and left Phoenix for another location, this came just as the commercial aviation industry was booming, and so, now under municipal control again, the airport became the city’s leading revenue generator. As demand for airfare grew, so did the airport’s footprint. This success was met by some internal critics, forecasting the problems that would inevitably occur regarding the proximity of the growing airport to the similarly growing city. But the airport was too big and too profitable, it’s proximity to the downtown too attractive for it to be moved. The city would except no limitations for their project. They would protect their investment by any means possible. This included purchasing available lands, bribery, intimidation of individual households, planned deterioration, evictions, annexations, and eminent domain. This resulted in the removal of the entire Golden Gate barrio. For many years the barrio organized itself and fought for it’s rights and dignity, but the airport and the city’s stranglehold eventually resulted in submission.
Today El Campito’s barren landscape is the City of Phoenix’s proactive response to the the organization and uprising of the Golden Gate barrio. Over the past two decades the city has been slowly purchasing lot after lot after lot, demolishing each home they acquire. All that there is to see today is the nasty mark of a large-scale development that represents interest of it’s investor and not the people on the ground, and so, they purchase, destroy, and lay gravel in efforts to erase history, as if to write a new one.