Dive into the culture, not the politics of Arizona

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For years, I’ve been caught between the inescapable reality of a state where some extremists want anyone of different color to go “home” and the rest of the population who embrace our natural wonders, the array of flavors of our food, music and art.

After wandering from the California vineyards to rainy Oregon and snow-capped Santa Fe, New Mexico, I chose to settle against a backdrop of the barren, scorching heat of the Valley of the Sun.

When you land here for the first time, especially if you come from rolling hills or sandy beaches, you feel the blinding rays of sun hit your face as if you’re waking from a dream.

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You take a deep breath, put your sunglasses on and begin to feel not only the warmth of the Valley but the heartbeat of the people — the Mexicans like me, the Native Americans, the African Americans and the Anglos working alongside each other, hiking, skiing, drinking, sharing an authentic meal or sipping a cup of coffee at any small locally-owned place.

This is the Arizona I’ve come to love.

You may have heard of “America’s toughest Sheriff” rounding up undocumented immigrants and the multimillion economic boycott provoked by Senate Bill 1070, the toughest anti-immigrant law in the nation when it was first signed in 2010.

All of it is true.

But as an immigrant who still struggles to make sense of the bigotry of some, I focus on the warmth and kindness of Arizonans, the ones who aren’t afraid to live in a melting pot.

You’ll find them all here. The Arizonans who easily go from the expensive but truly authentic Mexican food at Barrio Café (2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix) to Ranch Market (locations in Phoenix, Glendale and Mesa), the colorful place where norteña rhythms blast with guitar and German-influenced accordion music to make you feel you’ve crossed the border to Mexico.

Don’t go home without visiting these two places, where the Mexican cuisine could not be more distinct in preparation or more alike in authenticity.

Barrio Café serves Chiles en nogada, a dish named after the walnut tree, nogal. It consists of poblano, chiles filled with picadillo, topped with a walnut-based cream sauce, called nogada, and pomegranate seeds, giving it the three colors of the Mexican flag. Try cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mayan origin in southern Mexico or the enchiladas verdes made from tomatillos and green chile sauce.

At Ranch Market try some pan dulce, a sweet bread that makes one of the poster treats in Mexico, or an agua fresca, a fruit beverage made from watermelon, pineapple or hibiscus, among others.

Places like Ranch Market and Barrio Café embody part of the culture that makes Arizona a place where recent immigrants and generations of Mexicans dating back to the 18th-century have chosen to call home.

Elvia Díaz is editor of La Voz & TV y Más magazine, Spanish-language publications that are part of Republic Media. Reach her at 602-444-8606 or elvia.diaz@arizonarepublic.com.

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