Melting Pot—Or Not?
I came to awareness of an outside world between ages three and four, in the latter part of 1946. At that time my small family, which was my parents and myself, lived in
. Jerome was a mining town, a company
town of Phelps Dodge, then king of copper in the still-young state of Jerome, Arizona . Arizona
We lived in a region called Sunshine Hill, which sat to the north and east of the main town of
, that perched on
the side of a red mountain called Cleopatra Hill. Between that area and our
home on a prominent ridge, a large area of overburden, oreless stone removed to
reach the mineral deposits, had created a wide terrace where some of the shops
for the small open pit mine and a baseball field stood. The road to our area wound
along just safely in from the outer edge. Jerome
Sunshine Hill held a bunch of identical little cottages owned by the company along with a few individually built houses sitting on leased land. I called them ‘the private houses’ as opposed to the company houses such as the one my parents rented. By then the mines were starting to slow down from the wartime rush and miners were leaving for other “PD” mines or even other firms so non-employees could rent and live there. It was an ethnically mixed neighborhood with people from a number of European countries in residence, reflecting of the diversity of the miners. However as far as I know there was not one African American family in town and the Hispanic/Latino/Mexican people mainly lived in the hollow below the main part of town and our home. That region was called “
Remember, this was the 1940s and political correctness had not yet even been
dreamed of. Probably not too many used the “N” word but other terms now called
slurs were common. Mexican Town
Many of the miners came from southern
small nations that had been overrun by the Nazis and then smashed together
haphazardly by the treaties ending the war. There were folks from Bosnia, the Czech
Republic, , Herzegovina etc. but they
were generally lumped into the category of “Bohunks” (probably from Bohemian) in
the vernacular of the time. These people were hard workers, good citizens and
very determined to incorporate into their new homeland. To me, their
differences only meant a few odd accents and some wonderful foods from each of
their areas. Slovakia
I spent the first twenty some years of my life in Jerome and later Clarkdale, the ‘other’ Phelps Dodge (PD) town at the foot of the hills. I knew Mexican and Indian children in school and we didn’t think anything of that at all. My brother and I both had friends among them and in Clarkdale, neighbors of Mexican ancestry as well. Until probably about the mid 1950s, few to no Mexicans worked underground but that changed quickly. It was hard, dangerous work and the flow of miners from Europe had fallen off greatly after the war as well as those from the
Wales and Cornwall
which also had many mines. That soon had
Mexicans welcomed to work in all capacities in the hard rock mining industry. Great Britain
I do not think I ever actually knew an African American person until I was in late middle school or high school. At that time a single mother and her son came to Clarkdale. Oddly, her surname was the same as ours, Morgan, and her son was between me and my brother in age. As far as I know she was accepted and more was made of the fact she was single than her race. She had a responsible job and was clearly educated but people in conservative small towns still tended to look askance on divorced women to say nothing of one who might have had a child out of wedlock!
My parents were not prejudiced for their time but if I had ever brought home a boyfriend of another race I would have probably gotten chewed out. They did not hold with mistreating anyone for their differences but felt everyone should stick to their own kind. From their point of view and the fact they both had Southern upbringing I expect that was understandable.
At any rate, after the Iron Curtain went down and many of the small ethnic groups in southern Europe began to squabble and want to set up their own countries, those of us who had grown up in western mining camps knew and understood their need and desire to be independent and not to have an ethnic group divided by an arbitrary border that some kings and politicians had created when they were “dividing the spoils” after the war. We might have called them all “Bohunks” and meant no disrespect or disparagement with the term but we were aware that they spoke different though often related languages, might have different religious beliefs and definitely differed in national dishes, costumes and traditions.
So, in a way, my home region was a melting pot—in mining towns like Jerome, Bisbee and Ajo, where kids all went to school together, it was not long before a girl of Croation ancestry began to date a Czech boy and the parents had to accept it since the fathers might be partners in the mine. Then pretty soon there was dating between ‘gringo’ and Mexican teens or white and Native Americans and as African Americans began to join the populations, they were accepted and assimilated too.
It often takes a few generations for this to work out but usually if there are no KKK fanatics or rabble rousing outside members of a minority group to “stir the pot” it does mix and melt very nicely out here in the rural and small town west. Here people were much more often judged for their work ethic, honesty and similar real values than the color of their skin or what church—or none—that they attended. Underground, all men were equal and out in the cowboy camps, and similar dangerous environments the same held true. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to grow up in and witness true diversity and the
Way in action.