Cities That Are Not New York: Tucson, Ariz.
Cord Jefferson has written a lyrical, lovely, and charged essay about growing up black in mostly white and Latino Tucson, Ariz., and also about Tucson itself, where his childhood was defined first by and then against its specific idiosyncrasies:
The sun beat down on us relentlessly in Tucson. The flora was thorny and the fauna was unsociable. And yet there we lived and thrived, going about our days in the hard-baked rocky desert, laughing about the triple-digit heat. In a scene in Lawrence of Arabia, Mr. Dryden tells Lawrence, “Only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods.” We were not Bedouins in Tucson, and so we must have been the latter.
I remember getting my first fake ID, which said I was 18 so I could go to bars in Mexico. We found a check-cashing store south of the Tucson Mall that issued its own ID cards for customers who couldn’t obtain anything else. “We don’t verify any of the information you put on these,” a woman said from behind bulletproof glass as she pushed the paperwork through a slot. “Write whatever you want.” That’s how my friends and I ended up with slips of laminated paper that listed our addresses as “420 Weed Ave.” and “666 Satan St.” In my photo I had a wispy mustache that curled upward with my nervous smile. My name was “Tony Montana,” like Scarface.
Especially if you have ever felt ambivalent about where you come from, and then guilty about that ambivalence, go ahead and read the whole thing. It’s pretty marvelous.
P.S. — Wanna about your hometown for us and how you feel now looking back on your childhood there? Email me! Ester AT thebillfold DOT com