Since 2008, the Valley and Arizona have earned some unfortunate distinctions. The region has coped with some of the most critical and violent episodes in its recent history, forcing residents to choose sides or hunt for their own facts. Yet in spite of social tensions, Arizonans have fought through the headlines and outside scrutiny to push deeper into a 21st century of tolerance.
Phoenix was dubbed the Kidnapping Capital of America as the city’s rising concern over Mexican cartel-related kidnappings and home invasions fetched international media attention. The Valley was ground zero for the national immigration debate, as protestors took to the streets demanding authorities reject state policymakers’ controversial Senate Bill 1070, the first of its kind in the US, which makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. Police and citizens scuffled in Phoenix in a series of incidents, including fatal shootings, which heightened concerns about racial profiling. Then, on a sunny morning in January 2011, US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head during an assassination attempt that left six others, including a federal judge, fatally wounded at a Tucson shopping plaza. She narrowly survived, though many early media reports said she was dead, further fueling the confusion and madness of the time.
Outsiders viewed Arizona as the Wild West reborn. Nearly everyone with family and friends in other states found themselves defending their state. Commentators whipped up debates about the economic impact on law enforcement, gun rights, mental illness, and the lack of security around public servants. As the Valley and state’s collective consciousness homed in on issues, residents seemed to rally together in understanding. They had no choice but to push forward.
Aside from politics and social upheaval, the Valley’s runaway growth within the last few decades makes it seem like a young city. Much like with the immigration debate, Phoenix has also been the epicenter for the national housing and mortgage arguments. Rows and rows of incomplete or foreclosed residential properties line streets in the Phoenix suburbs, marking a key element of the national economic crisis.
It’s a young city and a changing city, but the Phoenix metro area is heir to a rich and varied cultural history. Very few historical buildings have survived, and strip malls tend to dominate the landscape in a large part of the Valley, but the past is still honored. The desert still preserves the foundations of prehistoric towns and the abandoned mine shafts of prospects gone bust.
Prehistoric Native Americans were the first people attracted to the Salt River Valley. They were hunters and gatherers, living off the land, and their arrowheads can occasionally be found in the more remote areas of the Valley. The first tribes came 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.
The Hohokam (pronounced hoe-hoe-com) were the first long-term settlers in the Valley. They farmed the Valley and dug nearly 250 miles of irrigation canals to water their fields. This early engineering feat formed the basis of the modern canal system that helped modern Phoenix rise from the desert. After 1,700 years of tilling the Valley, the Hohokam disappeared less than a century before Columbus sailed to America. Archaeologists cannot agree on why their civilization disappeared, but suggestions include war or economic stresses brought on by bad drought and flooding. Modern Pima in central and southern Arizona trace their ancestry to these ancient peoples. Archaeologists believe that their more decentralized lifestyle proved better suited to the harsh conditions of the desert. After the Hohokam way of life was gone, the Valley remained depopulated. Some ancient hunters camped in the Valley from time to time, but few stayed for long.
New pioneers emerged, further shaping the arid desert landscape into their home.