Dressed in a white housedress embroidered with bright flowers, Martha Ruiz stands on her front lawn and points across a central Phoenix street to people whom she considers a nuisance: immigrant neighbors.
They don’t control their pets and little children, and let them run all over the neighborhood and into her yard, she says. They crank that ranchera music so loud “the whole neighborhood has to listen.”
Wearing a designer belt and gold rosary, Mexican immigrant José Gutierrez describes his problem: “racisto Latinos Americanos,” or racist American Latinos. They should be happy for the immigrants who are living the American dream. Instead, “they are jealous of the people who come here for jobs, homes and cars,” the 28-year-old said.
Friction over lifestyle and culture plays out in neighborhoods across the Valley as Latinos and recently arrived immigrants come face-to-face with each other. Many of them often share skin color and last names, but the similarities sometimes end there.
The culture clash is a classic American example of assimilation, experts say, of the tensions that occur when acculturated people mix with unacculturated newcomers. Hispanic non-profits, colleges and cities acknowledge the issue and are trying to lessen the strain and raise cultural awareness through diversity-focused lectures and roundtable discussions.
Some Latinos perceive immigrants to be a liability, experts say, and go out of their way to stress their “Americanism” by avoiding association. Some immigrants believe Latinos are in denial of who they really are, and call them sellouts because they don’t speak Spanish or celebrate customs.
The killing in south Phoenix last week, where Latinos are accused of murdering a man believed to be an immigrant, is an extreme example of the violence that can escalate from cultural conflicts. Stephanie Ybarra, 30, her nephew Anthony Ybarra, 19, and her 15-year-old son are believed to have attacked the immigrant after a family member said he made lewd remarks to two young female cousins. The three were arrested for first-degree murder and jailed.
Relatives and neighbors blamed the incident on neighborhood tensions between Latinos and immigrants. Rarely do cultural tensions escalate to violence, say police, who respond to calls that are sometimes rooted in those differences: booming Spanish-language music, streets clogged with friends and family, and late-night comidas, or cookouts.
“They feel like the neighborhood is being overrun by immigrants and they’re trying to protect it,” said Joe Trujillo, a community action officer with Phoenix police, who works heavily immigrant and Latino neighborhoods. “A lot of them are not happy with the way their neighborhood has changed.”