by Greg Martinez
Ever since I can remember, my parents were part of a social club known as the Sonora Arizona Benefit Club. Club members primarily lived in California and Arizona. The club sponsored dances, picnics, and parties. They also provided assistance to needy families. The one thing all the club members had in common was a connection to a small town in Arizona by the name of Sonora.
In the early 1900s, workers of Mexican heritage provided cheap labor for the Ray Copper Mine about 60 miles southwest of Phoenix. The Kennecott Company, who owned the mine, built a little town by name of Ray, near the mine. Ray was where white mine workers and the all-white management lived. Mexican-American and Mexican mine workers lived in the nearby town of Sonora. The houses in Sonora were built by the people who lived there. The houses in Ray were built by professionals.
Discrimination was open, accepted, and institutionalized. Workers of Mexican heritage earned less than their white counterparts for the same jobs. Mexicans were not allowed in the bars in Ray. Segregation was enforced by the police, but generally not violently. After all, these people had to work together. The police in Ray would throw the Mexicans out of the bars there by saying “vamanos, vamanos!” I am not sure how the authorities determined who was of Mexican heritage and who was white. It was probably based on the intuition and judgment of the local police.
The town of Ray was named after the mine and the name gave the town an air of official legitimacy. The people of Sonora named their town after the neighboring Mexican state of the same name. Southern Arizona was a part of the Mexican state of Sonora before the Mexican-American War of the mid 1800s. People in Sonora were poor, but happy. Local merchants granted credit for clothes, food, and everyday necessities of life. People paid the merchants on payday. For entertainment, the town had two bars, a movie theater, and a baseball team— the Ray Sonora Tigers.
I rarely heard my dad or other people from Sonora complain about discrimination. The workers were part of a union—the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW). After World War II my dad and other war veterans would go in full uniform to the bars in Ray and were no longer asked to leave. The union and the respect they earned in combat had earned them a measure of equality.
The underground mines gave way to an open pit mine. The towns of Sonora and Ray were abandoned in 1965 and eventually consumed by the mine. The new, integrated, town of Kearny was built to replace them. Sonora and Ray and their way of life now only exist in the memories of the surviving inhabitants and their descendants. They serve as an example of how people can work through the system to overcome discrimination and grow closer in the process.