Place  /  First Person

I Want Settlers To Be Dislodged From the Comfort of Guilt

My ancestors were the good whites, or at least that’s what I’ve always wanted to believe.

Tucson doctors and commerce enthusiasts continued to actively entice health-seekers through the 1950s and beyond, but hostilities grew hot when the wrong sort arrived. Poor, Black, Mexican, and Indigenous people who suffered from the disease were often blamed for their own illness, their humanity reduced to some insulting epithet: consumptive, indigent, lunger, shut-in, tubercular, case. According to the classist and racist logics of the time, they were innately unclean and prone to poor health, to have somehow orchestrated the unsanitary conditions in whatever underserved part of the city they had been crowded into. They were treated as nothing more than their disease. No longer a person, just a problem to solve. 

Man-Building in the Sunshine Climate, a 1920s promotional booklet published by The Sunshine-Climate Club, devoted more than half its pages to assuring its target audience of worried white mothers that Indians could still be found in Arizona, but only the good ones — the “peaceable,” the “picturesque,” and the “primitive” ones. These fantasy Indians were rendered as two-dimensional cardboard cutouts whose crafts might add some color to a modern ranch style home, but whose “treacherous” ways were a thing of the distant past. 

In reality, Indigenous people in Arizona were bearing the brunt of the health-seekers’ migration. The Phoenix Indian School — the state’s only off-reservation boarding school — just a few hours up Interstate 10, had been partially recrafted into a sanitorium to contend with the growing number of tuberculosis cases among Native youth. And in 1925, Indigenous inhabitants of Arizona were 17 times more likely to die of the disease than the general population. 

Still, few in power gave any thought to how the influx of sick settlers might impact the people that had been there for generations before them. Worse yet, the doctor charged with treating tuberculosis in Southern Arizona in the middle of the 20th century, blamed Indigenous peoples for their inability to heal: “Our main problem with the Indians was not tuberculosis,” said Dr. Harold Kosanke, “because we had drugs in those days — but it was alcoholism and depression and disgust. They had no incentive to accomplish anything [including] getting well because they don’t work.”