People in conversation

Twenty Days Later in Tucson

Anita Fonte

Last week, we brought you a reflection from Anita Fonte written in the immediate aftermath of last month's shooting in Tucson.  

In this follow-up piece, Anita shares further thoughts on the tragedy in Tucson from her perspective within the community and based on her interactions with friends and strangers outside of Tucson.

Twenty Days Later in Tucson

It’s not quite three weeks since the Tucson shootings shattered our gentle desert lifestyle. It isn’t easy living in Tucson during the summer, but it’s a lark compared to other places who, especially this year, are suffering from massive winter storms. We tough “desert rats” endure the hot temperatures for a few months so, for the rest of the year, we can easily hike in our canyons, bicycle along our arroyos and wake, almost every morning, to clear blue, sunny skies.

It was a day just like that on January 8th and in minutes it became a day unlike any other. As I look back on the days after, I realize that I was in emotional shock. I wrote on my blog, added a haiku in my journal and yet, when someone asked me a week later, “what did you write about the tragedy?”, I replied: “nothing.” I had no memory of having written a word.

And, as it turns out, my husband, son and I were on a plane headed East, five days after the shooting, to go to a long-planned family celebration in the Philadelphia area. We thought we were getting a “break” away from all the news reports on the victims and painful criticisms that were emerging about who we are (and are not) in Tucson. We have had plenty of painful criticism for more than a year about SB. 1070, so, we three wanted to run away a bit from the sorrow.

But on the plane, in the cab, at the hotels, with waitresses, baristas and family members, the talk about Tucson was in the cold air molecules we breathed. We experienced days of answering questions posed to us: “how are you?” “I love Tucson, how could this happen there?” “What are you doing” and some advice from a 9/11 Cabbie: “You will get through this like we did.” We realized, somewhere into our second day away, that, for these Eastern folks, we were their touchstone to what took place in Tucson and they were sharing their compassion with us to ease their own pain.

Coming home after seven days back east, the sunshine and mild winter temperatures were the expected blessing on the ground, but, what surprised us at the airport was an acoustical guitarist singing songs of community and hope. This is the Tucson I have known for forty years—a community where creative wisps of activities are easily experienced in neighborhoods and cafes, imaginative expressions from diverse cultures are displayed in communal response to the steadiness of our mountainscape.

The much publicized ad hoc memorials that emerged on the hospital lawn and in front of Rep. Gifford’s office are similar to memorials families place on the roadside when, in the Hispanic tradition, one marks the place where a loved one’s soul has left the body. In a way, we Tucsonans know that, for a time, our community soul disappeared on January 8th. The painted saguaros, walking sticks adorned with prayers, unspooled ribbons with black poems written on white satin fibers, posters, balloons, candles, photos are pieces of our community soul spread out on grass and pavement. We put them there to find ourselves again, to connect, to heal.

We will heal as we must. We are still alive to the winter season and we have months ahead to continue to mourn and repair. We are transformed. We are not the same place and, I believe we will be better; we have to be better. We have been tested by tragedy and we responded with courage and grace, some Old Tucson-style desert whistles in the basketball stadium and ongoing creativity that champions our community. Twenty days later we are just beginning to come alive again. And as we awake, the spirits of those whose lives were taken from us or are broken beyond the bone lift us up and carry us forward.


Anita Fonte has been talking with Essential Partners for several years about ways to create constructive conversations about immigration in Tucson. She has been working in community development, deliberative dialogue and community-based issues education for over 26 years. She is a public dialogue specialist at Imagine Greater Tucson where she co-convenes the IGT Public Engagement Committee and has co-led the design of its Community Conversation Process. She also serves as a research associate for Tucson-based PECE (the Partnership for Equity and Civic Engagement, a program of Community Renaissance), and is a Senior Professional Consultant at Kimley-Horn.