Sedona red rocks while walking around to our driveway

Not many people get to wake up every morning and see the beauty that I have seen growing up all my life in Cottonwood, Arizona. While looking back at the first 18 years of my life, I now see all that the Verde Valley has given me. I was born and raised here and lived in the same house my entire life. Standing on our back deck gives you the most amazing view of the Sedona red rocks while walking around to our driveway out front shows off beautiful Mingus Mountain.

Unfortunately, I took Cottonwood for granted growing up here. When I was younger, I saw it as a small, boring town, but as I grew older, I realized just what it had given me. There really is a good sense of community here, where people look out for one another and you know all your neighbors’ names.

I now live in Tucson and attend the University of Arizona, and whenever I go home, I find that the thing I miss most about my hometown is the way it smells. At night, it smells crisp like winter, even though it may not be cold outside. There are so many distinct scents that you cannot help but love it. Our air is clean and the variety of plants, bushes, and trees provides you with a wonderful smell all year long. My favorite is the creosote bush. There is nothing quite like smelling creosote after it rains. The rain opens up the smell and once it hits my nose it reminds me of growing up there and the many summertime monsoons that would hit at a moments notice.

Sure, cities have their advantages, such as malls and bigger movie theatres and amusement parks, but it took me several years to find out what my small little town in Arizona had to offer. You cannot drive for a mere 20 minutes and then be completely isolated from roads, people, and traffic in a city. You cannot swim in a river, hike a mountain, or get away from all the noise in a city. Moreover, if you live in a city you most certainly cannot see just how bright and wondrous stars are in the Arizona sky at night. Whenever family or friends come to visit from out of town, the first thing they notice at night is how beautiful our view of the stars is. Without the light pollution, you would find in a city sky, you could just sit back in awe and see what God has created for our nighttime viewing pleasure. I found out that amusement parks and shopping centers get dull very fast, but when you have so many things to do in nature, it never gets boring, especially when it is all so close to you. There is always somewhere new to explore and new seasons to explore them.

The mildness of the seasons is another great aspect about my town. When I was younger, I used to get so mad that we rarely ever got snow in Cottonwood, but now I see that that may be a good thing. We are nestled perfectly in the Verde Valley where the seasons are mild but you can still see the changes they bring. We are far enough north in the state where it stays comparatively cool in the hot months, but not too far north so we do not have to deal with snow all winter long. Then there is fall. My world at that time in Cottonwood is so colorful. I get to see the leaves change their shades and colors and eventually fall in the winter, and then as the weather warms up I get to see all the trees turn green again and witness the wild flowers sprout up everywhere. One day my view of Mingus Mountain is snow peaked with deep brown color holding olive green tones that the pine trees create, and the next it is bright and vibrant with the new leaves and shrubs that have popped up. The way each season looks is new, exciting, and beautiful in its own way.

The best part of Cottonwood, however, is how much it feels like home. No matter where else I will live in my life and for how long, Cottonwood will always be home to me. My town gives me a feeling of comfort, love, and beauty that no place on earth will ever compare. Even new residents end up saying the same thing: that it finally feels like they are home.

Bulldog Country

Bulldog Country

The border town community of Douglas, Arizona may be small but certainly has strong culture and tradition. Douglas High School sports, holidays and class reunions keep the community on its feet year round. On the negative side, everyone is exposed to drugs one way or another. The use and sale of illegal drugs is very common in Douglas. The smuggling of illegal aliens is also available to anyone looking for quick cash. It takes education and strong role models to keep the youth of Douglas out of trouble.

Douglas football is usually the topic of the town from August to November even though the Bulldogs have not had too many winning teams. The community supports the “dawgs” through thick and thin, mostly the thick. Douglas has a smaller pool to pick athletes from; it is so small everyone who tries out for the team makes it. The majority of the team plays both offense and defense. The “dawgs” play schools that are considerably bigger and stronger, mainly because they have more athletes to choose from. Even though the “dawgs” are tough and always play physical. Coaches always commented on how many hard-hitters Douglas always produced. My father is a Douglas football coach so I have followed the “dawgs” since I can remember; I also know some of the opposing coaches.

Douglas and Bisbee High Schools have one of the longest rivalries in high school football in the country. Both teams play annually for “The Pick.” The Pick is a miner’s picks trophy with the score of the last game played which is held for the year by the winning team. The rivalry is strong and tempers flare between both teams and crowds during the game. The game for the pick is the highlight of the “dawgs” season.

Wrestling has always produced exceptional athletes and given much entertainment during the winter season. Baseball is another sport that attracts many to the parks. It all starts with little league baseball, which is taken very seriously by the players and parents. Caravans of fans follow the all-star teams throughout Southern Arizona during the state playoffs. I have seen cars in Sierra Vista with Douglas All-Stars painted on the windows.

Douglas is a tight-knit Hispanic community with strong family values. Just about everyone knows everyone or has at least heard of the family name. Holidays are a time for families and friends to get together and celebrate. All parks are filled with people for every major holiday. Everyone seems to offer carne asada (grilled steak) as the main course at every celebration. There is nothing like a plate of carne asada served with beans and rice, it reminds me of Douglas.

Birthdays are big events, which fill up backyards or parks. These gatherings are never small because families are so big in this town. Piñatas are a must and are always elaborate. It is very important for the woman of the house to present a clean and fancy setting for her guests. The host always makes sure everyone has had enough to eat. Every person is treated as family, even if they are newly introduced. The host is there to accommodate every guest in her house. Almost everyone gets dressed up for these parties, this makes everything fun and that much more important which means a lot to the younger children.

Quincineras (sweet sixteen) parties are no joke to the people of Douglas. These parties last as long as weddings and are planned well ahead of time. Quincineras consist of a court of boys and girls who perform a dance at the reception. The Quincinera starts out as a ceremony in a Catholic church then moves to a hall for the reception. After the performance by the court, dinner is served, then the floor is open for anyone who wants to dance. Once all the guests are settled in, the dance floor is filled with all generations. Grandparents, parents, teenagers and children all dance. Everyone is dressed for the occasion, the court all wear the same dresses and tuxedos.

Ten-year class reunions are held every year. Year round fund-raisers are held in Douglas on specified weekends. The biggest fundraiser is the G Avenue bed-race. Participants are separated into teams, which make their own bed on wheels. G Avenue is blocked off for the duration of the race. One person is on the bed while two people push the bed from Tenth Street to Fifteenth Street and back. The reunion has different activities over a three-day weekend. People usually end up attending two or three reunions because they are close with people whom graduated a year before or after.

Even though there are many great things about Douglas, there is one that people pay attention to; drugs. Being a border town, drug use and smuggling is big. Everyone is exposed to it one way or another. Many high school students know somebody who can get them involved selling or smuggling for quick cash. A lot of money can be made in this business, which makes it appealing to many. So many high school students get into trouble with the law because of their choice to involve themselves. Many teenagers experiment with drugs and end up using on a regular basis. Liquor, cocaine, marijuana and LSD are what many use when “partying in Douglas.” These drugs are very cheap and easy to come by, most kids don’t even have to pay, there is always someone who has plenty and hands it out free of charge.

I took a trip to Mazatlan, Mexico where I was able to meet and hang out with many people from Colorado, Phoenix and New Mexico. When they found out I was from Douglas, Arizona they all asked if I had any marijuana with me. They were excited to hear about the availability and prices of drugs that Douglas offered. Many mentioned the drug tunnel that ran from a house in Agua Prieta Sonora across the border to a warehouse in Douglas, Arizona. The drug tunnel is my hometown’s claim to fame.

I have seen many people ruin their lives because of drugs. Douglas youth grow up quickly because of drugs, many have a relative or friend who has been in trouble or has a problem. Even though kids are exposed, they don’t fully understand the effects drugs have or the consequences people face when using or selling. For some simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead them to trouble.

Selling drugs isn’t the only way someone can make quick cash; transporting illegal aliens offers quick cash. I have had two friends who decided to give illegals a ride for money. One friend made $500 to take three men to Phoenix, Arizona and another who made $250 to drive five men in a strangers van to a spot in the desert fifteen minutes out of Douglas. Easy cash for a simple task can leave teenagers in a juvenile facility. The youth of Douglas needs strong positive role models to keep them in line and help them overcome the obstacles thrown in front of them.

Even though people know Douglas for their border issues and stereotype me for simply growing up in Douglas, I am proud to say I come from a town where people are so welcoming they greet people with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I have been told that it is strange for me to kiss girls on the cheek in front of their husband or family but that is the way we grew up. Every woman close to us gets a hug and a kiss and every man gets a hug. It seems people from Douglas can spot somebody else from Douglas even though there may be a ten-year age difference. People remember each other even if they met each other once through a friend or cousin. I have yet to experience a community as a whole to be as family and friend oriented as I have in Douglas. Citizens of Douglas take so much pride in their town the Douglas motto is, “The Premier Southwestern Border Community.”

Phoenix, the capital of Arizona

I did not grow up in Phoenix, the capital of Arizona or any of the large cities around Phoenix. Instead, I grew up in Green Valley, Arizona. A very small town about forty-five minutes south of Tucson. Now I know what you are thinking, Green Valley? Isn’t that a retirement community? I get that all the time, and it’s true, it is; but there are more kids living there than you would expect.

Green Valley is and will always be the place I call home. It is such a small community and you know just about everyone around you. I feel comforted there around my friends and family. I went to Continental Middle School graduating from eighth grade with a class of twenty-five people. These were the same twenty-five people I went to school with since pre-school. As boring as it sounds, I love knowing everyone around me; it creates such a caring atmosphere.

Even though there are many retirement neighborhoods, there are just as many that allow kids. I will never forget the house I grew up in and the kids I played with everyday. It was a child’s dream. There were tons of kids my age to hang out with and almost everyday we had something to do; whether it was going on an adventure through the desert washes, or playing a game of soccer in the street.

The town is so peaceful because it isn’t too commercialized yet. The traffic isn’t stressful to drive through and we still have the good old mom and pop shops. If this isn’t your style, you can always take the short trip north to Tucson and enjoy a day with the common restaurants and newest malls. Don’t think that Green Valley doesn’t have some of this though. Of course, we have your typical fast food like Burger King and Taco Bell, but at the same time, we have fine dining such as the Arizona Family Restaurant and the Madera Grill.

I think we can all agree that most of the time Arizona is too hot! Well there is a little difference in Green Valley. Its elevation is a bit higher and its temperature is lower by two or three degrees just about every day. Not to mention that it is only a half hour away from Madera Canyon. Beautiful pine trees, trails for hiking, and streams. The weather is always cool up there. You can escape from the desert heat and be in a forest surrounding in less than an hour. It is so convenient.

I on the other hand love the heat, so Arizona is the perfect place for me. The weather is beautiful. I have traveled to different parts of the United States and it makes me feel so fortunate to be living in a place where the weather is gorgeous almost all the time. Clear blue skies and you can hear the birds chirping in the trees around you.

I love Arizona, especially Green Valley, my hometown. I feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful state. I will never forget the place I grew up and I have so many great memories in this town. Arizona is the place I will always think of as home, and I would love to continue living here after college when I am on my own.

Holbrook, Arizona was a world of happiness

Whether we like it or not, where we are from has everything to do with whom we are. It is from our distinct corners of the earth that we first experience the world and learn what it is like to be a part of it. It would be a lie to say that growing up in Holbrook, Arizona was a world of happiness, wealth, and success. In reality, Holbrook is a small town with limited opportunities and well-paying jobs to offer its citizens. Yet, deeper than that, Holbrook is lessons in life, hard work, values, and character that could only be achieved through the ups and downs of life in small-town Arizona. It was the author Aldous Huxley who said, “Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.”  The experiences that Holbrook gave me and the lessons that I took from these experiences have molded me into the man that I am today. Because of the things that I learned from my 18 years in Holbrook, I know who I am, where I’m coming from, and where I want to go.

There is no better place to learn the value of hard work than a blue-collar town like Holbrook, AZ. Like clockwork, every weekday at 5:30 am, my father would be up getting ready for another day of hard work at Cholla Power Plant. That routine continues to this day. He has never complained or asked for any sort of sympathy. This is what being an adult is about. This is what being a man is about. You don’t whine about what you don’t want to do. You get things done. The whole community reflected this attitude. Nothing in this life is going to be given to you for free, especially coming from a middle-class family in Holbrook, AZ. There is only one path to your goals and the things that you desire, and that path is uphill. If you want something, you must be willing to work for it. The output of your endeavors will always be equal to the energy and work that you put into them. These are the attitudes I will take with me as I work through my last years of undergraduate education and begin to approach medical school.

Growing up in Holbrook, you learn early on, that life is not fair. It is a hard concept to grasp. However, the quicker that you come to this conclusion, the quicker that you can come to understand that, although life is not fair, life is what you make it. Our task is not to complain about our plight, but to make our situation better. The world is an obstacle to be conquered. Hardship and setbacks are the challenges that teach us who we are deep down. We emerge from hardship with a greater sense of ourselves and a greater knowledge of what we are truly made of.

Likewise, Holbrook taught me that the world would not be given to me on a silver platter. Life in Holbrook is not all peaches and cream. Most people live pretty much paycheck to paycheck. Most families are not rich or socially well connected. You work for the things that you have and know that you must work even harder to get the things you desire. However, that is the beauty of things. No matter where we come from, wealth or adverse circumstances, we are all given the opportunity to make the best for ourselves. Through hard work and persistence, we can get everything we want. Holbrook taught me that the difference between the man that makes it and that man that doesn’t make it is simply about who is willing to work harder and longer to get what they want. It is not about who deserves it. It is about who wants it more. It is this sense of empowerment that pushes me to be the one that works harder and longer than anyone does.

In Holbrook, unlike most of the world, a great deal of emphasis was not put on material things or outward appearances. Instead of judging people, you take the time to understand them. In life, we encounter many different people, each with a unique experience and perspective to offer the world. You must learn to value a person for what is on the inside. When I look at someone, I don’t see the clothes they wear or the car they drive, I see them. This has helped me in my life since Holbrook. I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with many different people. In these interactions, I have always taken the time to hear someone’s story. Through this, I have seen many different perspectives and learned to value each of them for what they are worth. Everyone has a reason why they are the way they are and, undoubtedly, all people are worthy of respect.

More than anything, my upbringing in Holbrook has given me a sense of perspective. Holbrook is a land of tough circumstances. Among my friends and even within my own family, I witnessed the perils of poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. I can say proudly that I have found success despite adverse circumstances. Life is not always fair. Bad things can happen to good people, but you have no choice but to keep on going. I have experienced setbacks and hardships in my life. What matters is that I have overcome everything with a greater sense of toughness and resilience. The challenges and hard times have served to shape my character. I know who I am and where I come from. Because of this, I know where I am going. No matter what I face and what I must endure, my experiences have created the perspective that gives me the confidence to know that I will come out on top. No matter what the future may hold, I know that my goals will become a reality.

Although it may seem as if I had little positive to say about my hometown, I would not choose to be from anywhere else. Holbrook made me the man that I am today. Beyond the laughter and joyous memories that accompany most childhoods, my upbringing in Holbrook gave me a sense of reality that will always stick with me. I wouldn’t trade the upbringing that I had for riches or fame. The experiences that I had and the lessons that I learned are indispensable. More than molding and shaping my character, Holbrook gave me a toughness that will always be a part of me. No matter where I go or what I do in this lifetime, I will always be the same scrappy kid from Holbrook. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t be more proud.

Have you ever been to a place and just felt at home?

Have you ever been to a place and just felt at home? That had never happened to me, and I have lived in three different states. Then I drove into Flagstaff Arizona, never in my whole life had any place felt more like home. When we drove into town, it was dark and I didn’t get to see much. Nevertheless, what I did see impressed me greatly; it seemed to me that all the stores that I like and all my favorite places to hang out were there. Kind of like a city dropped on a mountaintop, the shadow of the trees making a majestic background. The next day, when I was able to get a better look at things, I felt like a horse had kicked me. Everywhere I looked, there were trees and mountains. I could see almost every detail in the forest that surrounded me, and the air was so clean and the sky so blue. That is what drew me in first, and then I started to talk to some locals. Everyone was so nice and they didn’t try to make you feel like you were just a person passing through. They made you feel like you were part of the community. The things that were brought to my attention were not so much the sights but the people, everyone I talked to said how nice the town was. There was no feeling of being watched of judged, as in most small towns. However, it was just a feeling of being accepted just for being there. When you stopped to ask directions the people were open and friendly, they didn’t make you feel like an idiot for asking. When my mother and I decided to check out the campus, I found that it had the same good vibes as the town.

Flagstaff has a feeling of being very clean, if you have ever been to a small remote town you will understand. Small towns tend to have a feeling of being, for lack of a better word, messy. To me the town of Flagstaff and the college of NAU just looked and felt clean. Many of the students who attend NAU don’t drive a car, instead they use the bus. The reason being is the fact that the bus comes around about every twenty minutes, so there is really no need for a car. Something else I found that was interesting was that all of the streetlights were built to protect the night sky from light damage. That kind of shocked me, most small towns didn’t care about their surroundings, or the sky for that matter, but I found that that didn’t apply in Flagstaff. I found that the people of Flagstaff were conservative and made and effort to protect the land that they lived on. Most people talk about their hometown, or somewhere they consider their hometown, as though they want you to be impressed with the big things. Which isn’t a bad thing, but after a while it gets old. While Flagstaff had some big things that they could boast about, they didn’t. They tend to lean towards the smaller, but more interesting things like the town history. When they did tell you about big things, they focused on the natural things. Like for example the fact that you could go river rafting and only be twenty minutes from home. On the other hand, you could go to the Grand Canyon, stay for the day and then go home for the night, without the need to stay in a hotel.

All of these facts put together made the town a very welcoming and fun place to be. If you have ever been to Flagstaff, you will understand what I mean. When I tell people where I will be moving everyone lights up and tells me what a fabulous place it is. What more could you look for in a hometown?