On The Road with Farai Chideya: Phoenix News and Notes with Ed Gordon correspondent and sometimes guest host Chideya talks about ethnic issues in Phoenix, Ariz. -- known as the "new Mecca" for the nation's black middle class.

On The Road with Farai Chideya: Phoenix

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NPR News.

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

NPR's Farai Chideya is on the road all this week. She's traveling from California to Georgia with her sister and their first stop is Phoenix, Arizona.

All right, Farai, talk to me about, first of all, how you and your sister are doing locked up in that car together.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Well, you know, it takes you back to when you were little kids and you're stuck on a long car trip. `Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?' And you know what? You are just not there.

GORDON: Who's doing the driving, you or Sekai?

CHIDEYA: We're splitting it. We're both experienced road warriors. We drove across the country together before. And, you know, I love--I lot of it I love. I love the bonding time, you know, you sit around and catch up on life, get to play some good music. But let me tell you, there's a lot of this country that really doesn't have much in it. Long, long, long miles.

GORDON: Long stretches. All right. Phoenix, Arizona, is the first stop on your tour of the country. Talk to us about, A, what most surprised you about your trip to Phoenix, and, perhaps, what you didn't know about that city.

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, I actually have some family in Phoenix who we didn't even get to see because we're on such a tight schedule. But one of the things that strikes me about Phoenix is it's this kind of mecca for the new black middle class. Black folks are moving around America. A lot of people are going back to the South. But then there's this whole group of people, a lot of them kind of the striver, you know, buppie types who are moving to Phoenix. I know I'm gonna get yelled at for saying that. But it's true. A lot of people who are business owners and doing well for themselves--because this is one of the fastest-growing areas of the country and there's a lot of real estate, money to be made. There are a lot of--there's just sort of new quality to the Southwest, and I think a lot of black families are taking advantage of that.

GORDON: There's also a presence, Buffalo Soldiers presence there, in Phoenix, that I think a lot of people just don't know about.

CHIDEYA: Mm-hmm, yup. There's a strong, you know, military presence, first of all, in the entire Southwest. One reason that you have an area, which traditionally hasn't been African-American populated, and now is growing, is because of the strong military presence, and so you have Buffalo Soldiers, you have current enrollees, you have a lot of people who are high up in the military, and a lot of people who are retirees who decide to stick around.

GORDON: What's your next stop? Where you headed?

CHIDEYA: We're going to El Paso and actually stay. Later today, I'll be doing a drive-around with the Border Patrol. El Paso, of course, is a border city right up against Juarez, Mexico. Juarez is a town where there have been--there's been a real impact with globalization. It's one of those border towns that has the maquiladoras. It's the name that means twin plants. So they are US companies based in Mexico right on the Mexican side because it's cheaper there. At the same time, the influx of all of these young women working in the maquiladora factories has, basically, given a serial killer carte blanche to kill women, and it's also been a place where there's been a string of very grisly murders. And some people are saying that the US, because of its, you know--has brought these factories to Juarez, should be doing more about those killings. So we'll be talking to the Border Patrol about what it's like to monitor this wide-open stretch of border and some of the problems that have come along with the growth of the border.

GORDON: Let me ask you this, Farai. Your trip, when I heard about it, kind of reminds me of one of my mom's favorite songs by Nat King Cole, and that's "Route 66" where you're making all of these stops and you're seeing...


GORDON: ...much of the United States that often is not seen or talked about. What has been to date the most fun portion of this for you?

CHIDEYA: Well, I think just seeing the sunset over the mountains. I mean, it's really incredible out here in the Southwest. You can just see for miles. And the mountains are constantly changing. Right now I'm looking at the mountains and they're almost bluish gray. They almost blend into the sky. At some points they seem brown; at some points they seem purple. The light out here is very different from the light on the East Coast. There's just a beauty to every part of America that's very singular and it's worth being able to see it for yourself.

GORDON: And has the food been good?

CHIDEYA: You know, we've been eating a lot of truck stop food so I can't endorse the food we've been eating.

GORDON: All right. Well, you guys be safe out there. We'll be hearing from you all week long and we look forward to more reports from Farai on the road all this week.

CHIDEYA: ...(Unintelligible).

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