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What is the Southwest U.S.?

Updated on February 18, 2014
"The Dark Red states mean they are almost always considered Southwest states, The light red states mean they are rarely considered Southwest states and the Blue States mean they are considered Southwest and Southern states."
"The Dark Red states mean they are almost always considered Southwest states, The light red states mean they are rarely considered Southwest states and the Blue States mean they are considered Southwest and Southern states." | Source

The Southwestern United States has been occupied for thousands of years by many different ethnicities. It has been the home to ancient and modern Native American tribes and pueblos, Spanish, Mexicans, Anglos, and just about every other race. The presence of a multicultural history in the Southwest begs the question: “What is the Southwest?” It can be defined as being New Mexico, Arizona, and southern border areas of Colorado, Utah, and California; however, this definition is very much debated and is different depending on who is answering the question. To have a better understanding of the meaning it is important to consider the many different components of the Southwest, including the history and the people.

Ancient Pueblo People's ruins at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Ancient Pueblo People's ruins at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico | Source

Additionally, the term history is also much debated in the Southwest. One might ask, “Why is the definition of prehistory in the European context different than the Southwestern definition of prehistory?” Many colonists, settlers, Spanish, Easterners, and Europeans consider prehistory to be before 1539, when written history in the Southwest began; however, for the Native people in the Southwest prehistory is usually said to be before the 1100s. The difference between these two definitions is the lack of the written word, or literature, in the latter definition. Most Native people in the Southwest before the 1600s did not have literature because they relied on folklore, stories of the people. Folklore was how history was handed down from one generation to the next through verbal stories. How does folklore play a role in the definition of prehistory? The Native people have their own stories of creation that are arguably thousands of years old, is that not also history?

A picture taken during the Navajo Long Walk.
A picture taken during the Navajo Long Walk. | Source

The history of the Southwest is a long one; however, the most accurate historical events happened after settlers and colonists from Europe began to settle in the Southwest during the 1500s. Their literature describes how the Native people to the Southwest were colonized, physically taken over by military force with brutal tactics, such as the Navajo Long Walk, and later imperialized, an effort to take over cultural ideas and practices such as language, education, religion, culture, and government systems. In the Southwest, how did imperialism work and not work? Why were the cultural ideas of the Native people so readily discarded? The answer may be because of the idea of Eurocentrism. Unlike ethnocentrism which focuses on the people of the land, eurocentrism focuses on the assimilation of European cultural ideas throughout history, such as the English language and monotheistic religion. However, a modern view of the Southwest reveals that Eurocentrism did not replace many of the older Southwest ways of life. How come Eurocentrism did not fully work in the Southwest?

Garden of the Gods located in southern Colorado
Garden of the Gods located in southern Colorado | Source

During the early 1900s a movement began to take shape that enhanced the beauty, wonder, and life in the Southwest. This movement was formed, in part, by ethnography, a scientific practice in which an ethnographer enters into another ethnic community and studies that community by participant observation. Why did this movement have such a profound impact on the Southwest? Stories, such as Charles Lummis’ “The Golden Key to Wonderland,” Mary Austin’s “Mother of Felipe,” and Alice Corbin Henderson’s “Brothers of Light: The Penitentes of the Southwest,” helped demonstrate to Easterners that the Southwest’s history is beautifully attractive and the Native people and settlers who live in the Southwest are as much a part of the traditions as every shrub, cactus, and mountain. They shape the Southwest and give meaning to what it is to be part of the Southwest and its history; their stories, written and unwritten, show the past and truth of the land. Why does it appear that the people who live in the Southwest are one with the landscape? Has there ever been a place more mysterious and full of unwritten stories?

Delicate Arch with background of La Sal Mountains in Arches National Park in eastern Utah.
Delicate Arch with background of La Sal Mountains in Arches National Park in eastern Utah. | Source

Although the terms history and Southwest have broad meanings, in the Southwest, history has come to include the time line of all ethnicities that inhabit this once mysterious, barren land. The people have come to accept themselves as Southwesterners and Americans at the same time. They live here and define the Southwest simply as their home, regardless of the things that have taken place in recent years, decades, and centuries. The Southwest is their home.

The modern day Phoenix skyline, the largest city in the Southwest.
The modern day Phoenix skyline, the largest city in the Southwest. | Source

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