What's Left in Small-Town Arizona When the Mine Shuts Down
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Since the mine closed, he’s done all different types of work, often combining different occupations at the same time to cobble together a fulfilling and economically sustainable living. He currently coaches youth tennis and does home rehabbing and construction. He has also served as a town water supervisor, as a counselor and outreach director and was hired to work on a documentary called Los Mineros about the history of mining in the Arizona-Mexico border area and various other jobs. For three years he made and sold jewelry.
"You have to have an attitude that you could do anything," he said. "If someone asks 'Can you do this?' I say yes, then ask, 'What is it?'"
Through it all, Macias has continued an active artistic career, recently selling about half the paintings in a show focused on different visions of bottles—in surrealist, cubist and other styles, including a realistic "message in a bottle" tossing in ocean waves.
Like the Helping Hand sculpture, his work often references Superior’s natural surroundings. In one sculpture, a sinewy torso emerges organically from a piece of a great fallen oak.
On a plateau above the town sits Oak Flat, where the desert ecosystem abruptly gives way to an unlikely oak forest. If the land swap for the proposed Resolution Copper mine passes, that federal land would be transferred to Rio Tinto and could cave in as copper is mined below it.
Macias and other opponents of the plan for "block cave" copper mining think the massive operation would suffocate the growth of new artistic, cultural and recreational pursuits in Superior.
But proponents, like Lucy Wing, think a boost from the region’s old industry is crucial to give people the economic breathing space they need to let new ideas and pursuits flower.
Wing’s father and uncle, Chinese immigrants, started the town’s two competing general stores eight decades ago. Miners paid them on credit, extended even during strikes when it was unclear whether they’d be repaid. Wing’s father kept his store open several hours later than his brother’s store, giving him a competitive advantage but meaning Wing and her 10 siblings had to put in lots of hours helping out.
Wing left Superior for college, and then went to New York City where she worked for 42 years as a chef and food writer for major food companies and home-life magazines. After the 9/11 attacks, she and her husband decided they didn’t necessarily want to stay in New York, and Wing wanted to give back to her hometown. So after a several-years-long fundraising and planning process involving several siblings, she opened a gourmet but affordably-priced Asian barbecue restaurant in Superior.
She wanted to introduce locals to a more multicultural experience and to healthier fare than that of the few diners and Mexican joints already in town. It wasn’t easy, since many wanted the egg rolls and other fried "Chinese food" they were accustomed to, not the delicately seasoned, grilled pan-Asian dishes Wing was intent on preparing.
More importantly, even with Wing keeping prices as low as possible, most Superior residents have little disposable income for eating out. Wing thinks the new mine would give locals enough money to feel comfortable trying new things and expanding their horizons. "Now people just barely have enough for necessities," she said.
Mentioning another local’s plans to open a bar and steak house, she shook her head discouragingly and said, "You need people to be working if they are going to pay $20 for a steak. You’re talking (right now about) a rice and beans and cheese economy."