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Thursday, October 11, 2007
It's ours! All ours!
The Mexican flag flies no more over the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum — and the U.S. flag is gone, too.Because the world is our sandbox.
The museum's board of trustees voted to remove the flags — which had flown side-by-side since 1954 — after receiving complaints and threats about flying the Mexican flag.
Questions from visitors about why the Mexican flag was being flown on U.S. soil escalated in the past couple of years, said board chairwoman Sophia Kaluzniacki.
An anonymous death threat against the museum's animals made earlier this year by a phone caller also factored into the board's decision, but to a lesser degree, she said. The desire to avoid controversy on border-related issues was the main thrust, she said.
"The Desert Museum doesn't want to make any political statement," said Kaluzniacki, a Green Valley veterinarian. "We are not a political institution so sometimes you have to consider what current issues are."
Museum employees were receiving three to five complaints a week from visitors about the presence and height of the Mexican flag, which flew at the same position as the U.S. flag, said museum spokesman Tim Vimmerstedt. Museum officials say the flag was a gift from a Sonoran governor more than a half-century ago.
The board decided that the best move was to remove both nations' flags and use other methods to convey to visitors the multinationalism of the Sonoran Desert, Vimmerstedt said. As a nonprofit organization, the museum isn't required by law to fly any flags.
An interpretive station with a map of the Sonoran Desert, which stretches into Mexico, is expected to be opened near the museum's entrance within 30 to 60 days, he said, along with flags of the states containing Sonoran Desert land: Arizona, California, Sonora, Baja Sur and Baja California.
"This way we hope we will be able to explain the Arizona-Sonora Desert to people without having to explain the flag issue," said Kaluzniacki, who has been on the board for nearly eight years.
The decision to remove the flags didn't sit well with some.
Trustee Winifred "Wynee" Warden was absent for the vote on the Mexican flag, but she wishes it was still up. She is adamantly against a recent decision to also take down the U.S. flag, she said.
"They decided that if the Mexican flag was going down, the other one should go down, too," said Warden, who has been on the museum's board five years. "I just don't think it's right. I'm very patriotic."
Warden said the decision on the Mexican flag was somewhat more problematic. The incendiary border debate not only fueled complaints about flying the Mexican flag, she said, but she had also heard there were death threats against the museum's animals.
"That border thing is going to be resolved one way or another. Eventually then they can put the Mexican flag up, I guess. It's crazy," she said. "It's the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and so they both should be represented. It's too bad when you have to kowtow to everyone who complains."
Politicizing a flag in front of the museum is petty and ridiculous, said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat whose 7th Congressional District includes the Desert Museum.
"The Mexican flag has not been there for 50 years to symbolize a territorial issue," Grijalva said. "It represents an ecosystem that stretches across both borders and both nations. This is where the whole discussion about everything on the border kind of deteriorates. It's sad."
Grijalva said taking down the flag appears to be an overreaction.
"For the life of me, I can't understand the significance of taking it down and I can't understand who we are satisfying," he said. "This doesn't make the border more secure."
But groups such as Arizonans for Immigration Control say the decision to take down the Mexican flag was a wise one.
"In Mexico, they don't allow an American flag to be displayed, so why should we allow a Mexican flag up here?" said Alvin Bauer, a member of the group.
Taking the U.S. flag down, too, though, was ill-advised, he said.
"They should display that anyplace and everyplace," said Bauer.