Arizonan town at crossroads over immigration and tourism

The O.K. Corral site in Tombstone, Ariz., where tourists can see re-enactments of the famous shoot-out. Arizona's tough new immigration laws have taken a toll on the town, which relies on these bits of history to keep it going.

by Jeff Tyler

History repeats itself everyday at the OK Corral. Re-enactments are big business here.

"When you're doing a show and you break your first major bones, that's the time to semi-retire," says Bill Pakinkis, who performed as Bronco Bill in Wild West shows for 20 years.

Now Pakinkis is the head of the Wyatt Earp Days festival, which took place over Memorial Day weekend. He says so far, boycotts of the state haven't hurt tourism. "We made more money this year than we made last year."

Pakinkis supports Arizona's new law which gives police more authority to arrest undocumented immigrants. "My grandparents came here in 1898 from the country of Lithuania," he explains. "When they got here, they had to Ellis Island, get processed to make sure they had no criminal record, no diseases, and they had a place to live and work."

Since the state took a hard stance on immigration, the impact on the town's tourism appears to be split 50-50. "We've had the e-mails and phone calls saying, 'We're not coming,'" says Don Taylor, president of the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce. "We've had the e-mails and phone calls saying, 'Because of the law, we're going to change our plans and come to Tombstone.'"

Robert Love, owner of the OK Corral, says Arizona law-makers could have shown more restraint. "I think they could have done it a lot more circumspectly," he says. "And, you know, not quite so much in your face."

Are there any parallels from the past? Love says, in the 1880s, Tombstone was a place where you'd find anti-Chinese statements. "It said, 'We don't want the Chinese here,' he explains, "'They take our jobs. They're willing to work for less money. They don't learn the language.' Much of this might sound familiar over 130 years later."

Back then, the question was: Are you with us? Or with them? Picking sides in the current immigration debate could impact tourism, but the 1,600 residents who live here don't seem overly concerned. After all, their official motto is, "The town too tough to die".

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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