He arrived in Tucson when George W. Bush was still in his first term as president, the housing boom was in full swing and the Minutemen were still a year away from descending upon the Southern Arizona desert looking for undocumented migrants.
Now, nine years later, after the housing bust sent the country into a recession and anti-illegal-immigration measures like SB 1070 put Arizona smack in the middle of the national immigration debate, Juan Manuel Calderón Jaimes, the Mexico's consul general in Tucson, is saying goodbye. He marks the end of an era of consular work marked by his defense of his countrymen while forging diplomatic relationships with Tucson and Southern Arizona. His last work day is May 31.
Calderón Jaimes, 56, and his wife are scheduled to return to his native Mexico City, where he will take a yet-to-be determined post with the Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretariat.
As he took a breather from a large stack of papers and documents in his office adorned by a big, stately Mexican flag, Calderón Jaimes said that during his time in Southern Arizona there was never a dull moment, adding that he will miss Tucson sorely. His two grown children will remain in Tucson.
Calderón Jaimes arrived in Tucson in January 2004, after stints in Miami, Seattle, San Bernardino, Calif., and Chicago. But there would be no time for a honeymoon with his new assignment. Arizona was taking a hard line against illegal immigration and an increasing number of Mexicans and migrants from other countries were perishing in the desert while trying to cross the border, he said.
"Sometimes you have to choke back tears," he said.
Still, there were many successes, like the consulate's working relationship with Pima County's Office of the Medical Examiner, which has examined over 2,100 bodies of border crossers since 2001, a cultural exchange with the University of Arizona and the fact that Tucson has shown to be the most immigrant-friendly city in Arizona, Calderón Jaimes said.
Tucson City Councilwoman Regina Romero said Calderón Jaimes showed a commitment to working with Tucsonans in cultural and literacy programs, in addition to revamping consular services that helped many Mexicans in Southern Arizona. She added that she hopes the next consul will follow his example.
Romero said: "He will always have a home here."
Contact reporter Joseph Treviño at email@example.com or 807-8029.