Sunday is a special day in Tucson, although most people don’t realize it. So what makes it special? Glad you asked.
It’s Tucson’s 242nd birthday! Whoop it up folks. Your Old Pueblo doesn’t look a day over 200.
Hector and Mickie Soza will be celebrating. They have been for some 30 years. Hector Soza has good reason. The 88-year-old Tucsonan has a deep and direct connection to this place and its festivities.
He is a descendant of a Presidio pioneer family that came to Tucson not long after Spanish colonizers, led by Lt. Col. Hugo O’Conor, planted the flags for crown and church in 1775 on the eastern flank of the Santa Cruz River. O’Conor, an Irishman, named the new place on the empire’s map Presidio San Agustín del Tucson. On the other side of the river, at the foot of the dark hill, was a Pima Indian village that the inhabitants called Chuk Shon where 83 years earlier a Jesuit missionary explorer, Eusebio Francisco Kino, established Mission San Cosme y Damián de Tucsón in 1692.
Soza’s great-great-great-grandfather, José María Sosa, who was born in 1744 in what is now Sonora, Mexico, came to Tubac, then the principal Spanish presidio, in what was then the Sonora Province. Later Sosa arrived in Tucson after its founding and soldiered for about 30 years. He died in Tucson in 1810 as the Spanish empire in the Americas began to crumble.
The Soza family now extends to hundreds with many still in Tucson and Southern Arizona. (The family surname was originally Sosa but in the 1880s, when the family established a ranch north of Benson, a government clerk changed the name to Soza.)
“There have been Sozas living in this area ever since,” said Soza during an interview last week with him and his wife, Mickie, at their east-side home.
Soza’s great-grandfather, Jose María Sosa III, built the house known today as the Sosa-Carrillo Frémont House, next to the Tucson Music Hall, which houses a small museum of the Arizona Historical Society and is home to Borderlands Theater.
Soza values his ancestral connection to this ancient land that was home to indigenous people for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. The Sosa family was one of the first European families to arrive in the Presidio and make Tucson their home.
Sosa and his wife Mickie, originally from Michigan, for years have demonstrated their affection and appreciation for Tucson’s Presidio past by donning time-period costumes for the annual celebration. As members of the Tucson Presidio Trust and Los Descendientes del Presidio, Hector dressed as his ancestor, the 18th Century Spanish soldier, and Mickie played the role of Doña Rita Espinosa de Sosa, the wife of José María Sosa.
But their long-standing roles in Tucson’s annual festivities almost didn’t happen.
The couple was happily living in Southern California. Soza worked for the then-Hughes Corporation. They had lived in Tucson before moving to Orange County.
But while they lived in California, the Sozas and their children would return to Tucson. More specifically, they would visit the family’s cemetery on what once was the Soza ranch, near Cascabel, east of Tucson on the other side of Redington Pass. That is where Soza was born.
Soza’s grandfather, Antonio Campos Soza, homesteaded the land less than 30 years after the Gadsden Purchase brought former Mexican Southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico into the American Union in 1854. The ranch stretched over 160 acres, according to the family’s unpublished history, “Dón José María Sosa: Through the Generations,” compiled by Hector Soza.
When Hughes offered Soza the opportunity to return to Tucson in 1976, the Sozas said yes. It brought them closer to their roots and to the less-than-one-acre cemetery that the Soza family has the deed to. One of the Sozas’ eight children is buried in the cemetery.
So join the Sozas and others who appreciate Tucson’s unique history. And celebrate the contributions that a countless number of families have made to the Old Pueblo.
After this year’s celebration the Sozas will wait for the next party in 2018 when Tucson turns 243.
Said Mickie Soza: “I would rather be here than anywhere else. I love it.”