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South Tucson's history & heritage make it Absolutely Arizona

Posted at 4:04 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-20 23:27:09-04

SOUTH TUCSON, Ariz. — Its rich Hispanic history and tradition make South Tucson Absolutely Arizona.

The City of South Tucson is just over one square mile and completely surrounded by the City of Tucson.

This pueblo inside of the Old Pueblo is a tight-knit community with nearly 6,000 people living within its city limits.

"We have the densest population I think, third densest in Arizona of any city," said South Tucson Mayor Bob Teso.

Teso knows the stats, but as a native of South Tucson, he also knows the culture and history. A history that has a deep connection to Padre Kino -- the 17th century Jesuit priest who established churches from Northern Sonora into what's now Southern Arizona.

"Along with Father Keno came a lot of the military. So they posted a lot of forts around here including the one here, the Presidio in Tucson," Teso said. "If you were to look at who we are, a lot of the names that our residents have are still the names that were associated with the Presidio."

Teso says South Tucson is 85% Hispanic. A big part of that culture is on display throughout its neighborhoods with beautiful mosaics including several mosaic welcome signs.

South Tucson Welcome Sign

Another important part of the culture centers around food. South Tucson is home to some of the longest operating and most successful restaurants in the entire region.

"Mi Nidito and El Torero," Teso listed. "And they're all family-run businesses."

Teso said more than a dozen popular restaurants are located in South Tucson. They were able to stay open during the pandemic, Teso says because they're family-owned.

"South Tucson has been good to us," said Mi Nidito co-owner Jimmy Lopez. "The community, the people, very nice, very humble."

Jimmy and his two brothers are the third generation of the Lopez family to run Mi Nidito. Started by his grandparents nearly 70 years ago, the restaurant is flourishing. The lunch crowd fills the restaurant every day starting at 11 a.m.

"I mean, there's times when I have to go in the kitchen and help 'em out," Lopez said. "I mean it's that busy."

Lopez credits tradition and quality food usually made by his chef of 45-years Maria De La Cruz, but it's not just Mi Nidito that's woven into the fabric of South Tucson.

"I want to say the restaurants have a big part in supporting South Tucson. Like Guillermo's, Micha's, us we're a big part, a Crossroads," Lopez said. "We're a big part of South Tucson and they take care of us."

As a native of South Tucson and a Mexican-American, Lopez appreciates Hispanic Heritage month. He hopes younger generations do as well.

"They need to know that, where they came from. Not just look it up on Google and the internet," Lopez said. "You have to live that. You have to live that tradition."