The Peoples

Vecinos / Mexicans / Naka̡i̡yé

Although Spanish castaways, explorers, and slave raiders would venture through portions of the borderlands as early as the sixteenth century, a more permanent Spanish presence in the region did not take place until the 1680s, when Jesuit priests, moving up from central Mexico, began to establish missions along what was then the far outer edge of the Spanish empire. Mineral strikes, including in 1736 the rich Real de Arizónac, would attract other Spaniards to the area, as would the solidification in 1772 of a line of presidios (forts) designed to prevent the raids of the Apache into the rich agricultural lands to the south. Two such presidios were Tubac and Tucson, founded on the sites of former Tohono O'odham villages in 1752 and 1776, respectively.

In the early nineteenth century, the borderland's social geography shifted yet again as the residents of what was then the colony of Nueva España rose in rebellion against Spain. Although independence in 1821 would inject a new identity–Mexican–into the region, many of the Hispanic inhabitants of Tubac and Tucson seem to have preferred describing themselves using the Spanish term vecino, literally meaning "neighbor" but which by Sonoran custom referred to any land-owning resident of a village. Newly arriving Americans, however, labeled the residents of Tubac and Tucson "Mexicans" (or even "greasers"), even though most were U.S. citizens according to the 1854 Gadsden Purchase. For their part, many Apache groups called them the Naka̡i̡yé ("Those Who Walk Around").