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Mexico's second-largest state, Sonora, is also one of its richest. Ranch lands here feed Mexico's finest beef cattle, and rivers flowing west from the Sierra Madre are diverted by giant dams to irrigate this area. Sonora's many crops include wheat and other grains, cotton, vegetables, nuts, and fruit—especially melons, citrus, peaches, and apples. Hermosillo, Sonora's capital, bustles with agricultural commerce in the midst of the fertile lands that turn dry again toward the coast.
In 1540 Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, governor of the provinces to the south, became the first Spanish leader to visit the plains of Sonora. More than a century later, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino led a missionary expedition to Sonora and what is now southern Arizona—an area referred to as the Pimería Alta for the band of Pima Indians still living there. The Italian-born, German-educated priest is credited with founding more than 20 missions in what is now northern Sonora and southern Arizona, as well as introducing cattle, citrus, wheat, and peaches—all still important crops—to the region. Although Álamos, in the south of Sonora, boomed with silver-mining wealth in the late 17th century, no one paid much attention to the northern part of the region. When the United States annexed a giant chunk of Mexico's territory after the Mexican-American War (1846–48), northern Sonora suddenly became a border area—and a haven for Arizona outlaws. International squabbles bloomed and faded over the next decades as officials argued over such issues as the right to pursue criminals across the border. Porfirio Díaz, dictator of Mexico for most of the years between 1876 and 1911, finally moved to secure the state by settling it.
Settlers in Sonora, however, proved a hardy and independent bunch ill-suited to accepting the dictates of politicos in faraway Mexico City. Sonorans and their neighbors, the Chihuahenses, were major players in the Mexican Revolution, and the republic was ruled by three Sonorans: Plutarco Elías Calles, Adolfo de la Huerta, and Abelardo Rodríguez. Despite the enormous cost and destruction to railroads and other infrastructure, the Mexican Revolution brought prosperity to Sonora. With irrigation from the state's dams, inhabitants have been able to grow enough wheat and vegetables not only for Mexico but also for export. Today Sonora's economy continues to thrive, partly because of the maquiladoras (American factories that have moved across the border to take advantage of low wages and loose labor and environmental restrictions). The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which relaxed tariffs on goods moving across North American borders, made the maquila a profitable tool for U.S. companies. Millions of people have flocked to Nogales, here in Sonora, and Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, and Matamoros in search of employment. Critics decry the sweatshop conditions in many factories. On a happier note, state and federal governments are pouring money into tourist-oriented development, making it the fastest-growing part of the economy. Visitors enjoy not only Sonora's abundance of beaches, but also the seclusion and tranquillity of its mountains and deserts.
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