Folklore of the Southwest

Preserving culture and borderlands

By:
University Relations – Communications, Jacob Chinn photo

Ballet folklórico, a traditional Mexican dance, is one of the many traditions shared at Tucson Meet Yourself. The largest three-day folk life festival in Arizona celebrates the living traditional arts and everyday expression of our multinational region’s folk and ethnic communities. 

Former University of Arizona anthropologist and folklorist James S. Griffith, whose career was devoted to celebrating and honoring the folkways and religious expression found along the U.S.-Mexico border, started the festival in 1974. The festival hosts musicians, artists, and ethnic cuisine from at least 60 cultural groups, both indigenous and imported, and draws more than 100,000 people to downtown Tucson.

The values of the festival are greatly informed by folklore studies advanced by UA researchers, says Maribel Alvarez, an associate research professor in the UA’s Southwest Center and the festival’s program director.

“It was pretty revolutionary in 1974 to introduce the festival when we were still debating the nature of American pluralism,” Alvarez says, “and we still are very much today.”

The festival not only showcases social and cultural differences but also actively engages visitors in education and sharing as it strives to maintain cultural importance and contemporary relevance, Alvarez says.

In true partnership form, members of the UA community and those in the business, government, and nonprofit sectors collaborate to organize and host the festival. Today, its participating clubs and organizations collect more than $250,000 in sales annually, dollars that are reinvested locally. And the festival is now poised to expand to other parts of the state.

The Southwest Center carries out the land grant mission of the University of Arizona by creating partnerships in Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora, and Chihuahua, contributing substantially to scholarship and research on diverse cultures native to the Southwest, and representing to the larger world the University’s regional interest and expertise.

This year's Tucson Meet Yourself festival will take place Oct. 9-11. Get more information at tucsonmeetyourself.org.