'Tucson Meet Yourself' Turns 40

University Communications
Oct. 7, 2013

It's one of the most important annual festivals in the region – Tucson Meet Yourself, a major folklife festival being held this weekend that was founded by former UA folklorist and anthropologist Jim Griffith 40 years ago.

Griffith, who continues to invest in the festival and is on the board along with numerous other UA students, faculty and staff, has described the event as "a public education project," one that is meant to show the soul of the southwestern region.

The free, three-day festival, to be held Oct. 11-13, generally draws more than 100,000 people and is meant to showcase the region's broad diversity and commitment to inclusiveness. A festival schedule is available online, along with a demonstration schedule.

While the festival certainly is a large-scale celebration, it is much more than that; it is an important educational effort enabling people to represent themselves and their values, traditions and customs, said Lydia Breunig, director of outreach and special programs for the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

"If you were to read the festival like a text, it would read like an educational text," said Breunig, also a member of the board for Tucson Meet Yourself, or TMY. "The festival is not just about the food and performance. The educational piece really fits in with the mission of the University for public outreach." 

Historically, TMY's values and the ways in which it has been organized have been greatly informed by folklore studies advanced by UA researchers, said Maribel Alvarez, a UA associate research professor in the UA's Southwest Center, and TMY's program director.

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

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

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, which has seen tremendous growth and community impact over its 40-year history. 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.

Having recently gained nonprofit status, TMY is run by a 12-member board and staff that includes the following UA-affiliated board members: Breunig; Joseph (Bob) Diaz, a UA associate librarian; Celestino Fernandez, University Distinguished Outreach Professor of sociology; and Cynthia Watson, assistant director of UA Career Services.

TMY's staff and board also now have a designated meeting space at the UA Downtown campus.

In the last year, TMY's staff and board have begun supporting extension of the festival year-round through cultural documentation projects, targeted programs, a field school and the publication of a monthly e-journal, BorderLore, which Alvarez edits. They also are in the midst of a new initiative to gague community-based cultural resources in Arizona to determine ways to further expand such activities.

"We really want to make sure that we are engaging the community," said Breunig, who is in her first year as a TMY board member. "Other communities have asked that we repeat the festival model in other communities, so we want to take the academic and educational aspects of the festival and broaden them."

Such activities and plans speak to the core of TMY, Alvarez said, adding that her vision is for the festival to continually create a civic space that encourages human understanding, dignity and the transmission of knowledge.

Alvarez said she has remained invested in TMY for those reasons and others.

"I get to see the thrill of seeing the communities we work for. It almost feels like you're a public servant when you are doing this kind of work," she said.

"And TMY is layered; a layered presentation. You can come and just eat food, or you can sit and listen to a presentation and get deeper information about a culture," Alvarez also said. "And I think it helps people to realize that we are all cultural beings; culture is not an exotic thing that only certain people have."

In celebration of the festival's milestone year, the UA Special Collections is hosting "40 Years of Tucson Meet Yourself" through Jan. 10. The special exhibition offers a retrospective review of the origins, traditions and celebrations that define Tucson Meet Yourself.

On display at Special Collections, 1510 E. University Blvd., the exhibition includes decades of posters, newspaper articles, programs, photographs and original documents, such as meeting notes. Also included is a music kiosk and a history of the festival's annual corrido contest as well as a special profile of Griffith, the festival's founder who is now retired from the UA.

Curated from the Tucson Meet Yourself Archive in Special Collections, which documents the festival from its first year through 1995, the exhibit also includes select items borrowed from the festival headquarters that were recently relocated to the UA Downtown campus in the Roy Place building. 

Also, Alvarez will present a lecture, "40 Years of Tucson Meet Yourself: Folklife and Culture," on Nov. 19. During the event, which will be held 6-8:30 p.m. at the UA Libraries, Alvarez will share stories of Tucson's folklife and culture.

Contacts: Maribel Alvarez, UA associate research professor and the Tucson Meet Yourself program director, at 520-626-6755 or alvarezm@u.arizona.edu; Gabrielle Sykes-Casavant, the marketing and public relations director for the UA Libraries, at 520-307-0877 or sykes-casavantg@u.library.arizona.edu.


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