Big Jim: Cosmopolitan Tucson

2013-08-30T00:00:00Z 2014-09-12T09:22:10Z Big Jim: Cosmopolitan TucsonJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

It was a Saturday afternoon at Tucson Meet Yourself in the late 1970s. I was standing by the main stage, watching group of Philipino dancers leaping back and forth across moving bamboo poles. Behind the stage, the Voloshky Dancers of the Ukrainian-American Club were standing in full costume, awaiting their turn to perform. Beside me, standing next to his Norwegian group’s food booth, was a young man dressed in faux bearskin and wearing a horned helmet. He was blowing a six-foot long wooden horn.

An older woman came up to me. “Are you the man in charge of this event?” she said.

I admitted that I was.

“Do you want to know what’s wrong with it?”

I said that I did.

“It’s just like everything else in Tucson,” she told me, ”Nothing but Mexicans and Indians!”

Stereotypes die hard.

That description might have fitted Tucson better when I first came here in 1955, but even then there were large, long-established communities of African-Americans and Chinese-Americans, not to mention European immigrant groups like Italians, Greeks, and Poles. And the University, out in its own corner of town, was drawing people from all over the world. These trends continued, until today’s Tucson is a truly cosmopolitan community.

One way to measure this is by looking in the phone book. The presence of an ethnic restaurant suggests that it is probably owned, staffed or supported by people of that ethnicity. Tucson is home to specialty restaurants serving Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Italian, Indian, Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, Polish, Russian, Caribbean, Spanish, Colombian, Peruvian, O’odham and, of course, many shades of Mexican food. And I’m sure I left some out.

And those are just the communities that have been established here for some time. How about the recent arrivals, many of whom are refugees from different African nations? They, too, are here, and as they get settled in, will add more flavors to our cultural stew.

An easy way in which to experience our cosmopolitan nature is, of course, at Tucson Meet Yourself, which is coming up Oct. 11-13. After all, the event was designed for that very reason — to let all these components of our community share their traditions with the rest of us.

By the way, I’ll be mentioning that festival either directly or peripherally (and shamelessly) in many of my blogs between now and then.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com

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