Big Jim: Tucson's birthday

2013-08-20T00:00:00Z Big Jim: Tucson's birthdayJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily star Arizona Daily Star

Today is Tucson’s official birthday. There will be all sorts of great official celebrations, which I hope you will attend and enjoy. But right now I want to give you my take on the founding of Tucson.

The military detachment that arrived here in 1776 (a year in which my ancestors were otherwise violently preoccupied on the other edge of this continent) was a mixed lot. There were Spaniards from Spain, Mexican-born Spaniards, and people of mixed race.

Their leader, Don Hugo O'Conor, was an expatriate Irishman, one of the famous “Wild Geese” who sought gentlemanly careers in the Catholic countries of Europe. And just across the river was a village of O’odham, a people with their own language and ways of looking at the world.

In other words, this town of ours started off as a multicultural community, in which there was always a nearby family who was different — who looked different, who spoke another language, who saw the world in a different light. And this was in a small, walled settlement of people who were gathered together for protection in a desert country against a common enemy. They had to get along to survive. And survive they did.

I suspect this is one of the reasons why it seems to be a Tucson tradition not just to tolerate or put up with cultural differences, but to actually relish them. We don’t always live up to this, of course. But by and large that seems to be our style.

And that’s one reason I love this place, and that’s what’s in my mind when I celebrate the birthday of this “old Pueblo” (and let’s keep that name, thank you, for “pueblo” implies “people,” and it’s the people who make this community so special).

So hats off to that bunch of O’odham, Spaniards, mestizos and mulattoes who founded Tucson! And let’s work to ensure that what they founded doesn’t get losted.

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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

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail

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