Big Jim: Why Father Kino?

2013-05-03T00:00:00Z 2013-07-11T11:52:20Z Big Jim: Why Father Kino?Jim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Here in Tucson, we find him everywhere: There’s Kino Hospital, Kino Boulevard, and several statues of the man in public places. There’s even one in Washington, DC.

It’s the same across the border in Sonora. You can buy a bottle of Vino Kino and even visit his grave in Magdalena de Kino. Who was this guy, and what did he do that was so important?

Eusebio Francisco Kino was Jesuit Missionary priest, born in Segno, Italy, in 1645. In 1687 he rode west from the mission community of Cucurpe and began work in the Pimería Alta — the northern Piman country. (Pimas are what the Spaniards called the people known today as O’odham, and the Pimería Alta stretches across the northwestern parts of modern-day Sonora and Arizona. I talk about it a lot.)

As the first permanent European resident of this region, he set in motion a series of vast changes. Of course he introduced a new religion and a new political system; that was his job. But his arrival signaled the start of something that still continues: the process by which this remote patch of desert became connected with the rest of the world.

I read in my paper one day recently about a basketball game in Utah against Harvard, a crisis in Syria, and various political maneuverings in Washington, DC. And all because Father Kino rode west from Cucurpe that day. Of course, if it hadn’t been Kino, it would have been someone else. But it was Kino.

He left more tangible traces of his work here as well. Although none of the actual churches he built still stand, several towns and villages in Arizona and Sonora thrive where he began missions.

He brought with him beef cattle and wheat seeds, thereby permanently changing our local diet. Too important for only part of a blog!

Next up: Father Kino and the beef burrito. Now we’re talking food, neighbors — this is important stuff.

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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

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