Last month, the Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón Museum hosted the city of Tucson’s Official 242nd birthday party. This celebration gave me pause to reflect on recent events in our country and how they relate to Tucson’s own history.
The violent activities we are seeing are fanned by divisive rhetoric that feeds off animosity and lack of respect for others. The hate and fear that is being cultivated is rooted in past injustice and resentment. American history is full of stories of persecution, misunderstanding, transition, annexation and supplantation. Tucson’s history is no different, and it is important to use past lessons learned as a path forward to a better community.
I want to thank all those who attended the official birthday event at the Presidio Museum. We came together in peace and joy to recognize 4,000 years of history and prehistory in this valley (242 years since the Spanish established the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson). This celebration helps alleviate old wounds by bringing together the communities who made Tucson great.
There was wide representation including Tohono O’odham, Pascua Yaqui, Mexican-Americans (some with Spanish ancestors who lived in the original Presidio), Mormons, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Buffalo Soldiers, members of the ranching community and many more.
Every culture and group of people have a story to tell and those stories frequently come with widely varying perspectives. Here at the Presidio Museum we seek to share Tucson’s early history without bias and without rewriting the facts. Sometimes it is tempting to make it sound more palatable; but it is important to acknowledge what has happened before in order to be a stronger, more respectful community now.
The Presidio Museum tells the story of Tucson’s prehistory through the Spanish and Mexican periods and up until 1912 when Arizona became a state. Have you been for a visit? Join us for blacksmithing and heritage food demonstrations, musket and cannon firings, and guided tours through the Presidio District and along the Turquoise Trail. On first Saturdays, families can participate in the Children’s Adventure Hour. On second Saturdays, everyone is welcome for Living History Days.
In the last decade, Tucson’s Presidio Museum has become an important downtown cultural attraction and educational center. We have served over 3500 schoolchildren in our popular Friday-at-the-Fort program, and we offer fun programming almost every weekend. Getting to this point has had its own cultural challenges.
Our board and volunteers have faced tough questions: How do we represent history without taking sides? How do we tell the facts even when the facts aren’t always nice? Do we tell a different story to different audiences to avoid discomfort?
Although a visitor will occasionally disagree with our docents, wishing to tell their own version of past events, most visitors are open to hearing a story of hardship, conflict and disagreement that also includes cooperation and achievement over adversity.
The entire Presidio District — also known at Tucson’s real Old Town — is undergoing a renaissance. This historic neighborhood is home to Old Town Artisans and La Cocina Restaurant, housed in the longest continually inhabited block in all of Arizona. It is also home to the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block, which is going through its own renaissance.
Early Tucsonans may have come from disparate backgrounds, but they also came together to create a new multifaceted culture of cooperation. So, I thank you, my fellow Tucsonans, for embracing one another and recognizing that our complex past has made for the strong, vibrant Tucson of today.
Let’s not let the current climate tear us apart. Come and learn more about that past and have some fun today at the Presidio Museum.