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BorderLore Is Now a Program of Tucson Meet Yourself (the 38-Year-Old Beloved Folklife Organization)
After a long period of inactivity trying to figure out the best way to advance--and sustain--the work of cultural documentation that BorderLore began in earnest a few years ago, we are happy to announce the merger of BorderLore with one of the country's leading folklife organizations: Tucson Meet Yourself.

Although TMY is better known for producing an annual festival each October, and the name may give the impression that it is only a Tucson operation, the truth of the matter is that TMY has expanded its programs year-round (read more about this below).  Also, the mission of TMY is explicit about working across the border divide: "to research, document, interpret and present the living traditional arts and expressions of everyday life of the folk and ethnic communities of the multinational Arizona-Sonora region."

Road Sign

What does the merger mean for you?
In a practical sense, it means that BorderLore will be once again a monthly news-magazine bringing you thoughtful documentation about all manners of artful ways (in language, food, dress, music, decoration, stories, etc.) that residents of these often conflicted border lands produce and share. With the backing of TMY's excellent technical team of graphic designers and webmasters (Julie Ray Creative), BorderLore's editors can focus more on creating original content for monthly features as well as on cross-posting from the many excellent sources of cultural and artistic news about this region that already exists in print and online (see for example Border Beat and  Through Our Parents' Eyes).

Eyes on Border Fence

But speaking of "documenting cultures" in the current social and political climate in Arizona, involves more than meets the eye.

Every monthly newsletter will include a feature story highlighting an artist, artisan, dance, music, food, folk community, or other cultural practice of the more than 65 ethnic and folk groups that participate in the extended Tucson Meet Yourself festival experience. One of the beauties and assets of Tucson Meet Yourself is to make explicit that ethnicity is not a code word for "outsider" -- but that in fact all Arizonans, all Tucsonans, all Sonorans and Mexicans, and all Europeans for that matter, are "ethnic" in a most basic sense: we all carry with us markers of identity that shape who we are and how we see the world. For some, the markings of cultural pride cannot be detached from memories of occupation, refuge, war, or violence. Even then, people find occasions to celebrate some aspects of their lives that live on through the ages: we call "tradition" that living, sometimes messy, experimentation with the past in the present.

TMY's fundamental premise is one of cultural democracy. In this sense, "ethnic studies" is what TMY does best: provide a platform to learn and understand contrasting interpretations of who we are as a community, where we live, and what a just and equitable society might look like. We are excited about new opportunities for our joint BorderLore/Tucson Meet Yourself project; we hope you are too and continue to be a faithful reader and supporter.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Since the lists of recipients of BorderLore has now merged with TMY's, we would understand if some of you decide that you do not wish to continue receiving these newsletters. We apologize for any inconvenience. As usual, there's an easy one-click UNSUBSCRIBE button at the end of this mailing. No questions asked; once you unsubscribe, you will automatically be deleted from any future mailings.
In This Issue
TMY Fundraiser with Gustavo Arellano

Changes in TMY Operating Structure Strengthen Its Mission

Esperanza's Hands : Mesquite Tortillas and Flavors without Borders


Coming in the Next Issue of BorderLore

1) TMY Folklife Fieldschool Coming in May-June 2012 (everything you always wanted to know about documenting cultural traditions --including your own--but were afraid to ask!)


2) TMY Festival Food Vendor Applications (opening in April 2012) 


3) Ethnic Restaurant Chow Card 
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Don't Miss it: "Ask a Mexican" Columnist Gustavo Arellano Stops in Tucson for a Night of Tacos, Social Satire, and Biting Cultural Commentary (to Benefit TMY) arellano

Gustavo Arellano
Gustavo Arellano
Sunday, April 15, 2012
4:00-6:00 pm
La Cocina at Old Town Artisans
Admission: $25
CALL (520) 621-4046 to reserve tickets
Or email:

An entertaining, tasty trip through the history and culture of Mexican food in this country. When salsa overtook ketchup as this country's favorite condiment in the 1990s, America's century-long love affair with Mexican food reached yet another milestone. In seemingly every decade since the 1880s, America has tried new food trends from south of the border. As a result, Mexican food dominates American palates to the tune of billions of dollars in sales per year. It's a little-known history, one that's crept up on this country like your Mexican neighbors-and left us better for it.

Taco USA
Taco USA
Gustavo Arellano's ˇAsk a Mexican! column has a circulation of more than two million in thirty-eight markets (and counting). The column won the 2006 Association of Alternative Newsweeklies award for the best column in a large circulation weekly. He has received the President's Award from the Los Angeles Press Club, an Impact Award from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and a 2008 Latino Spirit Award from the California State legislature. Arellano has appeared on the Today show, Nightline, NPR's Talk of the Nation, and The Colbert Report. He is the editor of the OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Orange County, California, and a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Op/Ed pages.  

Changes in Tucson Meet Yourself Operating Structure Strengthen the Organization's MissionStrategic

TMY LogoTaking at face value the advice of Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' director Michael Kaiser to arts organizations (see here and here) during the recent recession to invest more in art programs exactly when everything else dries up, in 2010 Tucson Meet Yourself decided to grow itself out of the crisis of diminished support from the City of Tucson.

With municipal funds representing 25% of a small production budget of roughly $60,000 completely gone, TMY faced the dilemma of shrinking down to extinction or do as Kaiser says: opting to create a bigger vision that could infuse new energy, income, and resources into the organization.

If you have been paying attention, you already know that the changes TMY undertook were huge. Here are just a few of the more visible changes that have taken place over the last two festivals (2010 and 2011):
  • The festival footprint doubled in size to encompass 60 acres of downtown Tucson;
  • The number of folk artist demonstrators grew close to 100, including specially designated Yaqui and Tohono O'odham pavilions;
  • For the first time in the festival's history, a museum-quality outdoors exhibit ("My Ranching Life") was presented;
  • A new festival magazine containing scholarly essays and in-depth reports about festival participants was published twice;
  • More interpretative/curatorial signage was integrated throughout the festival;
  • A new Storytelling Stage was added;
  • A new stage dedicated solely to African-American musical traditions was added;
  • A new "Smart Choice" program for food vendors who wished to learn about offering healthier food choices and portions was offered;
  • More than 5,000 TUSD students were taught in advance of the festival the "Move Your Body" dance and invited to perform in the largest community "flash dance" in Arizona's history.
Tucson Meet Yourself Attendees
After going at full throttle with these changes for two years, at the conclusion of the 2011 festival our Board of Directors decided to pull back and assess what was accomplished and where we were headed. After talking to dozens of stakeholders and weighting carefully what we do best, what we want to do more and less of, and the best way to propel TMY to become a year-round folklife organization and not just a single-event producer (even if that single "event" brings together 100,000 people!), the Board of Directors decided to split the executive leadership of TMY into two distinct roles.
Folklorico Dancers

In partnership with the University of Arizona's Southwest Center, folklorist and anthropologist Dr. Maribel Alvarez was named Director of Programs. In this position, she will be responsible for executing all programmatic, fund development, and financial oversight of TMY in tandem with the organization's mission. This is a return, in some ways, to the way that TMY was founded and run for close to 25 years, when folklorist and noted author Big Jim Griffith ran the festival out of the Southwest Folklore Center at the UA.

There are some excellent precedents around the country of nonprofit organizations in partnership with universities (see for example Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi, Oxford and Arte Publico Press at the University of Houston). There is growing interest among academic institutions to connect deeper with communities and for scholars to engage in more dynamic forms of public engagement. Another added benefit is that TMY is just not like any other festival: it is a folklife festival and that implies that a great deal of education, and behind-the-scene research underpins the "presentations" that most people see. At TMY, you don't just get any commercial chicken satay, you get the satay prepared by Thai Buddhist monks and their temple members. In other words, intentional situations of  cultural exchange are staged with great care.

At the same time that Maribel was appointed to become the lead steward of the folklife mission of TMY, the Board re-named Mia Hansen's position (formerly Executive Director) to Production Director, and charged her with overseeing all logistical, advocacy, and networking relationships essential to the continued viability and excellence of TMY as a major downtown Tucson event and partner. Mia is a logistics wizard and experienced producer of dance and music events who already has improved and upgraded significantly all the technical behind-the-scenes and experiential aspects of the festival (sound, lighting, paths, signage, ATMs, drinks, maps, etc.). With Mia's added focus on these areas, we expect to see a much improved on-the-ground festival experience for our audiences.

But, as important as the festival is and has been for close to four decades, one of the most important charges the Board has given Maribel in her new role is to begin the process of transforming TMY from a folklife festival to a folklife organization with a variety of programs that educate the public and document in as rich ethnographic detail as possible the artfulness with which folks live their lives in this part of the world.

Reflecting on the recent changes, Maribel said recently:

"Let's face it: a festival is a very particular type of event. One that lends itself well to presentations and therefore to the most visible aspects of cultural identity, sometimes the most expected or even stereotypical aspects. That does not mean that festivals are not important tools for cultural exchange; of course they are. But it also means that many vital aspects of cultural and folk communities -the ones that are not so easy to present in short intervals outdoors---go un-recorded and un-noticed. It is often in the quiet, behind-the-scenes work of cultures, in their own contexts away from the public eye, where we find the most intriguing and enduring material of cultural sovereignty." 
Esperanza's Hands: Mesquite Tortillas and Flavors without BordersEsperanza

Have you ever tasted a tortilla made with mesquite flour (in Spanish péchita)? The taste is not something you will soon forget: sweet, nutty, aromatic. Melt some queso cocido Sonorense (Sonoran cheese) inside a folded mesquite tortilla, throw in a few drops of chiltepin chile home-made salsa, and you will know exactly what the Sonoran desert tastes like ---physically and tangible in every bite, the phrase "sense of place" will make sense to you for the first time.

As it turns out, the taste of this place has gotten into lots of different kinds of foods that grow in the region ---one only needs to dare step out a bit and try the many possibilities that await the senses.


Desert Terroir Cover  

This is the argument that world renown ethnobotanist, author, and internationally celebrated storyteller Gary Paul Nabhan makes in his latest book "Desert Terroir: Exploring the Unique Flavors and Sundry Places of the Borderlands" (University of Texas Press, 2012).

"Just why do the herbs of a desert landscape seem so aromatic...," he asks when he tells the story of foraging oregano with the Seri people of Sonora. "I needed questions like these to force me out into the field, and out of my blindered way of seeing and smelling the world," he says.  


Fortunately, there are lots of great resources to help anyone who wishes to embark on this kind of exploration. To name just two: the store and classes offered by Native Seeds/SEARCH are brimming with information. A recent, accessible and very helpful book to help you get started is Carolyn Niethammer's  Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants (University of Arizona Press, 2011).

One of the most endearing stories Gary tells in Desert Terroir is about how he met Esperanza Ar
évalo when he lived years ago in La Abra valley (west of Tucson towards Ajo, near Sandario Road). Esperanza and her father were selling Sonoran wheat flour tortillas made by Esperanza's mother at a roadside stand. Over time, she and Gary developed a friendship. One day, after returning from a trip to Sonora, Gary thought of giving Esperanza an assignment: he handed her a sack of local mesquite flour and asked her to make him some tortillas. Hesitant, Esperanza said she'd give it a try. And trial and error indeed it became.




"They first came out brittle, and then like cardboard, so I kept on switching the mixture of flours, and then the kinds of oil 'till I got it right," she is quoted saying to Gary.

When she lost her job after 9/11, Esperanza decided to formalize her own tortilla-making business. Today, she is the owner of  Tortilleria Arevalo, where she sells mesquite tortillas, cookies, and pancake mix 

at farmer's markets and grocery and health stores all over the Southwest. The health benefits of mesquite ---how they are one of the healthiest foods that people suffering from diabetes could eat---was one of the great attractions that mesquite had for Esperanza.


Food Wagon at TMY 

Esperanza and Gary have been part of Tucson Meet Yourself for several years now. In 2011, she offered tastings and sold her mesquite products at the festival in conjunction with the University of Arizona's foodways project "Sabores Sin Fronteras/Flavors Without Borders," an alliance of farmers, ranchers, food educators, chefs, authors, and researchers co-founded and co-directed by Gary Nabhan and Maribel Alvarez in 2009.


Esperanza set her mesquite flour tent next to the hugely popular and impressive Heritage Food Wagon, a traveling exhibit and educational platform that Sabores commissioned from local artists/builders Cade Hayes and Jesus Robles through a grant fro Arizona Humanities Council. (By the way, the wood used for the wagon is mesquite recycled from the cutting of trees during the expansion of I-10). Graphic designer Suzanne Jameson prepared the educational labels developed around the theme of "Taco Diplomacy"---an interactive component which engaged thousands of people with the question "what is a taco?" as a way of sparking conversations about cross-border food interdependence, heritage crops, and inventive foodways and regional identity.


Mesquite Tortilla 

The fact that mesquite trees are so common in every Tucson neighborhood has been a motivating factor behind the efforts of another great local organization, Desert Harvesters, to "promote, celebrate, and enhance local food security and production by encouraging the planting of indigenous, food-bearing shade trees (such as the Velvet mesquite or Prosopis velutina) in water-harvesting earthworks, and then educating the public on how to harvest and process the bounty.

Desert Harvesters has gathered the best information available 

about all the various uses of mesquite (which of course, for many people also include the aromatic wood used for grilling meats). In 2003, they were able to purchase a Meadows Mills #5  hammermill. The mill is able to quickly grind mesquite pods into flour, and conveniently provide people with a fresh and nutritious local food product. They have even put the mill on a trailer so it can travel to various milling events that they organize around southern Arizona.


Esperanza's Hands  

In recalling the story of how Esperanza --one wonderful local cook ---taught him lessons about place, resiliency, and stewardship of the land, Gary meditates in his book about a question that has driven him all over the world in search of answers: "how does the taste of a place get into the food we eat?"  


His answer (aptly captured in a stunning illustration by Tucson artist Paul Mirocha) is an homage to the hands of all cooks who don't ever give up on the quest to serve tradition and community in every plate. He says: "Whenever I try to answer that question, or whenever I take a bite of one of the golden-colored tortillas I keep in our kitchen, I close my eyes and search for the image of Esperanza's hands that is engraved into my brain cells."


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