|Folklore collectors have often observed that folklore seems to come in clusters. In other words, a family who knows a lot of traditional songs might well express their traditions through other media, such as stories, crafts, foodways, or the like. By the same token, if one sees one piece of front yard or boundary sculpture, there may well be more in the neighborhood. These photos of what I call "boundary art" were taken over a stretch of 1 1/3 miles of road on Tucson's rural southwest side.
"Boundary art" is the term some folklorists use for art that people install in the interface between their private property and public space. Yard art exists within the yard; boundary art is on the property line, or just inside or outside that line. Yard art seems to be aimed at residents but visible to passers-by; boundary art is more for folks on the street. Examples of boundary art would include mailbox supports, decorated fences and gates, and the like.
This collection is an example of what is often called "windshield ethnography" -- I did a slow drive-by, photographed what I saw, noted its location, and drove on. Were I to find out more about the objects, I'd need to stop and do interviews. But this superficial technique is perfect for getting the big picture of what's there.
These seven photos represent what I consider to be the most interesting of the pieces of boundary art within my chosen stretch of road.
Each sculpture is creative and fun to look at, to be sure. Beyond that, each piece seems to reveal something about the person who lives in the property - an enjoyment for motor cycle riding, for example, or an interest in the history, natural and human, of this part of Arizona. One piece seems to stand out from the rest: the gate with the cut-out metal scene of Mission San Xavier del Bac. In its detail, its inclusive scope, and its use of contrasting white and brown surfaces, it appears to belong in a whole different category from the others.
So here we have seven cases in which someone has taken mostly recycled objects to make a statement about who they are and where they live. Or taken in another way, seven statements of an individual's connectedness to activities, to a way of life, and to a place. Folk art, to put it bluntly.
To hear a sound recording of Big Jim Griffith talking about rural Arizona boundary art as well as several other aspects of regional folklore, go to
|Writing Folklife: From Personal to Public Stories
A conversation between TMY Program Director Maribel Alvarez and Folklore Field School Writing Instructor Regina Kelly
Note: Interest in the Folklore Field School has been large and enthusiastic. Thank You. The slots for this first session are almost filled to capacity; still, there may be some cancellations at the last minute. If you are interested in learning more or have questions about the curriculum or any other aspect, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The original announcement about the Folklore Field School can be read here.
MA: Regina, you pioneered an award-winning writing project for young people when you started Voices, now the TMY Field School is geared toward adults: what do you think is the hardest thing to teach anyone, of any age, about writing?
|Regina Kelly |
RK: I think one of the hardest things to teach about writing is that it's not one grand act. It's a series of acts over time. Part of your job as a writing teacher -- the way I see it -- is to really take writing off this pedestal where people put it. I mean idealizations of writing like: only those with "genius" can really do it or should really do it, or this idea that the whole paper or article or essay or chapter or book should just somehow come pouring out of you all done, all brilliant, or just forget it. That's nonsense, of course, but it's how so many of us shut ourselves up, or down. And so, as a teacher, I try to unsettle a lot of that fear and perfectionism that goes on between writers and their writing.
MA: What kinds of techniques do you use to accomplish this?
RK: I try to make writing into a modest matter, an every day matter. I encourage myself when I'm writing -- and my students when they're blocked -- to say to themselves: I'm just going to take notes here. And then, in the classroom workshop, we look at those notes together, we ask questions of them. We make those notes more detailed by answering those questions. And then writing content gets deeper and longer. You can start to play, edit, shape, see where the work really interests and excites you. Writing is an exploration process, a process of inquiry. Real success is when you can teach your students, and yourself, to develop the ongoing habit of writing-the ongoing habit of this type of inquiry.
MA: Lots of people write about culture and cultural experiences -- fiction and non-fiction -- without the benefit of being "folklorists" or taking folklore classes necessarily; how can folklore be helpful to cultural writing? What is gained? What is the payoff?
RK: Well, I'd like to back into that question by talking about what I like about the "folklore" approach of TMY as an organization. TMY stresses this concept of "folklife," that is, what we do on an everyday basis as the enactment of cultural life. This is very connected to what I was saying about the teaching of writing -- taking it, in this case "culture," off the pedestal. Think of "folklife" as those practices you have done every day, or, perhaps, every season, of your life. What are those practices, recipes, rituals, beloved objects, for example? Which ones have you always loved? Which do you feel are misunderstood? For example, for me, I immediately think of all my mother's Virgin Marys throughout the house I grew up in, and that are still there. When I was growing up in that house in Los Angeles, and I had friends over who weren't Catholic, they'd be like: what is all this Virgin Mary stuff? They would say things like: I thought your family was Christian. And I would sit there, so confused-and angry! -- like: We are Christian -- what are you talking about?!
MA: What did you learn about writing when that happened?
RK: Well, I learned that is a great place to write from, to enter into the inquiry process I've been talking about -- because it's a place of tension, a place where I want to clarify something for others, for people outside my Irish Catholic American culture -- in this case, why Irish Catholics privilege images and art of the Blessed Mother, and how, in particular, the Blessed Mother was, and is, such an important part of my family's folklife and spiritual life. And this is what I love about the TMY approach: TMY talks a lot about "first voice" in folklore and how this is a central value at TMY. In other words, we all have cultural practices in our everyday home and family life. And we are, if you will, experts in our everyday life. And we can start to express this "expertise" by becoming more aware of these practices, which is what you have to do in order to effectively share these practices. And this is what TMY has been fostering since the early 1970s, right?
MA: But a festival is a large public event -- in some ways there's always a measure of spectacle -- how do you see this kind of personal/communal knowledge playing out in an event that attracts over 100,000 people?
RK: At the Tucson Meet Yourself Festival, people share their ethnic foods, for example. And in that process, they have to really think things through: what will we make for people to buy? And what will we say about this food, and about our ethnic group, at our booth? Again, in sharing and presenting at a public forum like the TMY Festival -- whether it's food, or the Lowrider car you worked on for five years -- people have to make choices about what they will present, and how. By giving people these opportunities over the years, TMY has fostered the development of "first voice" in the sharing of folklife at the TMY Festival. What is imagined now for the TMY Field School is to share your "first voice" take on one aspect of your folklife through documentation mediums like writing, for example, or photography. It's another place -- another series of processes -- to interact publicly with other community members as you try to express your culture, your folkways, to each other, and, in this process, not only articulate it better, but start to understand it better.
MA: We certainly hope so; it looks from the response we have received so far that we have struck the nerve of a real need and desire out there.
RK: And, again, it's not over after one class, or after you finish one piece of writing. And that's what I would say to people who might not be able to come to this first series of classes of the TMY Field School: we are starting a community here. That's what I'm hoping anyway. Classes will be ongoing, in other words; opportunities will be ongoing to participate, to jump in, to start your process of inquiry and sharing and exploring your folklife, your culture. God knows that here in Arizona, we sure have a lot to do in appreciating each other's cultures, and histories, and beliefs. I think that even though I said, before, that writing is a modest process, that doesn't mean I don't think it has power. It does. Yesterday, at a UA luncheon, I heard a speaker talk about someone's refrigerator magnet. It said: "Arizona. It's a dry hate." And then the speaker said: "But that's because there's so little humility." It got a laugh, for sure. But let's be honest: we live in a place -- Arizona -- where there is so much political tension, and so much of this tension is created by setting cultures, ethnicities, races against each other. I kept thinking about that thing the speaker said -- "But that's because there is so little humility." I think it takes humility to start asking questions about your everyday cultural practices, your everyday folklife. And I think it takes humility to listen to others try to explain their everyday cultural practices, and how these practices are shaped by history, families, neighborhoods-political conflicts, even.
MA: It's curious you say this; when you look at images of Tucson Meet Yourself in the early days, which are in the archives of Special Collections at the UA Library, you see something astonishing: Whites, Mexicans, Chicanos, Asians, African-Americans, and Native Americans claiming downtown Tucson for themselves, wearing sandals and bell bottom pants, eating the foods of people that many didn't think were "sanitized" enough for their taste, you know.... immigrants, laborers, home cooks. RK: Yes, I hear you: it takes a lot of humility -- and hope -- to do what TMY did in Tucson back in the 1970s by saying, basically, let's try to bring Tucsonans together to "meet" each other over one weekend of sharing food, dance, music. And this makes me think, too, about the acronym "TMY": Tucson Meet Yourself. There's the public level of doing that, and then there's the individual level of doing that. I think writing is great for developing that individual level -- and ultimately connecting it to the public level in the process of research, inquiry, and, hopefully, publishing. But what I want to bring together here is this nexus of the "individual" and "culture." This is what excites me about the TMY Field School -- we're going to explore our cultures individually, yes. We are going to struggle with where these practices came from, and what they mean to us locally -- in our neighborhoods, for example, in our families. But we are going to be doing this together, too. Because teachers will be asking questions of the work, and students will be asking each other questions about the work. Believe me, I ran Voices for thirteen years-this is not always easy. But it's much better than taking cultural potshots at each other-or stealing books from each other as a way of saying, THAT book is bad for you and your education. We are doing such painful things to each other in Arizona.
Voices Magazine in Process
MA: It's like, would the "real" Arizona please stand up...against all this hostility and nonsense, right?
RK: For me, the TMY organization and its TMY Festival, and now its TMY Field School, represent local places where we can humbly do things differently, places where can we approach our own stories and each other's stories with absolute respect. When people ask me what the biggest lesson was I took from Voices, one word comes to me: Respect. I learned this in 1997 in the project that led to Voices' creation, a summer project with teenagers from Tucson's Westside barrios. I learned that people don't want pity when they have been "Othered" -- when you are on the wrong side of pity, you are just on the wrong side of arrogant power, once again. What people want, what they crave, is Respect. And respect can be created from stories: from understanding yourself, and that self in relation to your culture, and then expressing that in powerful, specific detail. That's what I learned, and that's what I want to keep sharing.
Regina Kelly is the founding Executive Director of Voices: Community Stories Past and Present here in Tucson, Arizona. From 1998 through 2008, Kelly oversaw interdisciplinary storytelling programs in which hundreds of low-income youth created personal and community stories using the tools of literary journalism, the personal essay, oral history, poetry, photography, digital storytelling, and radio features. Five award-winning publications have resulted from this work including a community history of mid-twentieth-century downtown Tucson (Snapped on the Street), a bilingual oral history of the Connie Chambers and La Reforma public housing projects (Don't Look at Me Different/No Me Veas Diferete), and several issues of the magazine that was the result of VOICES' flagship after school program, 110º -- Tucson's Youth Tell Tucson's Stories. Kelly has received several awards including the 2004 International Reading Association State of Arizona award for excellence in promoting literacy, the 2003 Bicentennial Medalist Award from Williams College, and the 1999 Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's "Keeper of the Desert Treasure." She was a national finalist for the Ford Foundation's "Leadership for a Changing World" award in 2004. She is currently working at the Gender and Women's Studies Department at the University of Arizona and pursuing her Ph.D. in the English Department's Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English program.
Food Metaphors in USA English
We thank folklorists Paddy Bowman and Amanda Dargan of The National Network for Folk Arts in Education
for highlighting the connections between food and the metaphors in our speech in a 2010 article in their newsletter C.A.R.T.S. (Cultural Arts Resources for Teachers and Students).
The original material came from an article by folklorist Michael Owen Jones,"Food Choice, Symbolism, and Identity: Bread-and-Butter Issues for Folkloristics and Nutrition Studies" Journal of American Folklore
, Vol. 120, no. 476.
Enjoy these tasty morsels of folk speech:
Bell peppers, chile de arbol, and Habanero chiles at Food City Supermarket in Tucson, AZ
- We feed on celebrity news...
- We hunger for better days...
- We don't like it when someone cannibalizes something for their own agenda....
- We like to spice things up...
- We are leery of people who sugar-coat things....
- We prefer to hash things out among family members....
- When we are interested in something we like to sink our teeth into the details....
- We find politicians' promises hard to swallow....
- We feel that some graphic descriptions of war in the news are hard to digest...
- We expect liars to cough up the truth when confronted....
- We tend to have a bone to pick with people who want to tell us how to live..
- We feel that when greedy people get scammed they get their just dessert...
- We don't have spouses: we have honeys, sugar, pumpkins, cupcakes, sweetie pies, or little kumquats...
|Tomato-faced or not, there's nothing more delicious than a freshly-picked tomato from the garden. To learn more about community gardens in Tucson, go here.|
- We know people who are: hams, nuts, tomato faced, peaches and cream color, strawberry blond....who have cauliflower ears, potato-masher noses......who pig out when not dogging like a pea-brained turkey...
- We know that: you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar; you reap what you sow; you cast your bread upon the waters and it will return to you thousand fold; that you can't have your cake and eat it too; that half a loaf is better than none; that man does not live by bread alone; that variety is the spice of life; that too many cooks spoil the broth; that a watched pot never boils; that you go out of the frying pan and into the fire; that you are what you eat; that one man's meat is another man's poison; and that an apple a day keeps the doctor away...
|Amy Valdés Schwemm of Mano y Metate Moles in Tucson, AZ demonstrates how to clean a cactus pad (nopal) |
at the TMY Festival in 2008.
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