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BorderLore, September 2016 
Unsung Heroes,  
Hand-Spun Universe
Everyday people are the maestros who awaken our comfort in the familiar at TMY

It's the nature of "ordinary" folklife -- to sit quietly, unassuming -- to happen naturally, but not be orchestrated as a happening. Folklife intends to linger around us, imperceptibly influencing who we are in most simple, beautiful ways.
 
Boom. One October weekend, folklife stretches its limbs as Tucson Meet Yourself (TMY), joyfully contradicting its inconspicuous nature by bursting forth as a spontaneous-yet-curated, democratic-yet-radical, temporary universe. Booths, performance stages, food carts, stadium kitchen, pavilions and demonstration tables become the bones of this pop-up place, bombarding our senses, inviting us to dance, taste the fry bread, craft an origami, beat a drum.

We need architects and narrators to lead us through all this unpretentious but masterful folklife. TMY tradition bearers answer the call -- Cowboys, bootmakers, native dancers, monk-cooks and musicians, who generously demonstrate their traditions in ritual old ways that are valuable, charming and timeless.

The playfulness and knowledge shared all work together into a vital American experience. So says the National Endowment for the Arts, in its 2010 Live From Your Neighborhood report, that researched the pervasive and critical role of outdoor arts convening in American culture. The report identifies the temporary transformation of public spaces that -- like TMY -- become organic communities of creativity and citizenship, thanks to the simple but powerful voices of the tradition bearers who help us gain an international, diverse orientation. While the reported numbers of Americans attending these events are impressive, most important are the findings on attendee interest in interactivity and encounters with "...artists and art  forms in an open  space that  reinforce choice, experimentation, and free movement."   
 
With so many festivals for devotions, diversions, entertainment and eating -- Let us not make a mistake about what is different about TMY.  As TMY executive director and folklorist Dr. Maribel Alvarez suggests:"TMY presents a contradiction -- the presentation of authentic demonstration of what has been passed down over generations as accurately and as respectfully as possible... with the freedom of cultural encounters in all the messiness and enthusiasm of life celebrations meant to be touched, and accessible."
 
Remembering that folk life is passed on from person to person -- TMY this year will have more than 300 artists ready to lead attendees into an exploration of the beautiful differences that connect us. And this BorderLore wants to help you experience the TMY tactile treat, by introducing several tradition bearers ready to help you respond to the call: Tucson, meet yourself:
The decorative rendering of threads is a distinguished Laotian tradition, and for more than 26 years at TMY, Bonyang Michaels has demonstrated the art of weaving magic into her cottons and silk. Tie the thread, glide the shuttle: Bonyang's old loom, carefully transported each year to TMY, has a vernacular language itself. Let Bonyang explain her affinity for traditional tools and materials, as well as the TMY experience, here.
 
BBQ smoke overlays with aromas of chiles and curries -- Food is our most human form of art, respect and love.  No doubt TMY helps us understand and enjoy the more symbolic and tasty dimensions of our local foodways. The sensations of flavors, as well as stories by cooks and farmers, become such key ingredients of culture.

Click here to meet TMY traditional foods vendor Guadalupe Pulido of Los Chiquilines Aguas Frescas, who has brought the flavors of this fresh street food tradition to TMY 26 years. Meet Cynthia Smith of Bajo Tierra Kitchen and TMY City of Gastronomy Kitchen Stadium here, as she compels us to learn more about the fermentation process and the magic it creates with local ingredients, in the context of sustainability, terrific taste and food preservation.  
Music is a most universal language, embedded in our everyday aesthetic. The carefully curated performances found on TMY stages help us experience cultural geography and the traditional instruments of many regions -- all performed by our neighbors.  Odaiko Sonora is one such neighbor, who stages an Obon communal dance at TMY this year, in partnership with So AZ Japanese Cultural Coalition. Explaining its storytelling, Odaiko Sonora speaks with BorderLore, here
 
Booths full of natural artfulness and information dot the TMY route.  Let's meet one Sonoran herbalist and storyteller of native plant traditions who is part of this year's carefully edited Community Marketplace: John Slattery, here.   



Read this month's collection of resources and calendar highlights here.
End Notes... 
 
Authentic and un-retouched: This is TMY at its heart. It's a detective story with all the happy subplots entangling us. Tradition bearers are the narrators who allow us to be explorers and to wander through a sticky web of cultures.

What always is most interesting is how these heroic characters manage to ultimately return to the TMY main plot -- the power of culture to interconnect us and build our sense of belonging.

Dr. Cliff Murphy, 2014 TMY visiting folklorist (and now the Folk and Traditional Arts Director for the National Endowment for the Arts), observed in 2014 that there is an erosion of cultural equity in the country -- a pressure of a national culture hostile to independent styles. So... Is this world of folklife and its unique characters in danger of being underappreciated?

Enduring traditions are rarities to be cherished. Let us stand up for those who have carried on their cultural tradition often in the face of great odds.  In the richly textured experience of TMY, let us celebrate what captures chaotic purpose, beautifully.

 "Big Jim says a folklife festival must be first and foremost an educational experience, but that such education requires at times that it be offered with a large sugar coating of fun and pleasure... a whole lot of knowledge-sharing wrapped in wonderful, shiny adornment."
 Dr. Maribel Alvarez, The Countdown to Tradition, September 2012  

"Folklorists, anthropologists and others...who try to gain an understanding of culture from the 'inside' will tell you that each culture has its own standards of beauty...to postulate a universal aesthetic would seem to imply that there are whole societies who 'got it wrong,' or who are striving after false ideals. My experience as a folklorist has rubbed my nose over and over again in the fact that there are many concepts of beauty, some mutually contradictory."

Dr. Jim Griffith, Tucson Meet Yourself Festival Magazine, 2012, page 3

"It's not just about hearing the mariachi, it's about seeing architecture, the food you're eating, the whole experience. The festival is so layered. It is a chance to hear and listen to music that I would never have listened to otherwise...You can expose yourself to many different kinds of art.... All kinds of creativity are released when people see these artistic activities..."

"Yes, said Tia Nicolasa, you have the right to help fire your own pottery.

That was how Mara learned to build a pottery fire and how to sprinkle corn meal and to say a prayer before she lighted the cedar-bark kindling.
It started as part of playing, but she was learning, too."

Mara the Potter of San Ildefonso, by Alice Marriott, page 26

"The twisting and weaving of nature's materials, grasses, twigs, rushes and vines  
into useful and beautiful forms seems almost instinctive in man.
Perhaps it came to him as the nest-weaving instinct comes to birds,
for at first he used it as they do, in the building of his house."
 
2016, Southwest Folklife Alliance. All rights reserved. BorderLore is the e-news magazine of Southwest Folklife Alliance. The study and documentation of folklife involves the accurate representation of people's viewpoints in their own terms; quotes and opinions expressed in interviews with individual tradition bearers do not necessarily reflect the sentiments and opinions of BorderLore editors, the Southwest Folklife Alliance or any specific person or entity at the University of Arizona. 
Managing Editor:   Monica Surfaro-Spigelman
Contributing Writer: Kimi Eisele 

Thank you for reading this newsletter. We welcome your feedback, commentary and any suggestions or ideas. Write to us at:  swfolklife@gmail.com

Previous issues of BorderLore Newsletter are archived  here and here.