Today kicks off Arizona’s Centennial Week, the Arizona Territory became the State of Arizona on February 14, 1912. This week A Traveler’s Library will take a look at Arizona from several different angles, starting with folk customs.
Book: A Border Runs Through It, Journeys in Regional History and Folklore (NEW 2011) by Jim Griffith [A Top Pick Selection in the Best Books of the Southwest 2011]
Jim Griffith, an expert in the culture and folklore of the pimeria alta has served as my guru on a variety of subjects regarding my adopted state, including crafts, language and foods. One of the first things I learned from reading and listening to “Big Jim” and other historians of Arizona is that I live in what the 16th to 18th century Spanish called this region–northern Pima land. They extended their southern territory in today’s Mexico into what is now northern Sonora Mexico and Southern Arizona. The Spanish dubbed the native people of those lands the Pima. Today these natives have reclaimed their own name–Tohono O’odham, which means The Desert People.
A Border Runs Through It starts with tidbits like that about place names. Where did that unique word “Tucson” come from? My own question is why so many otherwise savvy people from news reporters to on-line writers insist on blending it with a region of Italy and spelling it Tuscon? Not right, folks–but understandable, I guess. If we had stuck with the original pronunciation, Tuk-son’, Easterners would not be so confused.
And what does the name Arizona mean? Despite pop linguistical analysis, it is not “arid zone,” instead it comes from a perhaps surprising source–Basque. Yep! Names reveal interesting facts. Many of the names we think of as Spanish are actually Basque since many of the soldiers who explored and guarded the Spanish empire in the west were Basques and their descendants still populate these areas.
Griffith takes us to “time machines” like Mission San Xavier del Bac, just south of Tucson. Built in 1797 on a site first visited by Father Kino in 1692, the recently restored church is still an active parish. Father Kino left behind a string of missions in pimeria alta, and Griffith explains how we can remember Kino every time we eat beef wrapped in a flour tortilla, since he introduced cattle and wheat to the Pimas.
But Griffith does not just talk about “Old stuff”. He talks about the Baroque structure of San Xavier, the designs of low rider cars and street murals and grafitti in the same sentence. If people do it, did it, or talk about somebody doing it–Griffith is interested and finds a way to interest us.
Despite the fact that Griffith headed the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona for forty years, and is recognized as an expert in his subject, his books are anything but tedious scholarly tomes. In fact, they are personal, humorous and downright folksy–as befits his subject matter. Anyone moving to Southern Arizona should have some of Griffith’s books on his shelf. A Border Runs Through It is a concise summary of the high points of a lifetime’s work, and required reading for any resident who wants to understand his/her homeland.
As for travelers–A Border Runs Through It will suggest numerous places to visit and road trips that definitely get you off the beaten track.
- Mission San Xavier del Bac
- El Tiradito Wishing Shrine
- A Yaqui Easter Celebration
- Barrios and Street Art
- Pilgrimages in Sonora
- Picking Saguaro Fruits
- And many more
If you would like an overview of the entire state, be sure to check out another of the Best Books of the Southwest, Jim Turner’s Arizona: A Celebration of the Grand Canyon State. And for kids, we already reviewed Way Out West and Wacky, which has been chosen as an “Arizona Reads” book for kids for the next year.
Stay tuned this week for more about Arizona–a Valentine’s story, a memoir of a school ma’rm, a photo of surprising desert, and a novel view of the Navajo Reservation.
If you are from the U.S., what did your state do for its centennial? (Only Hawaii and Alaska are younger than Arizona and New Mexico). Were there books published to help us know your state?
(Photographs on this article are all my own, and I appreciate your respecting my copyright. Please do not reuse, without my permission.)