October in Tucson means it’s time for one of the most beloved—not to mention tasty—events of the year: the Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival. Every year, Tucson Meet Yourself focuses on bringing the community together through folklife traditions, such as cultural dances, art, music and food.
Celebrating its 46th year, the anticipated festival is extending its focus outside Tucson for the first time. This year, the festival will have a Californian spotlight where traditional folk artists and performers will showcase their art inspired by our neighboring state.
“We are acknowledging that California is a different region, but we have a lot of overlapping history and heritage,” said Kimi Eisele, communications manager for Tucson Meet Yourself.
Acclaimed food critic and writer from The Los Angeles Times, Gustavo Arellano, will give a talk on the phenomenon that is Sonoran Food in Los Angeles, why it only emerged in the last few years and its impact since.
Additionally, mother and daughter folk artists from East Los Angeles, Ofelia Esparza and Rosanna Esparza Ahrens, will build a community altar where festival-goers can pay homage to their loved ones who have passed. Participants can bring in photographs and make a copy on-site to add to the altar. Altar makers will be creating frames and paper flowers to include with the photographs.
But this is not to say this year’s Tucson Meet Yourself won’t welcome familiar faces. According to Eisele, there will be many of the same food vendors that have been with the festival for several years and have represented a variety of dishes from across the globe.
This year, there will be a new vegan sandwich in town. Fat Mama is a business made up of street food from Myanmar, and was created by four women who happened to be childhood best friends. Their main dish is the Fat Mama Gangster Sandwich, which resembles a crepe, but instead of sweet fillings, is stuffed with cabbage, chickpeas, tomatoes, green chili and anything else you please.
“Vendors work so hard and a lot of them are mom and pop businesses, church ladies, or people who come together because they are keeping their culture alive and they really want to share it with the rest,” Eisele said.
Tucson Meet Yourself has never been overtly political, and it never will, said Eisele. To many, it can simply be a way of empathizing with other cultures.
“Listening to music, eating foods from other cultures, what does that do to our ability to share space, empathize or see ourselves in someone else?” said Eisele, who added that Tucson Meet Yourself “may be the first step in crossing the borders that we create between cultures.”
The idea of the festival was first introduced by University of Arizona folklorist and anthropologist James Griffith. It has been home to downtown Tucson since 1974. The festival occupies four blocks, covering Jacome Plaza, Pennington Street, Church Avenue, and Stone Avenue.
The three-day festival is for people of all ages to enjoy free of charge. For more information visit the tucsonmeetyourself.org, where you can find a festival map, times and locations for performances, and the best methods for transportation and parking.
“We invite people to come with generosity,” Eisele said. “Like our tagline says, come for the food, stay for the culture.”
Tucson Meet Yourself takes place Friday, Oct. 11 through Sunday, Oct. 13 from 11 a.m. to 10 pm. Friday and Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, at 101 N. Stone Ave. Admission is free.
Vianney Cardenas is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.