What Is Your Folklife?

Each of us stores a bountiful harvest of our own personal traditions, history and folklife. If asked about your folklife, how would you respond?

Shaping Folklife
Robert Ojeda, Ph.D.

Farming, food and family are formative in the folklife of Robert Ojeda, who was born in Peru. Robert, who joined the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona in April 2010, is Vice President of the Food Bank’s Community Food Resource Center. With his doctoral degree in adult and extension education, as well advanced studies in leadership, community development, international agriculture and rural development, Robert also has served as Civics and Citizenship Program Manager for Pima Community College Adult Education, and as Program Manager of English Language Acquisition for Adults, for Literacy Volunteers of Tucson. Robert was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, working with its Hillside Farming Program.

What can you tell us about the “folklife” of your childhood? Are there any illustrations of everyday folklife you can share?
I was born in Arequipa, a “la ciudad blanca” or white city known for a distinctive mix of indigenous and colonial architecture, made from the white sillar volcanic stone which came from the volcanos in our part of the western Andes. Like Tucson, Arequipa is a welcoming city of commonalities, where my siblings and I were able to enjoy the big city yet also experience life beyond what was urban, through my Dad’s side of the family, who were rural farmers.

Robert Ojeda

Family scrapbook photo of Robert Ojeda (second from left)
and family just before moving to the US.

My grandparents farmed in the countryside’s terraced fields, with their harvests of corn, peppers, potatoes, and I spent many summers with them. My grandfather was a storyteller who loved to recount tales of salt ponds and ancestor history through rhymes. During harvest time, as we removed the corn husks, we would sit encircled in candlelight (there was no electricity) and listen to grandfather’s stories. There always was the rhymed storytelling, folktales and traditional music for us to enjoy and learn from, during those summers on my grandparents’ farm.

My grandmother was a traditional healer, a curandera, who knew how to work with the native plants and to make special prayers for the community. I remember how she created various creams and tinctures, which she used when people came to her for help. So our native foods, music, plants and stories were really formative for me and my siblings, in terms of our folklife.

We know that among European peoples there are common customs involving the corn harvest — all with intention of preserving the spirit year round, in order that the corn be fruitful in the next season. Similar customs were observed in my culture, and described in my grandfather’s stories. Crops above all else were his inheritance and livelihood, and thus the stories about them, particularly the corn, was held in great respect. Food and the tales told depended on the season, and are part of the folklife that still interconnects all aspects of my life and that of my family.

What do you think “folklife” means to our Southern Arizona communities?
Our folklife is enriched by a diverse makeup of folks, who bring their inclusive ways of experiencing the commonplace, the everyday practices. Coming to the United States from Peru, when I was 17, I found the bilingual nature of our region’s communities welcoming, with our diverse material culture allowing me the best flavors of many worlds. Here we can experience folklife through blends of mariachi, indigenous and other traditional music. Nogales culture is just 45 minutes away, and nearby are South Tucson neighborhoods and businesses, as well as downtown experiences. Even the heat extremes of summer help sharpen the complex character of our folklife, making us resilient and unique.

Music continues to be a way I express my folklife. I’m part of Entre Peruanos. My instrument is the small Andean stringed charango, and I am joined by band members who bring together their own cultural experiences to creatively combine northern Sonoran and Latin American sounds with traditional Andean and Afro-Peruvian music. It’s another way of conveying our region’s diverse character.

Food security is an aspect of folklife too, isn’t it? How is the Community Food Bank mission part of community folklife?
The ritual of coming together around a table is a focal point of life, a critical component in setting us on a course to community. In the Community Food Resource Center of the Food Bank, we are an arm of the community that addresses the long-term solutions to hunger, supporting community organizations, schools, families, and individuals in Southern Arizona to become more food secure. We also strive to address the root causes of hunger and poverty by providing access to nutritious healthy foods, by working on the conservation of local resources, and by looking at the economic development opportunities that can be realized by building local asset knowledge, and by encouraging, investing in and training in our traditional practices. So by getting involved and investing in growing food — we find that we’re also building a process of remembering our folklife. In the not-too-distant past, families farmed in this same location we now are farming, using their traditional practices. Our job to reconnect folks to this history and to their past, helping families remember their folklife and their place in the community.

Las Milpitas farm, of the Community Food Bank

Las Milpitas farm, of the Community Food Bank

So, yes, food justice is an aspect of folklife. This process of growing your own food, learning from each other, sitting together and enjoying a meal is at the core of people connecting — understanding each other. Our seven-acre Las Milpitas de Cottonwood community farm is exactly that. Sharing space beyond healthy food, it is a place where people become neighbors, hang out and tell stories, grow their own foods, work on their gardens, and become connected in folklife. It looks to the future of folklife, as well, serving as a working demonstration of sustainability in desert food production, composting and permaculture for the greater Tucson community.

What we call folklife — It’s not something that can be completely structured. But it’s the one thing that sets us on a course for each day, gives us pleasure, a foundation and roots, and a positive vision for our lives shared.

Reaping the Benefits of Roots
Nicholas Hartmann

Through a partnership with the University of Arizona English Department and the College of Social and Behavioral Science, Nicholas Hartmann is Tucson’s Folklorist in Residence, teaching UA classes on folklore and folklife and researching folklife traditions in the region. Nic works with the new Southwest Folklife Alliance programs, and is developing opportunities for student engagement in folklife research through the College of Social and Behavioral Science. Nicholas holds a Master Degree in Folk Studies, and is finishing his dissertation for a Doctoral Degree in Folklore from Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada. His dissertation is a study of fathers of school-age children who work in offshore industries (fishing, oil and gas, military) and their performance of fatherhood through narrative, family tradition and play. His interests include foodways, personal narrative, dance and occupational folklore.

What can you tell us about the “folklife” of your childhood?
I grew up with a large extended family in Southern Indiana, which is very rich in its German heritage, and where my grandfather was the county historian. He taught me a lot about the county in which I was raised. Growing up along the Ohio River, there were always stories of floods, visitors to town, and even legends such as river pirates- some of whom were supposedly my ancestors. Between him and the rest of my family, there was a lot of folklife, ranging from family recipes to gardening methods, but there were always a lot of anecdotes and stories to be passed around. Though I didn’t realize it at time- probably because I didn’t know you could study folklore in college- it was the best upbringing for being a folklorist.

Nic Hartmann

Nic Hartmann

What else influenced your folklife?
I grew up on the border of Indiana and Kentucky, and the mix of their cultures could be seen in local life; it was nothing to see both German food and Kentucky barbecue at a family picnic. Having also lived in Estonia and Atlantic Canada, the cultures of those places have made their way into my life; the coffee culture of Nordic Europe influences my breakfasts, and Estonian potato salad is now a staple of summer parties on my mom’s side of the family. Our household is a blend of cultures; while my family has German and English roots, my wife (who is originally from Atlantic Canada) has Scottish and Acadian roots, and both of our children have French-Canadian names as a result. A lot of aspects of Acadian culture are part of our lives; the Acadian traditions of quilting, baking, cooking and thrift-store hopping are carried on here in Tucson, and we even use a bit of Franglais (English and French combined) around the house as a result. I try to embody what I study, because it helps me better explain it to others when they ask what folklife is.

When did the study of folklife become meaningful to you?
I think it was always meaningful, but it took me leaving for college, and taking a folklore course, to realize its power. I started college in 2003 at Indiana University, hoping to major in pre-medical biology and minor in humanities. My dorm was right next to the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at IU, and the department caught my attention to the point where I dropped a health class to take a world music course. I slowly learned from my professor, Dr. Mellonee Burnim, that people not only majored in folklore, but made a vocation out of it. I chose to do likewise, double majoring in folklore and anthropology. Eventually, I decided to pursue a master’s in public folklore from Western Kentucky University, as well as a doctorate in folklore from Memorial University of Newfoundland.

You are a folklorist — what does that mean, professionally?
Professionally, it means that I am a researcher, writer, and educator who is dedicated to the study and promotion of folk culture. Specifically, I trained as a public folklorist, and a public folklorist is dedicated to promoting folklife through public venues such as folklife alliances, historical societies, arts councils, museums, archives, and community organizations, among others. Some folklorists work at universities, while others are independent researchers. You also find that people wear multiple hats; some folklorists are also artists or writers, while some are community organizers or hospital liaisons. To provide my own example: in the last few years, I have taught university and secondary school students, worked as a student union organizer, digitized archival materials, and worked in community development and student engagement. In all of those areas, I’ve been a folklorist first.

What are you discovering about Tucson folklife? What is particularly meaningful?
I’m definitely looking forward to being part of Tucson Meet Yourself, but in my journeys around town, I have grown to adore the town’s architecture and food, as well as the fact that there are so many community groups here, thriving and doing amazing things. I have two major projects happening so far. First, as part of the End-of-Life Ethnographic Field School, I am going to be doing research on death and dying in Tucson’s Eastern Orthodox Christian community. Second, I have an interest in the Nordic and Baltic European communities here in Arizona, and have begun connecting with the Estonian community in Scottsdale in hopes of beginning fieldwork with their community. It’s one of SWFA’s first forays outside of Pima County, and one I am looking forward to working on.

When we were living in Kentucky, where religious identity is a major part of life, one of the first questions that people asked was where you went to church. In Tucson, hometowns seem to be a big part of identity; we have noticed that people will often ask where you came from. Because I mostly commute to campus by bike or by bus, I have a lot of time to look at the different neighborhoods of the city, and have grown interested in a lot of the architecture around the area. The folks at SWFA are also ensuring that I get a good foodways education, whether through local restaurants or markets; the simple act of grocery shopping has taught me a lot about the culture of the area.

Everyday aspects of life are full of richness, and show people the value of who they are, how they identify, and where they live. Folklife ensures that we do not take the small things in life for granted.

• Las Milpitas de Cottonwood community farm is located at 2405 S Cottonwood Ln, on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River, just south of Silverlake Road. Learn more here: http://communityfoodbank.com/las-milpitas
• Check out the Smithsonian website for more information about the field of folklife — http://www.folklife.si.edu/. The American Folklife Center page at the Library of Congress has additional information: http://www.loc.gov/folklife/.

Brewing the Bitters of Tradition

Ah, Arizona’s territorial days — an impossible combination of scarce water and lack of refrigeration (only ice blocks to cool a blazing desert). Yet in the late 1800s Tucson was an incubator for a traditional craft that required fertility, as well as refrigeration and lots of water.

The folk life and material culture surrounding the beer brewing craft have a long and interesting history in Tucson, as Ed Sipos will tell us. Past president of the A-1 Chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, Ed is author of “Brewing Arizona: A Century of Beer in the Grand Canyon State.”

Tucson Beer Drinkers

A group of beer drinkers in Tucson c.1900 (Buehmann’s Studio, Tucson).

Ed also is a grand storyteller about Tucson’s beginnings in brewing and bottling beers, recounting how these were delivered in kegs and bottles by wagon to our region’s military forts, mining camps and rowdy downtown salons. Ed was happy to share some regional beer lore with BorderLore this month:

Tucson Brew, a Chronology:

  • Brewing beer in Tucson dates back to 1864 when Alexander Levin opened the Pioneer Brewery. A number of other breweries followed with varying degrees of success and many saloons were closely tied to those breweries. Most brewers at the time catered to the military and miners who made up a large part of the population. Boredom was a big factor at times and drinking beer or other liquors was a way to help pass the time. It also made early Tucson a rough place to live.
  • By the 1890s, nearly all breweries in the territory closed due to increased competition from foreign beers being shipped in via the railroad. Local brewers found it cheaper to sell foreign brewed beer than to make and sell their own.
  • For the next 100 years, not a single brewery opened in Tucson. Then in 1988, the first microbrewery opened in the Old Pueblo called the Southwest Brewing Company.
  • Today, Tucson boasts approximately 12 craft breweries with more readying to open. Each brewery helps impart social aspects which bring people together through the common love of beer.

European influence on a desert beer heritage:

  • Most of Arizona’s early territorial brewers from the 1860s through the 1880s were of European descent with a large number descending from Germany and the state of Prussia.
  • Alexander Levin, who is well regarded as Arizona’s first brewer, was born in Prussia. He built his success in the brewing industry in Tucson. From the 1870s through 1880s, his Park Brewery became the social gathering place in Tucson by offering many amusements to the local citizens.
  • Other territorial Arizona brewers descended from European countries such as Switzerland, France, Austria, and elsewhere. They brought with them their brewing traditions.

Beer bottle

The bottle is from Alexander Levin’s Park Brewery in Tucson

Material culture of the region:

  • An avid collector of Arizona breweriana, Ed treasures a beer bottle given to him by a fellow bottle collector. At first glance, the bottle is somewhat of a mystery due to its less than displayable condition. From a historical standpoint however, it is significant. The label reads “St. Louis Lager Beer” and upon close inspection, “Park Brewery, Tucson.” To the best of Ed’s knowledge, it is the only known item of “material culture” dating back to Alexander Levin’s days as a brewer.
  • The name “St. Louis Lager Beer” reveals how strong an influence St. Louis brewers had as early as the 1880s across the nation. The name was commonly used by numerous brewers. Because of an abundance of natural ice and beneficial brewing conditions, metropolitan areas, such as St. Louis and Milwaukee, benefited greatly and became large brewing centers.
  • Today, “material culture” is still important and used by craft brewers to promote themselves via growlers, signs, key chains, bumper stickers, koozies, coasters, and other advertising media. Point of purchase advertising rose dramatically during the latter part of the 1880s as advancements in print technology improved and provided a new vehicle for businesses to promote themselves. Large St. Louis brewers such as Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and others put their stamp on whatever item they felt the consumer would see their name.

Current-day groups celebrating beer culture:

  • The Arizona Craft Brewers Guild promotes the craft brewing industry in Arizona by providing educational opportunities for brewers, distributors, and consumers. It also acts as an open forum among members and participates in local and national beer festivals. Furthermore, it informs members of legal and legislative issues that are relevant to the craft beer industry.
  • For home brewers in Tucson, there is the Tucson Homebrew Club which was founded in 1995. Similar to other homebrew clubs in the state such as the Arizona Society of Homebrewers in Mesa, and the Brewmeisters Anonymous in Phoenix, it is comprised of people with a passion for the craft and science of brewing beer. Similarly, each club periodically gathers to exchange recipes, ideas, and brewing experiences.
Barrio Brewing Co.

Exterior view of Barrio Brewing Co. in Tucson

Harvesting barley in our region:

  • Ed contacted Kurt Nolte at the Yuma County Cooperative Extension for information about malting barley. Kurt informed Ed that the malting barley is something that has been successfully grown in Yuma. For a short time, Anheuser-Busch contracted with Yuma farmers to grow barley before discontinuing the contract. The acreage of malting barley grown in Arizona however, is small in comparison to other more suitable regions.
  • Ed notes that the principal roadblock deterring Arizona brewers from using locally-grown malting barley at this time is access to a local maltster. Micro-malting is an area that is tied to the locavore movement in other areas, but Ed is unaware of any micro-maltsters in Arizona. Therefore, any malting barley harvested in this state needs to be shipped out of state for preparation, and then shipped back as malted barley at a greater expense to brewers.

Upcoming Events in Beer Folklife:

  • The Arizona Craft Brewers Guild hosts the 2014 Baja Oktoberfest on October 18 at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in Tucson.
  • For the collector, the A-1Chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America (BCCA) meets together six times per year at various locations throughout the state. Its next buy/sell/trade show will be at the Phoenix Ale Brewery in Phoenix on October 4. More information can be found at www.a-1chapter.com and at www.bcca.com
  • The A-1 Chapter will also be hosting the 2015 American Breweriana Association (ABA) Annual Meeting XXXIV in Mesa June 9-13, 2015. More information about the event and the ABA can be found at http://www.americanbreweriana.org/ and www.a-1chapter.com

Ed says this is a wonderful time to enjoy a multitude of styles of craft beer, more than any other time period in history, in part due to the boom in new breweries. In gerst monath (the Anglo-Saxon name for September also signifying barley month), may we all enjoy the folklife behind the brew.


  • Ed’s website: www.brewingarizona.com links to all region breweries, as well as to resources about Arizona beer history.

Big Melodies: Folk Anthems

Anthems rouse and inspire audiences with rich musical rhythms. According to Eric Holtan, Musical Director of the Tucson Chamber Artists (TCA), anthems define and unite cultural expressive tradition for our various communities.

For example, says Eric, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has since 1919 has been considered the official anthem of the NAACP. Often in events with significant African-American participation, it is sung immediately after the Star Spangled Banner. For Irish Americans, “Danny Boy” is regarded as their anthem, and as the most popular hymn in America, “Amazing Grace” can certainly be considered the anthem of American Christians, especially of the Protestant persuasion. “Various groups of all kinds have embraced a piece of music of special meaning to them as their anthem,” Eric explains.

Tucson Chamber Artists

Tucson Chamber Artists in October 2009 (photo by Tucson photographer Martha Lochert)

He also reminds us that this autumn marks the 200th anniversary of America’s national anthem. The words were written on September 14, 1814 by Francis Scott Key, who was inspired by America’s defense of Ft. McHenry in the War of 1812. “Even after the American camp took significant fire from British ships, the American flag, though tattered, still flew over it,” notes Eric. “The tune that he used to set the text was “To Anacreon in Heaven,” which was the official song of the Anacreontic Society in 18th century London, but had often been sung in America with different words for July 4 celebrations during Key’s time. It was not until 1931 that the U.S. officially adopted Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Previously, “Hail Columbia” and “My Country Tis of Thee” were de facto anthems. “Star Spangled Banner” is often criticized for being too difficult to sing with its melody of significant range, and the simpler “America the Beautiful” is often suggested as a replacement.”

TCA as Folk Group
TCA, the only professional chamber choir and orchestra of Southern Arizona, focuses its programming on masterworks of the Western art tradition and the diverse music of America. Concerts have included programs of African-American spirituals, Jewish music of the last 200 years, Hispanic music from the Renaissance to today, and folks songs of America’s pioneer days.

Next month, TCA plans a celebration of America’s music, and specifically music that holds special place among all Americans and various American communities defined by ethnicity, religion, and geography.
Eric notes that TCA has opened its recent three seasons with concerts of folk songs and spirituals, and the popularity of the programs has led to their continuation and evolution.

A special segment of this year’s concert traces the evolution of America’s national anthem from the 18th century tune from London to the version that we know today. The concert also explores other pieces regarded as anthems, including “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Danny Boy.”

According to Eric, TCA will step outside of the box with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” considered to be among the most influential folk anthems of the last century. Also on the program are two pieces by the “father of American music” Stephen Foster: “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Old Folks at Home,” the state songs of Kentucky and Florida, respectively. “Above all, it honors that which Americans have in common: the need for cultural expression for everyday life,” he says.

TCA will perform the “America the Beautiful” concert five times around the area:
— Friday, October 10, 3:00pm, Desert Hills Lutheran Church, Green Valley
— Friday, October 10, 7:30pm, Scottish Rite Temple, downtown Tucson
(TCA’s debut in this historic hall. This concert is in partnership with Tucson Meet Yourself
A $4 discount is offered to those who present a street car ticket from that day.)
— Saturday, October 11, 7:30pm, Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, mid-town Tucson
— Sunday, October 12, 3:00pm, Vista de la Montana Methodist Church, Catalina
— Sunday, October 12, 7:30pm, Episcopal Church of St. Matthew, east Tucson
Tickets are $40 premium seating, $25 general seating, and $5 for students (with id), and are available by calling 401.2651 or visiting www.TucsonChamberArtists.org