A local annual tradition kicked off Oct. 1 with new virtual and socially distanced in-person formats. This year’s Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival has been “reframed” to safely serve the community without losing the element of entertainment.
The festival, which is normally held for three days, is now occurring for the whole month of October due to the pandemic, according to Kimi Eisele, the communications manager for the Southwest Folklife Alliance.
“We've moved like 80% of the festival online. So instead of wandering, you know, downtown streets and Jácome Plaza, you will navigate our website and you'll see and hear conversations and demonstrations and performances from your favorite artists," Eisele said. "In some ways there's like an intimacy that will happen that can't really happen at the festival that has 120,000 people."
Tucson Meet Yourself is hosted by the Southwest Folklife Alliance, a nonprofit organization housed in the University of Arizona’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, according to the Southwest Folklife Alliance’s website.
Initially founded by Dr. James “Big Jim” Griffith in 1974, Tucson Meet Yourself strives to create a sense of community that honors various cultures, traditions and diversity in the Tucson area, according to Tucson Meet Yourself’s website.
Since its beginnings in 1974, Tucson Meet Yourself has grown and has easily become one of the most popular events in the Tucson area.
“It's really about celebrating the rich cultural heritage that exists here and doing that in a way that remains true and authentic to the people who are making that culture what it is," Eisele said. "So it's not like this slick, produced outsider notion of what this place is. It's what this place is as defined by the people who live here."
This year’s virtual festival includes performances and demonstrations from local artists, dancers, cooks and musicians that represent cultures from all over the world, according to Tucson Meet Yourself’s website.
One of the annual performers includes the Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble, who perform traditional Polish dances and serve classic Polish cuisine, according to the Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble’s website.
“We perform every year and we have an army of Polish mothers and fathers that take over the booth while we do our performance," said Matthew Schmit, the Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble’s artistic director and a UA graduate student in the neuroscience department. "This year it's a bit different, but we still have that same army. We just can't get within six feet of each other."
Performances from dance groups such as the Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble can be viewed on the Tucson Meet Yourself’s website, Facebook or YouTube, according to the Tucson Meet Yourself’s website.
“It's a very innovative, new way to do it. And now we'll have this video forever. So actually, it's turning a downside because, you know, we love having the audience applauding and clapping. That's how you get the energy to perform. It turns a downside into maybe a potential benefit,” Schmit said.
Along with the virtual performances at this year’s event, patrons can also attend the Tucson Eat Yourself event each Saturday and Sunday of October from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at various locations including Mercado San Agustin, Café Santa Rosa and St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, according to the Tucson Meet Yourself website.
The food vendors represent a variety of cultures including Mexican, Tohono O’odham, Japanese, Jamaican and Egyptian, according to Tucson Meet Yourself’s website.
Eat Masri is the only food vendor at the event cooking up the fundamental Egyptian dish, koshary, also known as the national dish of Egypt, according to Eat Masri’s website.
“It's the dish that brings everyone together," said Jeremy Martin, the owner of Eat Masri. "It consists of rice and lentils and chickpeas and a vinegary tomato sauce. And then you top it off with fried crispy onions and, you know, there are different ways to eat it. You can mix it all together or you can just come in bit by bit, take off the pieces that you liked. But, you know, I’m just really excited to be able to be doing it again this year."
Tucson Meet Yourself offers locals a way to discover diverse cultures, music, art and food from across the globe over the month-long festival.
“Tucson Meet Yourself shows us the infinite forms with which we live together in this town. It's like a prism of the many, many, many cultural expressions that exist here,” Eisele said. “And so by going to the festival, whether it's in person or online, you really are meeting a form of yourself that may look, sound, smell, taste, feel very different than the one you see in the mirror every day.”
For more information visit https://tucsonmeetyourself.org.
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