At her westside flower shop, a converted white house with pink bars on the windows and doors, 70-year-old Josefina Lizárraga tells an old joke.
Two Mexican men cross paths while visiting their mother's graves on All Souls Day. One, an educated man, has a store-bought bouquet; the other, a humble peasant, has food to leave on the grave. Each of the items was selected according to the traditions of the men's families.
"When is your mother coming out to eat the food?" the wealthy man asks the peasant, poking fun.
The humble peasant glances at him and then his bouquet. "When yours comes out to smell her flowers," the peasant responds.
To Lizárraga, it's an anecdote that sums up the differences we have—even if we come from similar backgrounds or ethnicities.
Lizárraga knows that her culture is diverse and that, to many, it can seem strange. Originally from Nayarit, Mexico, she has been a florist in Tucson for 44 years. For 25 of those years, she has taught Tucsonans how to make paper flowers at Tucson Meet Yourself.
She teaches people how to make a wide variety of flowers. The children love making the ones out of toilet paper. It's just funny to them, she says. She prefers making marigolds, because they are commonly used in the celebrations of All Souls Day. She sees the fast-approaching holiday, Nov. 2, as a way to educate people about her culture.
In her shop, flowers made from paper sit alongside real, fresh flowers. She picks up the different types and explains that every group has different ways of making them. She shows off a wreath she is working on. The skulls mixed in with the orange and white paper flowers already have the names of dead relatives scrawled across the foreheads.
"In Mexico, we are too comfortable with death," Lizárraga says. "We are always preparing for it."
When it comes to the diversity of Tucson, though, Mexican culture is just one of many, many different traditions.
Mia Hansen, president of the Cultural Exchange Council, which puts on Tucson Meet Yourself, says this year's event is set to be the largest and most diverse in the 36 years of its existence. Organizers have added more representative groups than ever before, and each is bringing along a piece of their folk lives. Though there will be plenty of music and food (so much that many Tucsonans call the event Tucson Eat Yourself), be careful: Folk life entails much more than just food and folk music.
"Low-riders for example—that's considered a folk culture," says Julie Ray, the folk-art director of the festival.
The list of demonstrations includes everything from Chinese calligraphy to aerosol art to, yes, a low-rider show.
Tucson Meet Yourself has also partnered up with the Tucson Culinary Foundation to present "Tucson After Dark: Cultural Cocktails From Around the World," at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Friday, Oct. 9, from 8 p.m. to midnight. For $35, you can sip on drinks like Singapore slings or Pimm's Cups (from England). The event is a benefit for Tucson Meet Yourself.
Tucson Meet Yourself is considered by many to be the Southwest's premier folk-life event. It's also worth noting that Tucson is one of four cities under consideration to host the National Folk Festival (which would be part of Tucson Meet Yourself) sometime in 2011-2013.
The demonstrations at Tucson Meet Yourself allow different cultures to celebrate and share. Tucson's diversity is incredible, Hansen says.
"We feel it makes Tucson a better place to live, point-blank," Hansen says about Tucson Meet Yourself. "It's an open book of who we are."
Tucson Meet Yourself takes place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday, Oct. 9, and Saturday, Oct. 10; and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 11, at downtown's El Presidio Park, Jácome Library Plaza and the Pima County Courthouse courtyard. Admission is free. For more information or to purchase tickets for Tucson After Dark, visit tucsonmeetyourself.org.