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Not Just the Food 

Tucson Meet Yourself, Oct. 11 - 13

First of all, do we really need to convince you to head down to Tucson Meet Yourself this weekend? Seeing as it runs for three days, it would be appear to be statistically impossible that anyone actually in Tucson over the 11th through the 13rd couldn't find time to head downtown for the 40th year of the celebration of art, culture and, of course, food. But, let's pretend for a moment that this article is written for someone who either just moved to town or is visiting for the weekend. Certainly there are Tucsonans who don't make the event part of their yearly routine (the festival has averaged around 100,000 attendees in recent years, so I guess quite a few of our friends and neighbors aren't), but those people are choosing to live their lives in joyless ways that are difficult to understand.

Yes, there's food. Lots and lots of delicious food from around the world, providing an opportunity for a number of local cultural groups to raise money for the rest of the year and earning the "Tucson Eat Yourself" nickname. No judgment if that's all you get out of the festival, but just keep in mind that there's a lot more to it than just giving your stomach a tour of the world.

In reality, the food is just a part of the opportunity that Tucson Meet Yourself provides Southern Arizona — a chance to both celebrate and learn more about the strange and wonderful collection of people that make up our corner of the desert. Whether that's clothing, music, dance, crafts, storytelling or just having a conversation with someone new, the experience of TMY is educational without the drowsy side effects that can accompany learning something. While the festival wisely reined in the event's size this year (last year suffered from a bit of sprawl, so they've gone from six to four entertainment stages for 2013), there's something happening the entire time that represents a group of Tucsonans; how they live, how they celebrate, what they do, who they are.

A letter from the festival's director, Dr. Maribel Alvarez, on the TMY website calls the event a "folk-life experiment," and that's a great way to describe it. Bring a bunch of people with a geographic location in common into one place over a weekend, feed them, entertain them and see what interactions, conversations, friendships result. It's the best kind of party, one where you have a great time and somehow become a better person with a fuller understanding of the world around you simultaneously. What better thing could you do with your weekend, right?

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