Birthday Cake! Celebrating Our City

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by Jim Griffith

The city celebrated a birthday last month. Jim Griffith recalls the diversity that enhances the meaning of such Tucson gatherings.

Participants in a historic reenactment during Tucson's Birthday Celebration at El Presidio Grounds. Photo by Leigh Spigelman.
Participants in a historic reenactment during Tucson’s Birthday Celebration at El Presidio Grounds. Photo by Leigh Spigelman.

August was the month of Tucson’s official birthday. That is to say, it’s the month of the founding, in 1775, of el presidio de San Agustín de Tucson, a Spanish military post on the east bank of the Santa Cruz River, across from the O’odham village of Schuk Shon, or “Black at the Base.” That was the beginning of Tucson as a European community. Those Europeans were soldiers in the Spanish army, their wives and families. They themselves were a rather mixed lot. Some were peninsular Spaniards, some were born in the new world, of Spanish or mixed blood. And their commander was an Irish officer in the Spanish army named Don Hugo Oconor – Hugo O’Conner back in the Emerald Isle. Thus it was that from its very beginning, Tucson has been home to several languages, several cultures.

This diversity kept snowballing over the years, until now our desert city is home to people from all over the world, along with their languages, cultures and world views. Many of these newcomers who didn’t move on to (literally) greener pastures adapted to their new home while adding to its character. Somehow a tradition of hospitable assimilation has prevailed, so that unlike many other modern Sunbelt cities, Tucson has managed to preserve much of its own character in many ways.

As Tohono O’odham waila musician Daniel Joaquin told a Tucson audience many years ago, “We hope you’ll make us welcome, because after all, we made you welcome.”

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