Jim Griffith’s book, “Hecho a Mano: The Traditional Arts of Tucson’s Mexican American Community”, includes several examples of evolving traditions—art forms that became reinterpreted as they crossed borders.
For more than 40 years, Tucson based-Folklorist and Anthropologist James “Big Jim” Griffith has explored the customs and traditions found throughout the US-Mexico Border. His passion and commitment to the region led to the founding of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona and the “Tucson Meet Yourself” festival, a celebration of Tucson’s ethnic and cultural diversity, annually attracting crowds of more than 100,000 people. In 2011, “Big Jim” was honored for his lifetime achievements by the National Endowment for the Arts with the Bess Lomax Hawes Fellowship –which “recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.”
Jim Griffith was born in Santa Barbara, California, and came to Tucson in 1955 to attend the University of Arizona. He has considered himself a permanent Tucson resident since 1963. He loves Southern Arizona and has said, “I guess I’ll stay in Tucson as long as it gets worse slower than other places.”
He received all three of his degrees from the University of Arizona, the Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and art history in 1973. From 1979 until his retirement in 1998 he ran the University’s Southwest Folklore Center. He is currently a Research Associate at the Center.
Griffith has written seven books on Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico folk arts, traditions and religious art. He has been honored by several literary societies and includes such awards as the 2005 Henry Glassie Award and the 2009 Pima County Library Lifetime Achievement Award. He is currently researching for a book on the religious art of Sonora, and finishing a guide to regional folklore.
His newest book, A Border Runs Through It: Journeys in Regional History and Folklore, has just been published by Rio Nuevo Publishers.
Big Jim is also an accomplished and award-winning banjo player. He recorded Dixie Cowboy, a CD collection of bluegrass and folk tunes, and also collected the songs and wrote the liner notes for the CD Heroes and Horses: Corridos of the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands.
Jim Griffith’s professional commitment has always been to try to understand the cultures of this part of the border, and to pass along that understanding, as respectfully and accurately as possible, to the general public.
-Bio courtesy of Tucson Meet Yourself
Additional Audio: Jim describes rural “boundary art” of Southern Arizona
Additional Audio: Jim describes a Tohono O’odham story that has become culturally reinterpreted
Additional Audio: Jim describes the evolution of a favorite southwestern dish
Click here for the book, “Hecho a Mano: The Traditional Arts of Tucson’s Mexican American Community” at Amazon.