Cultural Traditions with a Twist

Living in Tucson has definitely opened my eyes to a few new traditions that I hadn’t experienced before. Most of us in England are already familiar with the typical American holidays – 4th of July, Thanksgiving. And we can all name some of the standard American societal behaviour – football games, burger bars, smores, hanging a flag in every classroom… However, as most of you may know, Tucson has a large Mexican population. Being only an hour away from the Mexican border, it has become one of the famous border cities where their community is thriving.

Consequently, many of the Mexican cultural traditions and holidays have also been carried across the border. Over the many years they have adapted into something unique, in which they are neither traditionally Mexican nor fully integrated into American culture. Instead, we are presented with a wonderful hybrid of what happens when two alternate societies come together.

Last weekend, I managed to witness two perfect examples of this ‘culture clashing’. Friday night, I was exposed to the odd and intriguing art of ‘Lucha Libre’, in other words, Mexican wrestling. You may have seen images of the brightly coloured masks around the internet – the sport has definitely gained popularity in recent years. Whilst I may not have fully been sold on it as a leisure activity (it is definitely more of a ‘guys’ thing), it was interesting to watch and highly entertaining. Rather than focus on the fights, it is more about the ‘show’ – the introducing of the competitors; the bad-mouthing of each-other; the staged flips; the extravagant costumes. Everything is an act, intended to shock and amuse the audience…and shocked and amused I certainly was.

A couple of days later was Tucson’s biggest festival – ‘Dia de los Muertos’ (Day of the Dead). Again, images of the colourful skull have circulated around American and European culture, but many people do not know of its origins in the festival. The festival is intended to celebrate the dead ancestors of Mexican families, and all those who wish to join in. In fact, many of the groups walking in the parade were American, showing the adaptation and diversity of what was once a traditional Mexican festivity. On the final night there is an All Souls Procession, which I had the pleasure of attending. People gathered, dressed up in traditional costume, carrying photos of their deceased loved ones (pets included), and walked in a truly spectacular parade. At the end, a concert-type thing takes place, in which a huge urn filled with messages for the deceased is burnt. The whole thing was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. In actual fact, the Tucson parade is the biggest in the U.S.A. and bigger than most in Mexico…although this is most likely because nowhere else besides Tucson celebrates it to such extremity.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

The blend of cultures in Tucson is something I’m not sure I’ll ever get over. I think it probably mostly stems from having such a lack of Mexican presence in the U.K. –a lot of my classmates can speak Spanish, and have knowledge of Mexican-American culture. It’s sad to admit that most of what I understood about Mexican immigrants came from movies and stereotypes! Thankfully, I am lucky to have spent four months in a city that has not only taught me about the standard American culture, but a little about the Mexican-American way of life too.

KODAK Digital Still Camera