Loma Griffith: The Ultimate Volunteer

Loma GriffithWhat do you remember about the first Tucson Meet Yourself Festival?
LG: [Laughs] You know I don’t remember much about the first festival. Jim and I had gone to El Paso, to the festival there…the border arts festival…and we had a wonderful time. The part that I enjoyed the most was the people interacting with other people –the first night the Cajuns were in one room and the Norteño band was in another room and by the second or third day they were all mixed up.

Have you always thought of yourself as a volunteer as opposed to a leader, a co-founder, or a boss?
LG: I prefer to be called Volunteer. For many years the festival was all done by volunteers and the administrative structure was built on a consensus model where Jim was the leader, but apart from that, there was no hierarchy; each person took responsibility for a different area. I was the Volunteer Coordinator. Jim did all the artistic stuff, but he made decisions based on advice from a group of advisors which included me. A lot of times Jim and I would go head to head because I would see something as being a folk tradition and he didn’t recognize it as such. In his explanations he always asked ‘is this really rooted in the community, is this something that the community itself values?’
What would you say was the most challenging thing you had to learn as part of the TMY family?
LG: There were a couple of things that brought me big realizations. Jim would explain that this is not United Nations Day; the point of the festival is not to put up flags from all the different countries that are represented here. I would say: “but why not? This is a great visual!” He would say: because the flag is a symbol of the nation and what is actually going on here are the cultures of the people that reside in that nation. Think about the United States; under our flag we have O’odham, the first people, and we have Vietnamese immigrants, they are all “Americans,” they are all under our flag and the flag doesn’t tell you anything at all about their food, their music, or their culture. That was the first thing I discovered. I was in it for years before I figured out what the word “traditional” meant and how important the word “community” was. That what we are doing is celebrating the traditions of various communities, all of whom share the same values and for whom the “art” (be it Ukranian Easter eggs or Yaqui dances or paper flowers) has a symbolism beyond just being decorative items.

How did you incorporate your children into your volunteer service for TMY?
LG: Well, as it turns out, everybody was expected to be a volunteer. I think what the kids learned by having to work was wonderful for them. They enjoyed the fun and the excitement of this multicultural venue. I think it has made them what they are, and I am very proud of whom our kids are and I think the festival had a big part in forming their vision of the world.

Interviewed by Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D.