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U.S.-Mexico Border Culture

Where to experience U.S.-Mexico border culture
Many opportunities for experiencing border culture exist in the area now, through festivals, restaurants, neighborhood tours, and museums. Annual events celebrating border culture include Cinco de Mayo Celebrations in Nogales and Tucson, the Día de los Muertos Parade, La Fiesta de San Agustín, and the Día de San Juan Festival in Tucson, as well as the Fiesta Navidad in Tubac.

The Folklorico Festival Extravaganza and the International Mariachi Conference and Fiesta de Garibaldi, both in Tucson, draw participants and audiences from across the United States and Mexico. The City of South Tucson holds the Norteño Music Festival, which also brings artists from around the border region.

A number of shrines built by residents of Mexican descent dot neighborhoods in Tucson, the best known being El Tiradito (The Wishing Shrine) in the Barrio Historico. The Barrio Historico (also called Barrio Viejo) contains many well-preserved examples of Sonoran-style architecture and streetscapes. Another well-known shrine, the Telles Grotto Shrine, lies outside Patagonia. Several museums and historical societies also celebrate the regional border culture.

The Pimería Alta Historical Society in Nogales, Arizona, houses a small museum and library. The Sosa-Carillo-Frémont House (c. 1858), on the National Register of Historic Places, is a branch museum of the Arizona Historical Society. It features period furniture and stands as an example of a Sonoran row house. In addition, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park and Tumacácori National Historical Park both include border culture in their exhibits.

Check out our Heritage Experiences map to see where else you can experience the U.S.-Mexico border culture.

U.S.-Mexico Border Culture
The valley was viewed by successive Spanish, Mexican, and United States governments as a frontier—a remote and sparsely populated landscape full of potential. The 1854 Gadsden Purchase transferred political control of the area from Mexico to the United States. Former Mexican nationals abruptly found themselves, their land, and their properties incorporated into a different nation, one that spoke another language and practiced different cultural traditions. This exchange did not result in the decline of Mexican customs, but rather the emergence of a new culture in the border region, shared by residents with diverse backgrounds. 

Shortly after Mexico and the United States declared an end to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the border itself encouraged cooperation between the two nations. The Apache strategy of raiding settlements and then quickly crossing the border motivated the recently adversarial nations to sign an agreement, in effect from 1882 to 1886, allowing pursuit of Apaches across the international boundary by either side. Commerce also linked the former antagonists in many ways. Nogales, Arizona, abuts Nogales, Sonora, on the border, and the two towns were founded together in 1882. Railroad lines starting in Guaymas in Mexico and Kansas City in the United States met in “ambos Nogales” (meaning both Nogales's). The cities have grown together, sharing resources like water, shops, and firefighters, and neither would exist without the presence of the border. This cooperation has extended up the Santa Cruz Valley, enabling the florescence of a border culture that embraces aspects of Mexico, the United States, and the two Native American tribes that live in the valley.    



No other National Heritage Area is on an international boundary, nor do any make border culture a theme. United States-Mexico border culture is unique as a theme among National Heritage Areas. The impact of cross-border interaction has been powerful along the entire border region, but the distinctive history of the Santa Cruz Valley has led to an especially vibrant legacy, which is active today. Many opportunities for experiencing border culture exist in the area now, through festivals, restaurants, neighborhood tours, and museums. Heritage tourism will increase, however, as designation of a Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area boosts awareness and education about cultural events, art forms, and the distinctive character of this region. 

Read about the U.S.-Mexico Border Culture theme in the feasibility study.   


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