Most commonly, people define “diversity” as something having to do with someone’s ethnicity, race or national origin. Yes, those markers of identity are important, and sometimes they are so preponderant that they are the only thing one thinks about when “diversity” is the topic.
Folklorists and anthropologists think of diversity and culture in ways that are a bit more flexible and encompassing.
It is also possible to think of “diversity” as any activity, pattern of communication, or symbolism that binds people together to make them feel part of a unique group.
Folklorists prefer to use the term “folk groups” or “folk communities” to describe the variety of forms that diversity can take at any given place.
Based on this definition, Italian-Americans are a folk community; as are Mexicans, Irish, African-Americans, Pakistanis and Greeks. They share common practices that are repeated and passed on (we often call these “traditions”); they have words and speech patterns that are unique to their cultural experience; they tell jokes and cook foods that “make sense” to their group members (even if not so much to outsiders) and distinguish themselves from other groups by marking certain events, celebrations, rituals and beliefs.
So, we can say that these ethnic groups make up their own “cultures” and are “folk communities” among us (the larger mass of American society).
But the same definition can be applied to identify other “folk” groups not based on ethnicity: think of the way that hunters, firefighters, skateboarders, golf players, waitresses, children, motorcycle owners, tattoo artists, quilters, veterans, and farmers share a “culture” of their own. Each one of these groups has its own stories, speech terminology, beliefs and superstitions, rituals, dress codes, and favorite foods and days of the calendar.
We refer to the whole variety of ethnic, religious, gender, age, occupational and leisure groups that co-exist at any given time in a community as “folk communities” — each rich with their own cultural inventories.
About “diversity” in Oro Valley
In Oro Valley, cultural diversity is “hidden in plain view.” As one longtime resident said during a recent interview: “People in Oro Valley don’t advertise their ethnicity. People try to blend in.” There are no “ethnic neighborhoods” as we are used to seeing in the established urban centers around the country. As another resident told us during our research: “Shifting ethnic demographics may not be on people’s radar, but Oro Valley is more diverse than what one would think.” “We know it is there,” said a young man we interviewed, “we just need to take the veil off.”
Indeed, despite the perceptions of homogeneity, our research found thriving “folklife” practices being carried on in resident’s kitchens, places of worship, backyards, garages, libraries and schools. Folk group identifications tend to be kept private, but most people we interviewed showed a willingness to share their culture with their neighbors if given the opportunity in a safe, fun and educational setting.
Our research identified, in a preliminary study, at least 45 distinct folk communities that thrive in Oro Valley.
- Some were ethnic, racial or of national origin (in some cases even when only 2 or 3 families kept the cultural practices alive). Among these are: Polish, Greek, Filipino, Indian, Native American, Italian, French, Czech, German, Mexican, Chinese, British).
- Some were religious (Jewish, Mormon, Evangelical Christians, Catholic, Protestant, Muslin, Hindu, Sikh)
- Some were age-based (seniors, youth)
- Some were occupational (hospice care takers, scientists, teachers, park rangers)
- Some were leisure-oriented (cyclists, hikers, Salsa dancers, Bollywood dancers, Tai Chi practitioners, quilters, Mahjong players)
We discovered a range of “folk practices” preserved as living traditions among Oro Valley residents.
- Manual Arts
The idea behind “Oro Valley Meet Yourself” is exactly as it sounds: we aim to create a friendly and respectful platform where neighbors can meet (peek through an imaginary window, by invitation) into the worlds of others (the foods they eat, the songs they sing, the memories they keep alive) and… in the process, share something of your own cultural worldview.
Go here to learn more about the Town of Oro Valley demographic profile.