La Cadena Que No Se Corta: The Unbroken Chain

The Traditional Arts of Tucson's Mexican American Community 

From November 3, 1996, through January 13, 1997, the University of Arizona Museum of Art hosted an exhibit entitled La Cadena Que No Se Corta: The Unbroken Chain. This website presents a virtual recreation of that exhibit and celebrates the traditional arts of Tucson's Mexican American Community.

La Cadena Que No Se Corta highlights the visual art that is created by Tucson's Mexican American community as a part of normal, everyday life. The original website was created in the spring of 1997 and revised . It was authored by James S. Griffith, Ph.D., then folklore professor in the Department of English and Director of the University of Arizona's Southwest Folklore Center. Dr. Griffith and Cynthia Vidaurri, currently the Coordinator of Latino Cultural Resource Network at the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, provided the slides from which the website's images were created. The Museum exhibit was jointly sponsored by the University of Arizona Museum of Art and the University of Arizona's Southwest Folklore Center. It was curated by Dr. Griffith, Ms. Vidaurri, and Peter Briggs, Ph.D., who at that time was with the University of Arizona Museum. Rosalita Ayala served as the Community Consultant.

Hecho a Mano: The Traditional Arts of Tucson's Mexican American Community, published in 2000 by the University of Arizona Press, is identified by Dr. Griffith as the expanded catalog of the La Cadena Que No Se Corta website.

The Chain of Tradition

The title of this exhibition comes from a remark made by a Tucson tortilla maker during the course of an interview for public television. "My grandmother taught my mother to make tortillas," she said, "and my mother taught me. I've taught my children." After a pause, she exclaimed "It's a chain that will never be broken." Much of our culture is like that - a chain of greater or lesser strength connecting our past with our future. In a sense, all of the arts we celebrate in this exposition are parts of a similar chain: they are in some way founded upon tradition, and they serve the community that produces them. We have tried to explore the various ways in which Tucson's Mexican-American community makes its visual surroundings more beautiful, its celebrations more exciting, its presence more visible. From front yards, needlework, and home altars through commercially-made boots and decorative ironwork to murals, piñatas, and low rider bikes, we have presented an overview of one community's traditional visual arts.

"Traditional," however, doesn't necessarily mean "old fashioned." It does imply some sort of continuity with and rootedness in the past. It is possible to be thoroughly traditional while keeping very much up-to-date. Mexican-American teenagers use the huge local flour tortillas to make peanut-butter and jelly burritos. Low rider bike displays follow the latest fashions while exuberantly displaying a baroque sense of aesthetics which derives from the great church interiors of colonial Mexico. Piñatas take the form of Bart Simpson and other cartoon characters. Ironworkers use the same curved ornamental motifs that were popular in the 18th Century ... but they put them on burglar bars for doors and windows. None of the objects in this exhibition is the way it would have been a hundred years ago; none will remain unchanged in the future. Tradition and adaptation, stability and change: these processes go on all around us, and form the unstated motif of this exhibition.

Rather than organize the exhibition in a traditional way, by artist, say, or by media or style, we decided to emphasize the contexts in which the art appears and functions. Accordingly, the show is divided into three sections: el hogar ("the home"), el taller ("the workshop") and la comunidad ("the community"). Introduction written by Dr. James S. Griffith, 1997.

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