Man can be assimilated by a country. There is an x and a y in the air and in the soil of a country, which slowly permeate and assimilate him to the type of the aboriginal inhabitant…
—Carl Gustav Jung, Civilization in Transition.
Ever since Europeans arrived in the Southwest, natives and newcomers have battled and blessed, ignored and influenced one another. Yet in contrast to the prevailing notion that native cultures have been utterly vanquished, the indigenous people of New Mexico and Arizona have not only maintained much of their own characters but have also strongly influenced the other cultures around them. Iberian customs also endure, often alongside or blended with native ways of seeing and doing things.
Today, the Southwestern way of life is a rich mix of traditions. Ages-old responses to land, community, and the cycle of seasons continue even in these modern times. From architecture to cuisine, agriculture to the arts, the persistence of these traditions is a testament to how appropriate they remain for life in New Mexico and Arizona.
When we encounter an expression of one of these cultures—a Hopi katsina doll or a corn dance at San Juan Pueblo, an exquisite O’odham basket or a humble yet charming adobe home—we understand intuitively that there is more to its appeal than the skill of the artist, performer, or builder. Just as we know that human beings are more than the sums of their cells and synapses, we feel that there is more to a Zia pot than molded clay, paint, and an oxidizing fire. We sense that despite the monumental, ongoing struggles between different ways of life in the Southwest, something extraordinary is alive here. Ask any member of a long-established Southwestern culture about this extraordinary “something,” and they will tell you that it comes from paying close attention to matters of the spirit and living so intimately with the land that its seasons are felt in the heart.
Cultural diversity is an important world resource, as essential to the resilience of the human race in the long run as is biological diversity.
—Dr. David Maybury-Lewis, Anthropologist, Harvard University.
Of the myriad cultures in New Mexico and Arizona that have persisted since the time of contact with Europeans, four groups are especially significant in this context for their distinctive ways of life and their enduring influence. Today, they are most commonly referred to as the Pueblo, the O’odham, the Apache, and the Navajo. Within each of these broad groups, there are further differences that have grown out of smaller communities’ specific environments and local histories. And of course each person in every community is an individual who expresses not only a tribal, but a personal identity.
For traditional people in general, family and community are paramount and individual freedom is never to be pursued at the expense of other people. Instead, a person’s potential is fulfilled in terms of duty and proper relationships with other people and with creation. The land is known deeply, and every mountain, stream, and mesa bears a host of stories. Originally without a written language, the native people of the Southwest have always taught about life through the sung or spoken word. Through rich ceremonials, they both acknowledge and transcend the everyday realities of the world…