Culture in the American Southwest: The Earth, the Sky, the People

Culture in the American Southwest: The Earth, the Sky, the People

Culture in the American Southwest: The Earth, the Sky, the People

Culture in the American Southwest: The Earth, the Sky, the People

Synopsis

If the Southwest is known for its distinctive regional culture, it is not only the indigenous influences that make it so. As Anglo Americans moved into the territories of the greater Southwest, they brought with them a desire to reestablish the highest culture of their former homes: opera, painting, sculpture, architecture, and literature. But their inherited culture was altered, challenged, and reshaped by Native American and Hispanic peoples, and a new, vibrant cultural life resulted. From Houston to Los Angeles, from Tulsa to Tucson, Keith L. Bryant traces the development of "high culture" in the Southwest.

Humans create culture, but in the Southwest, Bryant argues, the land itself has also influenced that creation. "Incredible light, natural grandeur,... and a geography at once beautiful and yet brutal molded societies that sprang from unique cultural sources." The peoples of the American Southwest share a regional consciousness-an experience of place-that has helped to create a unified, but not homogenized, Southwestern culture.

Bryant also examines a paradox of Southwestern cultural life. Southwesterners take pride in their cultural distinctiveness, yet they struggled to win recognition for their achievements in "high culture." A dynamic tension between those seeking to re-create a Western European culture and those desiring one based on regional themes and resources continues to stimulate creativity.

Decade by decade and city by city, Bryant charts the growth of cultural institutions and patronage as he describes the contributions of artists and performers and of the elites who support them. Bryant focuses on the significant role women played as leaders in the formation of cultural institutions and as writers, artists, and musicians. The text is enhanced by more than fifty photographs depicting the interplay between the people and the land and the culture that has resulted.

Excerpt

You can sense it looking out the car window. On Interstate 40 or 20 or 25, as on old Route 66, you know when you enter the Southwest. It’s the sky; it’s the land; it’s the light. When you stop for gasoline it’s the accents, the attire, and the attitudes that tell you the people are different. At 30,000 feet elevation you peer out the airplane window at an earth of vibrant colors—red, orange, yellow, gray, white, and sometimes, green. Landforms are sharp, steeply crested, and open spaces are marked with mesas standing like citadels of loneliness. Ranches and suburbs, reservations and cities—all are unified by a sky seemingly without end. Vast stretches of desert, snow-capped mountains, and canyons like deep gashes carved in the earth delight your emotions. Piñon pine forests, cactus, sagebrush, mesquite, ocotillo, and the short grass of the llano fight for the modest moisture brought by winds from the south and the west. Office workers in skyscrapers in Fort Worth and Oklahoma City observe the flat lands to the west intersecting with a far-distant horizon. a Hispanic family on the West Mesa of Albuquerque sits in its backyard and watches a sunrise over Sandia Peak. a teenage Navajo girl brings her sheep to a clear, cold pool, a spring that her family has visited for a hundred years. All are united by the land, brought together by a shared feeling for a region simultaneously beautiful, threatening, enchanting, stimulating, and hurtful. the Apache youth driving his pickup to a rodeo in Los Angeles County is part of this land. So is the retired military officer, pausing on a Sun City golf course to look at the mountains. the Hispanic children helping harvest chilies bond with the legacy of their ancestors. the earth and the sky form and shape the culture of the society of the region. This is the American Southwest.

The peoples of the Southwest share a regional consciousness, their topophilia. Theirs is a land of limitless expanse of light and color, a land of shapes and . . .

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