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Traditions are in bloom at Tumacacori National Historical Park

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TUMACACORI, Ariz. - The paper flowers were there. The paper flower lady was not. But then, having reached age 75 with a touch of arthritis because you've been making flowers out of colored tissue paper since you were a child, perhaps a bit of the ''maybe tomorrow'' philosophy is permissible.

Gloria Moroyoqui de Roques, born in the valley of the Yaqui near Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, Mexico, has been making flowers from papel de China (Chinese paper) since childhood. She never had any formal education, but learned to read, write, cook, sew and make flowers and pinatas from her mother. Her handicrafts are on display in windows, lobbies and adorning altars at Tumacacori National Historical Park in southern Arizona. When she does show up to demonstrate her paper artistry - or make tortillas by hand on less creative days - Moroyoqui de Roques astounds audiences with the ability to fabricate any kind of flower from roses and carnations to zinnias - perhaps as many as 30 in her extensive repertoire - just by looking at a sample.

Making paper flowers has been a tradition in Mexico for more than 200 years, enlivening festive occasions such as fiestas, church masses and gravesites on All Souls Day. The folk art construction takes on widespread forms from pinatas to cascarones (eggshell filled with confetti) to the artwork the paper flower lady has been making for 25 years since she first participated in the annual Tumacacori Fiesta.

She is not alone in bringing Native and Spanish tradition to the park and its ancient historical Mission San Jose de Tumacacori, established at the request of Pima Indians in 1691.

''The original peoples in this area were Pima and Papago [now known as Tohono O'odham],'' said Park Ranger Anita Badertscher. ''What we find looking at mission records is that the O'odham and the Yaquis, Gloria's people, got along peacefully with the Spanish because they were already farmers living in settled communities. The O'odham vision of life fit well and the Yaquis seemed to do even better in some ways, showing up in records as having positions of responsibility, primarily cowboys, and mixing in with other inhabitants.''

Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino first visited the area at the request of Indians from the villages of Tumacacori, Guevavi and San Xavier del Bac. Impressed by the Pima Tribe and its land development of the Pimeria Alta, Kino established the mission. ''His understanding of Pima ways and lack of dogmatism won the confidence of his charges,'' according to National Park Service literature. Kino brought ritual and pageantry with him and mixed it with an introduction of wheat, livestock and fruit trees.

In one room of the mission edifice that still attracts upwards of 50,000 visitors annually, a display of clay pots is accompanied with a marquee reading: ''Priests and their converts labored long and hard to make the mission self-sufficient with enough food [primarily corn, beans and squash] to last the winter and help others less fortunate. The seeds, livestock and food cuttings brought by the priests flourished in the fertile valley and the Pimans quickly learned the new agricultural techniques. The best seeds from each harvest of beans, grains and fruit were stored in large clay pots [ollas] and used for next years planting.''

Nearby, Knights of Columbus members sponsored annual mass in the church in the 1960s and 1970s with masses held inside the adobe building through 1974, when 4,000 worshipers crowded inside. Building damage, caused by the large crowd, caused future gatherings to be held outside, an activity that continues with a two-day fiesta held the first full weekend of December.

''We try to represent all the cultures that have been here over time,'' Badertscher said. ''In addition to mass and a procession, we have O'odham dancers, Yaqui dancers, Apache dancers and dancers from the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico. Last year Yaquis from Tucson asked for a list of every single person buried in the church cemetery and they spent the day there, decorating, dancing and praying for every name on the list.''

2007 will be the 99th year since Tumacacori National Monument was established by executive order of President Teddy Roosevelt and the mission itself, its cemetery, the chapel and portions of the convent area will be open for self-guided walking tours.

If all goes as planned, food samples from several cultures will be available, a basketweaver from the Tohono Tribe will demonstrate the centuries-old technique using bear grass fibers, potters will display their crafts, ceremonial dances will be performed and the paper flower lady is scheduled to attend, chatting away rapid-fire in her native language as she works her tissue paper magic.

To visit Tumacacori, its mission and the national park, drive south from Tucson on I-19 and take Exit 29. For further information, visit www.nps.gov/tuma.