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Feature Article: Multicultural Arizona

Friday, Nov 20, 2009

Discovering what’s multicultural about Arizona is a relaxing, delicious and educational experience. First stop, the Spa at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix for an 80 minute Native American inspired Deam Catcher aromatherapy massage. The dream catcher, a small hoop with a net, feathers and beads, used by the Woodland Indians, is placed in the room, “to catch the guest’s stresses or any negative energy,” explained Laura Geis, spa sales manager. Then warm basalt stones from Arizona river beds, used by Native Americans as a healing art, she said, are placed on your back. “The energy from the full moon recharges the stones and we incorporate them into the massage, placing them along the spine,” Laura said. Then, essential oils are dripped along the spine. Thus, “Raindrop” therapy, she explained, brings energy from the sun, and this La-Kota practice is incorporated into the massage. The eight Chakra oils used include lavendar for self empowerment, bergamot for vision, patchouli for wealth eucalyptus for communication and lotus for wholeness. Can a centuries old practice work on modern day stresses? By the end of the massage, my blackberry weary fingers felt better, and at the same time that I was completely relaxed, I had also thought up a great idea for my company’s Multicultural Speakers Showcase.

Recently the Arizona Biltmore was host to a playreading by the Arizona Jewish Theater Company. Held in the historic Aztec room, the drama “Hard Love” by Motti Lerner, one of Israel’s leading playwrights and screenwriters, tells the story of two young ultra-orthodox newlyweds, their divorce and their children from second marriages. The October reading was the first in a series of three plays offering views of life in Israel, with the next readings scheduled for early December and February. In July, the hotel hosted a free literary evening where the hidden Jewish heritage of many residents of the Southwest was explored. The Arizona Jewish Theatre Co is a professional theater company producing plays of universal interest from a Jewish perspective. Next year’s offerings include The Kosher Cheerleader (a truish, Jewish love story) and The Immigrant.

“We hosted the play reading for our guests and as a free event to people on their mailing list,” said Becky Blaine, Resort Historian and PR/Mktg Mgr for the Arizona Biltmore. “We wanted to help our local community organizations and this theater is one of them. Their ticket holders are our social guests. We do all the bar and bat mitzvahs, Kosher events and a VIP Passover, the largest Passover in the country,” Becky said. “We will Kosher an entire conference kitchen to hold the Seder dinners,” she noted. The Arizona Biltmore, has been an Arizona landmark since it opened in 1929 and is known for its distinctive Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.

What else is multicultural about the Biltmore? In the fitness center, Zumba (workout to Latin Music) is offered as well as Bollyrobics a dynamic Bhangra, dance workout. Bhangra is a folk dance from Punjab in Western India, a highly energetic, joyful foot-tapping handclapping dance form.

Over at The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, in nearby Chandler, Az, located on the Gila River Indian Community and designed to be a showcase for the local Pima and Maricopa Native American cultures, the AAA Five Diamond Kai Restaurant offers a contemporary approach to Native American cuisine.

At Kai, the Pima word for ‘seed’, we dined on ostrich, pheasant, lobster and buffalo. The Grilled Tenderloin of Buffalo from the Cheyenne River Tribe was served with Smoked Corn Puree, Barbecue Scarlet Runner Beans, Saguaro Blossom Syrup, Cholla Buds & Warm Weather Mushrooms. The Lobster Degustation included Butter Braised Tail, Avocado Mousse, Tear Drop Salsa & Lobster Coral; Lobster Knuckles in Sweet Corn Panna Cotta with Sour Radishes and Lobster Cobbler with Mesquite Meal & Burnt Irish Porter Cheese. Kai was awarded Mobil Travel Guide’s highest rating with the Mobil Five-Star, the first time in history for any Sheraton property to receive this award, and the only Mobil Five-Star Award winner that is Native American owned or operated.

What’s more, the resort has a Cultural Concierge, Ginger Sunbird Martin, who is Pima and was born and raised on the Gila River Indian Community (and has a degree from ASU  in American Indian Studies with an emphasis in Native American water rights)  Her role as the Cultural Concierge at the resort is to offer a tangible cultural experience for guests by providing complimentary property tours that highlight the history and culture of the Pima and Maricopa tribes that have inhabited central Arizona for more than 2300 years, providing cultural orientation for all new resort staff, working with conventions and meeting planners to incorporate the Native culture into their events and serving as the liaison between the resort and the Tribe’s Cultural Theming Committee, which oversees all of the resort’s cultural efforts from menu tastings to uniforms to Native names for new outlets.

The Graham County Chamber of Commerce has published a guide book “Arizona’s Salsa Trail: A Foodie’s Guide to Culinary Tourism in Safford & SE Arizona.” In fact, September was proclaimed Arizona Salsa Trail Month by Governor Jan Brewer, whose proclamation read whereas, sprinkled throughout the small Southern Arizona communities of Safford, Pima, Thatcher, Solomon, Clifton, Duncan, Willcox, and York are a dozen Mexican restaurants, a family-owned tortilla factory and a lady who grows chilies who have all joined together to make up Arizona’s Salsa Trail; and whereas, Arizona’s Salsa Trail is an important tourism promotion that has contributed significantly to the economy of Graham County and the State of Arizona; and whereas, in 2008 the Salsa Trail was recognized with the Governor’s Award for most innovative tourism project; and whereas, an annual SalsaFest has been established, (including jalapeno and salsa eating competitions for the bravest of the brave Arizonans and guests; and whereas, a culinary tourism book has been created and will be unveiled at the Salsa Fest to generate additional interest and increase tourism opportunities for Graham County and the State of Arizona. Now, therefore, I, Janice K. Brewer, Governor of the State of Arizona, do hereby proclaim September 2009 as Arizona’s salsa trail month.

Arizona’s multicultural and diversity initiatives, events and efforts include:

  • An Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival in Chandler that takes place every September and celebrates Hispanic history and culture with mariachi music, flamenco performances and theater plays, among many other attractions. Visit
  • Arizona Office of Tourism’s Native American Tourism Development department represented by Dawn A. Melvin, Native American Tourism Development Manager & Tribal Tourism Advisory Committee that serve to enhance the marketing efforts and cultural experiences offered to Arizona’s visitors. Visit
  • Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau’s website with information about cultural attractions, dining, nightlife, shopping and accommodation friendly to the LGBT lifestyle and catering specifically to that demographic. Visit
  • Tempe’s Official Visitors Guide column on several ADA-friendly parks and other attractions, including museums and exhibitions such as Steele Indian School Park, Margaret T. Hance Park, Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, South Mountain Park and Preserve, The Goelet A. C. Beuf Community Center.
  • Tempe CVB and the City of Tempe’s “Access Tempe” guide for travelers with disabilities, published in 2006 and now in its 2nd edition. “Tempe has many features that make it accessible for travelers with disabilities including accessible attractions, parks, hotels and restaurants,” said Toni Smith, Communications Manager, Tempe CVB.  “We made sure that our Tempe Visitor’s Guides and Web site have images that reflect Tempe’s inclusive and welcoming spirit and represent all of the travelers who choose Tempe,” she added. Visit
  • Cochise County ‘Cochise Origins’ video that delves into County’s culture and heritage. The video is playing at six visitor centers and eight attractions within Cochise County. The five historic themes include: Hispanic/Mexican Influence; Apache/Native American Experience; Geology/Mining; Old West/Ranching; and Military History. Visit
  • The Supermercado de Ranch Market – a supermarket catering to the local Hispanic market.

Scottsdale Celebrates And Embraces Its Native Roots

Since Scottsdale’s founding in the late 1800’s, the city has treasured a close relationship with its Native American roots. Arizona is home to 22 Native American tribes, the largest of which are the Hopi, Navajo, Pima and Apache. Although each tribe is unique in terms of its cultures and traditions, all are proudly united by their Native American heritage, which plays an influential role in Arizona’s past and current development. Just east of Scottsdale lies the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, a parcel of land that formerly was the ancestral territory of the once nomadic Yavapai people, who hunted and gathered food in a vast area of Arizona’s desert lowlands. The internationally acclaimed Heard Museum in Phoenix is one of the best places to experience the varied cultures and art of Native Americans of the Southwest. Every January through April, the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall in downtown Scottsdale comes alive with Native American music, dance, art and traditional foods as part of Native Trails, free noontime festivals, produced by the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Visitors also can experience more Native American culture by attending the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in February. Visit