It’s no surprise that Arizona is richly blessed with Hispanic arts.

After all, the land that is now Arizona was originally part of Mexico.

Mexico ceded the northern part of Arizona in the Mexican-American War, and the U.S. bought the rest, south of the Gila River, in the Gadsden Purchase of 1853–54.

Today, the state continues to celebrate its original heritage through a variety of artistic forms.

Mariachi musicians trumpet the sounds of old Mexico, folklórico dancers perform ancient indigenous dances and painters create Chicano-style murals on buildings throughout Arizona.

The state’s galleries and museums display everything from ancient pre-Columbian figures to boldly colored contemporary paintings.

Greater Phoenix’s Celebración Artística de las Américas (CALA Festival)

This fall metro Phoenix celebrates the state’s Mexican heritage with the bi-annual CALA Festival, timed in 2011 as part of Arizona’s centennial celebration.

The two-month-long art party, from Sept. 14 to Nov. 16, 2011, will roll out in multiple museums, galleries and street parties throughout Greater Phoenix.

Among the offerings: The vibrant Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center in downtown Phoenix will bring in three artists from Mexico – painter Juan Chawuk of Chiapas, printmaker Nicolas de Jesus of Guerrero and carver Jacobo Angeles of Oaxaca – for exhibitions, workshops and demonstrations.

The Musical Instrument Museum in north Phoenix will stage a concert of music from bossa nova founder Antonio Carlos Jobim, led by Brazilian artist and composer Flavio Chamis, on Oct. 29, 2011.

Phoenix’s Teatro Bravo! performance troop presents the play Frida Kahlo. The multicultural extravaganza, which runs Sept. 23–Oct. 8, 2011, features music, masks and giant puppets.

The Phoenix Art Museum exhibits brilliant works from the Kahlo era in Modern Mexican Painting from the Andrés Blaisten Collection, on display through Sept. 25, 2011.

Tucson Embraces Its Hispanic Heritage

Tucson, nicknamed the Old Pueblo in honor of its Hispanic origins, still has blocks of century-old Mexican-style adobe row houses in Barrio Histórico, south of downtown. Take a stroll down Convent Avenue to see striking examples in colors such as salmon pink and turquoise.

The Tucson Museum of Art boasts one of the state’s oldest houses. Located on the museum campus, La Casa Cordova dates from the days when Tucson was a Mexican village.

Inside the museum, a sterling collection of pre-Columbian art is older than the Spanish conquest of the Americas. One stela (stone carving) from Central Mexico is more than 2,000 years old.

The museum also boasts a cache of lively Spanish Colonial and Mexican folk art, including religious oil-on-tin retablos, painted to commemorate a miracle – or to request one.

Tucson’s celebration of its Mexican roots also carries over into the city’s performing arts offerings. Each April, the city breaks out in a major festival of mariachi music and folklórico dance.

Performed over several days, the La Frontera Tucson International Mariachi Conference showcases major stars and local students alike. (Tucson native Linda Ronstadt has been known to make appearances.)

Don’t worry if your visit doesn’t coincide with the festival. You can hear mariachis Thursday through Sunday nights at La Fuente Restaurant, owned by the Huerta family since 1959. Be sure to sample the mole poblano while you’re there.

Latino Arts Throughout Southern Arizona

South of Tucson, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a magnificent Spanish Baroque mission church. Now more than 200 years old, it still serves as a parish church for the local Tohono O’odham Indians. Free docent-led tours unlock the mysteries of its elaborately painted murals. Closer to the Mexican border, you can visit another Spanish mission, San José de Tumacácori, now a national historical park.

Nearby, the art town of Tubac has dozens of galleries, including La Cucaracha de Tubac, whose charming Mexican handicrafts include Talavera tile, tin-framed mirrors and wrought-iron lamps.

The gift shop at the Tubac Center of the Arts regularly shows artists from Sonora, Mexico, including gifted painter Eva Laura Moraga of Hermosillo.

Elvira’s Restaurant recently moved from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, to Tubac, making its Sonoran specialties more accessible to Americans. Across a lovely patio is its own gift shop, Ángeles y Diablitos. Grinning skeletons painted on wood, devil masks and pottery angels are for sale, along with other examples of the delightfully colorful arts of Mexico.