A long, long time ago, our desert wasn’t a desert at all. It was part of an ocean that covered almost everything. And many centuries after that, it became a warm and shallow sea. A sea in which impossible creatures lived and died and frolicked and roared and dove deep beneath the waves or surfaced briefly to sun themselves at the water’s edge.
And now, so very much later, our ocean floor is a dry desert valley, and the water that’s left flows secretly beneath the ground. And the sea creatures? Well, of course they’re long gone. But every summer with the coming of the monsoon storms, our dry and empty riverbeds spill over with rushing water. And it’s then that las sirenas return from their watery underground lair.
For centuries, the mermaids returned to our desert quietly and stealthily, hiding in the shadows along arroyos and by the riverside, sometimes forgetting themselves and splashing a bit in puddles when no one was looking or disgusing themselves in fin concealing clothing and moving undercover throughout the streets of Tucson.
But in 2014, some mermaid wise Tucson landwalkers declared a day of sanctuary for our local seafolk and henceforth, Tucson has celebrated the yearly Return of the Mermaids openly and with great fanfare.
We spoke to Fourth Avenue merchant and friend of the merfolk, Lizzie Mead, to find out more about this year’s celebration.
Julie Jennings-Patterson: Hey, Lizzie!
Lizzie Mead (Event co-organizer, mermaid in chief at Silver Sea Jewelry: “Hey there!”
JJP: So, it’s that time of year again! When and where is this year’s Return of the Mermaids taking place?
LM: “This year’s Return of the Mermaids is happening throughout Fourth Avenue and Downtown Tucson. Several Fourth Avenue merchants are taking part in the festivities and there are a ton of events planned for Haggerty Plaza on Fourth and at the “beach” in Downtown.”
JJP: What should people keep in mind if they’re heading to the event?
LM: “You will have the most fun at this event by being a part of it! Tucson is the star of the show, so dress up. Fourth Avenue businesses have costumes and accessories to help you do that. We also have a vendor market on the day of the event where you can get your face painted.”
JJP: What about parking and logistics?
LM: “Parking for an event like this can definitely be difficult, so make sure you’re utilizing nearby parking garages or parking further away and taking the street car.”
JJP: Who all is responsible for making this happening every year?
LM: “Lots of people are responsible for Return of the Mermaids! But the main people are Fourth Avenue Merchants Association with myself as the Fourth Avenue lead and local artist David Aguirre leading the Downtown parts along with Tucson Food Truck Round Up and the Tucson Flea. David and I have been co-coordinators for this event since it first started six years ago.”
JJP: The very first Return of the Mermaids was back in 2013 but it seems like it’s gotten bigger and better every year! What’s new this time around?
LM: “New parts of the event this year include a 21 and over Surf Party at Irene’s Holy Donuts. There’s going to be live musicand DJs from 9pm-2am with The Surfbroads, Illuminaughty Dance, and a 2 hour mermaid dance party with DJ Nation featuring House and Tropical House music. I’m really looking forward to Irene’s because…they’ll have mermaid donuts! And they’re also from Hawaii, so this event is right up thier ally!”
“Something else new is a chance to meet Miss Mermaid USA state queens in the Mermaid Cabana at the “beach” (55 N 5th Avenue.)
JJP: What’s on schedule for the littlest merpeople? That is to say, what are the most family friendly parts of the event?
LM: “There are tons of kid friendly activities. At 3 p.m. theTiny Treasure Hunt begins for the first 200 kids to pick up a Captain Oblivious treasure map and bag at Silver Sea Jewelry. Collect 9 treasures from select Fourth Avenue business and you can come back to Silver Sea to receive a Return of the Mermaids necklace or keychain. After the 200 maps are passed out, there are no more, so don’t miss it!”
“At 4 p.m. Mermaid Odette will be in her Lagoon along with some other mermaids you can meet and take pictures with. The Lagoon is in Haggerty Plaza at 316 N 4th Avenue.”
“At 5 p.m. there will be a story hour with Farris Emilie on the stage at Haggerty Plaza and at the same time, the Tucson Thrift live Aquarium event starts with Mermaid Mitchelina and her merfriends.”
“At 7:30 there will be a costume contest hosted by Historic Fourth Avenue at the Deep Blue (part of the “beach”) with Captain Oblivious and Madame Askew. Dress the kiddos up and enter this lighthearted costume contest tadpole to adult. Fabulous prize bags from Fourth Avenue merchants and more!”
“Also from 3 to 10 p.m. at the Deep Blue, there will be face painting plus a vendor market and food trucks and, once again, you can meet some mermaids!”
JJP: What about all the grown up merfolks?
LM: “I think grown ups can enjoy all of the activities at the event, as the goal is to play and have some lighthearted fun. That said, 9 p.m. seems to be the magic hour for when kiddos should go home, but it’s parents discretion as to when its time. Then there’s the surf party!”
JJP: It sounds like it will be a whale of a good time!
LM: “You just had to go for the nautical humor there didn’t you?”
JJP: Yes, yes I did. Just for the halibut, really…
Return of the Mermaids 2019 takes place Saturday August 10 on Fourth Avenue and Downtown Tucson, with main events at Haggerty Plaza on Fourth Avenue and the “beach” at 55 N 5th Avenue in Downtown. Events run from 3 to 9 p.m. followed by a surf party at Irene’s Holy Donuts from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
This post is part of the “Pay-it-forward PR” series at spitegeist.com, showcasing badass independent local businesses, makers, inventors, writers, artists, musicians, causes, creative folks or upcoming events on a pro bono basis, with help from supporters in the Tucson community. Help keep it going by donating via PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Venmo (@bowiejjp) or by becoming a recurring supporter on Patreon. Want to be a future subject, or nominate someone? Hit me up at email@example.com.