I’ve been to Indian Market only once in my entire life. Way back in 1989, I went with my friend, Barbara Ortiz. At the time, I was a Visiting Scholar at the University of New Mexico, studying Indigenous land relations. I commuted to campus from my studio apartment on Girard, taking the bus each day. Since it was summer, there weren’t that many people around. However, since this was well before the era of online courses, anyone attending summer school had to show up in person. Consequently, that’s how I met Barbara. She was from Laguna Pueblo and worked for the American Indian Student Services office at UNM. Lucille Stillwell was the AISSS director, while Barbara served as program coordinator, which was a fancy way of saying secretary.
Anyway, Barbara had a car—a big old giant Oldsmobile—and I didn’t, so she was the one to invite me out for the day around mid-August. I actually didn’t know what Indian Market was at the time, but it sounded fun, so I said, “Sure!” Barbara, as it turned out, really didn’t like driving around Santa Fe, so she asked me to drive us. No problem. Not having a car all summer was kind of a drag. So, I seized the opportunity to get behind the wheel. The open road between Albuquerque and Santa Fe felt good! Upon arriving at our destination, I vaguely remember a dirt lot where we parked that was a bit of a hike from the Plaza. I also remember thinking “This Plaza is kinda small and CROWDED!” when we got to where all the booths were set up.
Not knowing what to do or where to begin, Barbara and I started meandering around, two brown dots in a river of white faces. All the other Indians were in their booths, some dressed up in their tribal regalia, while others looked like Billy Jack, with a few looking like regular people from the Rez. Although I’d been to events at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ before, this was different. From my point of view, as a Pima Indian, the Santa Fe Indian Market was a combination swap meet-and-zoo. I guess as a unique experience, Indian Market was fun and interesting, though I get a bit uncomfortable being around that many white people. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy anything because I couldn’t afford it, neither could Barbara. So, at the end of the day we walked back to the car empty handed and drove back to Albuquerque.
Along the way, we gossiped about people we knew back on campus and what we were going to have to do when Monday rolled around. I remember telling Barbara about meeting Greg Cajete at his office on the edge of campus, where the American Indian Studies program was located. I also told her about the Luci Tapahonso poetry reading that was held outdoors on the UNM campus, and how she started talking to me like she’d known me a longtime, asking me how my writing was going? We’d never met before. I also saw Tony Hillerman that summer. When we stopped for coffee, Barbara told me about her life at Laguna and how she started working at UNM. I found out, after being friends with her all summer, that she’d been married before. As the day turned to twilight, we hit the road again, talking away, as Santa Fe became a memory, far behind in the distance.