After writing last week’s post about the American Rent Is Due sign, I had some further realizations about the inequities Indigenous people still face in America, and I thought I would share one of them today.
As a child growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I frequently strolled around Old Town with visiting family and friends. We would also take folks to visit Santa Fe, an hour north, where the photo above was taken half a dozen years ago. One aspect of those visits has taken on a new perspective for me as a result of the ongoing racial equity work in which I continue to engage.
In both places, Indigenous peoples from nearby nations bring traditional jewelry, pottery, and other artwork to sell to tourists. Indigenous artisans are required to obtain a permit to sell in these marketplaces (which is the right of the property owners under whose portals they are setting up shop). They lay out their products on the ground along the verandas which line the older buildings. Tourists walk by and shop.
I’ve taken it for granted that “this is the way things work” for most of my life. I understand that this tradition goes back generations to when Indigenous artisans used to sell to travelers and tourists coming through on the trains. (In fact, I have a piece of pottery that my maternal grandmother bought from one such artisan many years ago.) The portals were also a traditional place for growers to sell agricultural produce, other foodstuffs, and utilitarian crafts.
Yet imagine the experience from the Indigenous sellers’ point of view. While the portals are roofed, they are open to the strong and sandy spring winds, scorching summer sun (notice the umbrellas in the photo?), and bitter winter cold. They also must compete with each other for limited selling space—although at least today the process is self-governing in Santa Fe, though not in Albuquerque.
But what really caught my attention this past week was how the sales spaces are set up. For whatever reason—most likely tradition—the artisans cannot place their wares on tables (as do the artisan vendors at every growers’ market and seasonal gift fair around the country these days). By placing their wares on the ground, dust and dirt can more easily enter and damage the fabric-covered displays, and there’s always the danger that fragile artwork could be stepped on and damaged.
I also wonder: By requiring artisans to place their wares on the ground, does it guarantee that shoppers must literally look down upon their Indigenous sisters and brothers? Until this past week, I had not considered that very likely possibility. And it’s so ingrained in our southwestern culture that no one seems to fight it—or even point it out.
So, I’m choosing to do so today. If there are other, reasonable reasons, for this practice, I welcome the chance to learn about them. But I can’t think of one myself. Why should Indigenous sellers get cricks in their necks? Why should buyers have to look down on them? Why are we not on a level playing field?
This week, I invite you to consider what situations you take for granted that might harbor hidden meaning. Where are some people treated inequitably in ways you hadn’t noticed before?