How Was Your Day … Jewelry Vendor?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
By Rachel Levin
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico
Pretty slow. I’ve been sitting here for 40 years — things aren’t like they used to be.
I’m Tarascan Michoacan. The Tarascans were metalsmiths in Mexico, the only tribe that didn’t get conquered by the Spanish or Aztecs — because they were tough. My father was born in New Mexico, in a town called Swastika. Really. To them it meant “happy,” but after the war they had to change it. I grew up in Taos and moved here in 1975 to study dance at the University of New Mexico. I started selling jewelry to help put myself through school. It was the turquoise boom, in the ’70s and ’80s. I used to come out here at 1 a.m. and sleep in my truck overnight to get a spot on the sidewalk. I’d wake up and throw my cloth as soon as we were allowed, at 7:30 a.m. Then work 12 hours and do it all again.
Now we have a lottery system; there are just 15 spaces for 50 of us. So I’m out here only two or three days a week. Seniority doesn’t count. I’ve been here for 40 years, but if someone new came in tomorrow, they could take my spot. It is what it is. Business is up and down. Some people sit here all day and make $12.
Turquoise just isn’t as popular anymore, but in many parts of the country, you still can’t get it. So I wear as much as I can; people freak out because I’m wearing so much. That’s what we do in New Mexico — we wear turquoise. I figure I’m a tourist attraction.
I don’t like to say how much money I make because the merchants like to use it against us; the shop owners don’t like us vendors. And they really don’t like me — being the rabble-rouser that I am, I led a boycott of the merchants in 1990, when they kicked us out. But we fought back and were back on our blankets, selling our jewelry, a few months later. We have more restrictions than we did in the ’70s. Now we have to make our own stuff, which I really enjoy. I like to keep up my inventory.
I never graduated from UNM; I had 12 [credit] hours left, but I ran out of money. A few years ago, I tried to go back to school and finish my degree. But they told me my credits didn’t count anymore, that I’d have to start all over again. So I said, adios, I’ll be a street vendor. I don’t mind. I like being outside. I like talking to people from all over the world. I’ve learned a lot over the years.
Like whenever a tourist says, “I’ll be back” — you know they won’t.
—As told to Rachel Levin.