An Interview with Simon Ortiz: July 14, 1988
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Studies in American Indian Literatures 16.4 (2004) 12-19



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An Interview with Simon Ortiz July 14, 1988

SIMON ORTIZ: My family comes from the Acoma Pueblo reservation west of Albuquerque and, specifically, at McCartys on the New Mexico state maps, right off the Interstate 40.

DAVID DUNAWAY: Did you grow up in Acoma?

SO: I grew up in the Acoma Pueblo community, at McCartys. McCartys is one of the villages, the other village is Acomita, and other additional small settlements at Anzac and some newer ones. I grew up there for the first twenty years of my life.

DD: So what was McCartys and the Acoma community like in the '40s and '50s?

SO: It was the war, World War II, of course, and the life there was sort of on the edge of something new happening. The war was going on, I remember that there were young men who were uniform, going off somewhere, to California, wherever that was, and there were trains passing on the railroad, which runs about a mile north of my mother's house, and there were always these war things going up and down, west and east, and things happening like that.

Acoma and McCartys, the little village, was very small at that time, and it didn't seem to be any more world out there except what was passing through. It was a very small community and I grew up within the community which was family, clan, grandparents, mother, and father. Although, obviously, changes that had been taking place for many, many decades and in the past two hundred or so years—three hundred or so years—was very much impressioned upon me as a [End Page 12] child of the 1940s. There was something going on, mysterious, and, of course, somewhat fearful.

I found that when I started school that this world that was outside of Acoma and McCartys was so different, because most of that world and the exposure that I had to it was through reading—what I read, anyway, in the pages in the schoolbooks—was not really the Acoma and the Indian world in general. It was always some white-picket-fence in the West, or perhaps in California. When I was very young, things were changing so fast. The atomic bomb was exploded right at the beginning of my life. I was born in 1941, right at the beginning of that war. And in 1945 and the changes that were wrought by the war, and especially the bomb, you know, are a part of the history that I was living. I didn't really know it, of course, as a child, just that it was happening. I think that the changes were exemplified by school, by the railroad, and the men, leaving. My father was a railroad worker. I didn't learn any English until I went to school at McCartys's day school, which was then a BIA federal school, when I was six, seven years old.

DD: Was it a rural environment?

SO: Very much so. Pueblo Indian people traditionally are agricultural people, cultivating the land with the traditional crops of corn, chile, pumpkin, beans, squash, those kinds of things. Bottom lands along the Rio de San Jose, which originates in the Zuni Mountains, were used for the growing of these crops, and then dry-farming in the Acoma valley, which is twelve more miles to the south, which is the traditional home—mother home site—of the Acoma people.

I was born actually at the old Albuquerque Indian Hospital, here, in Albuquerque, and from there on I lived at home until I was about nineteen, when I went away to school—college—for the first time. In a couple of those years, because my father was a railroad worker for the Santa Fe Railroad, we lived in California, I think, when I was very young, when I was a baby. And then later on, when I was in the fifth grade, I remember, we went...