Journal No. 5, Tanner Smith: My Conversation with Joe Joaquin

At dinner tonight, I was fortunate enough to be sitting on the corner next to Joe Joaquin, who has accomplished more in his life than I could ever imagine accomplishing in mine. One of the main things that I noticed as I was talking to him was the presence he had about him. He had one of those unmistakable auras that comes with a person with great presence of mind and body, as if he knew something that the rest of us did not. Of course, he actually does knows many things that the rest of us do not, but there are plenty of smart and accomplished people who are not able to carry themselves that Joe does.

In my conversation with him, he told me about his travels across the United States. Of all of the places he had been, he told me that other than his obvious love for his homeland, his favorite place that he had visited was Hawaii. This led me to a question about the nature of the O’odham rituals, as I was curious whether they could be performed outside of O’odham land. He told me that they could be, and in a few cases, they had to be when a member of the nation died while visiting other places. The traditions are largely tied to the land, but they also exist off of the land, as O’odham are able to perform some rituals and summon some spirits when away. When I asked him about the traditional crops of his people, partially motivated by my research paper and part genuine curiosity, he told me that they are what he grew up on and a good amount of what he still eats today, as he tries to eat whatever is in season, or whatever is stored away. I looked at the good shape that Joe was still in, despite his advanced age, and wondered whether this could largely be due to the traditional diet.

One other thing that I noticed when talking to Joe is the manner in which he told stories. Sometimes I would ask him a question and he would quickly give me a short answer, but then pause for 10-20 seconds and keep on going with a longer answer. There could be several different explanations for this, including his increasing age, but I did not perceive this as the likely answer. My theory is that he has so much information and so many stories stashed away that he occasionally has trouble figuring out how much detail to include in an answer, as on any given O’odham related subject he could probably go on for hours. He also had a particular way of forming some thoughts that reminded me of the older man who mentored me in baseball scouting this summer. I do not know exactly how to describe it other than the fact that his sentences were usually packed with information, but at least as a younger listener, you really had to listen closely in order to fully understand the meanings of the things that he said. I spent a good amount of the dinner nodding along as Joe was talking while I pieced together what Joe meant. I almost always got what I thought was his point by the time he finished speaking and was able to parlay it into a comment or another question, but to me, it was interesting that he spoke in this same way as my baseball scouting mentor. There are probably wisdom and generational gaps that help to explain this, but it is probably something I am going to be putting a little bit of further thought into in the near future.

One Reply to “Journal No. 5, Tanner Smith: My Conversation with Joe Joaquin”

  1. I’m glad you got the chance to sit next to Joe at dinner. I wish everyone in the group had had an opportunity to talk to him personally during this trip. As you discovered, he is a man with an incredible storehouse of knowledge. You made an interesting comparison between the way Joe structured his story telling with your scouting mentor last summer. What I have noticed in Indian narrative is that there is a major theme — a common value — driving their story telling. They move from story to story…or example to example—of that value. Their narratives are not predominantly shaped by chronology, but end up being a contatenation of such examples. They thus return to their “point” in what may be described as a cyclical rather than a linear fashion.

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