As San Antonians join Americans nationwide in indulging in the busiest shopping weekend of the year, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center sees the 30th annual Peace Market as a more ethical alternative to malls and superstores. 

This year’s Peace Market runs Friday through Sunday, Nov. 29 through Dec. 1, in and around the Esperanza Center grounds at 922 San Pedro Ave.

Designed to help support artisans and cooperatives locally, nationally, and internationally, the Peace Market is bigger than ever. It will feature more than 100 vendors, more than 25 percent of whom are from outside the United States, selling goods ranging from woven rugs, pottery, and hand-crafted textiles to hand-embroidered clothing, paintings, sculptures, vintage goods, and soaps.

The event, as has been the custom for more than 10 years now, will also feature readings from local poets and performances from more than 15 local acts, representing soul, conjunto, cumbia, R&B, rock, and more. A full list of performers and a schedule is available at the Esperanza Center’s website.

The Peace Market wasn’t always such a bustling affair, though.

“The first year it fell into our lap,” said Esperanza Center Director Graciela Sanchez. Someone had donated a bunch of poinsettia plants and someone else had donated some slightly damaged Mexican folk art, so she and others thought of putting on a little market. They invited a few other artisans they knew, “all of whom were also working for social justice or serving the community in one way or another.”

That year, Sanchez said, the market had about 10 vendors, but she considered it enough of a success that the center decided to do it again the following year, moving the date from early December to the day after Thanksgiving.

“For us, working for social, economic, environmental, and gender justice, we thought it would be great on Black Friday,” she said, “when everyone is all about consumerism and purchasing and standing in line and shoving. … It’s a selfish day … but our idea is that this would be a way to capture some of that spending and redirect it to folks working on the national or international level that are doing something good for communities.”

Sanchez is pleased with how the Market has grown, but she’s most proud of the good it has done and the sense of community it has fostered.

“It’s not just an Esperanza thing,” she said. “It really belongs to the people. “It’s a very loving environment and that just feels special.”

She feels happy to have helped create “a great sense of community based on lots of love.”

When selecting vendors for the limited space available, Sanchez made it clear that not just any seller of goods will do. 

“We ask vendors what they do through the rest of the year,” she said, “because if all they are trying to do is make a bunch of money then they can go do that in other places. … We want to know that the money made at Peace Market goes to help people and communities.”

Esperanza Center takes a 20 percent commission on all sales to help cover the costs of putting on and advertising the market. 

Sanchez said that in the future she hopes “to expand [the Peace Market’s] reach into more countries, and develop connections with more international communities, especially people in cooperatives.”

Kristel Andrea Orta-Puente, who has photographed the Peace Market for the past few years, offered up some insights into the market’s spirit.

“My favorite thing about Peace Market,” she said, “is how it brings us, the community, together.”

“… We have people that come shop all three days and bring family and visiting friends. It is such a different atmosphere than the mall and you see people that feel like a family outside your own family.”

She said she loves that people come to the market and buy gifts for people that do good for the vendor, the buyer, and the recipient. 

“I remember a mom last year coming to buy her daughter her first rebozo for college graduation,” Orta-Puente said. “She also bought her a pair of matching earrings. She came to find a certain vendor from Mexico who she had bought hers from.” 

Noting how much better the market makes her feel than a mall, Orta-Puente said that the Peace Market offers a special experience even if you don’t buy anything. 

“This is just a big party where there is shopping, drinks, music, and vendors,” she said. “Everyone is happy and no one is pushing or shoving even when it gets packed! It is so inspiring to know that so many care about supporting local vendors and value craftsmanship.”

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James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.