Vittles 6.7 - Save Latin Village

Migrant Markets & Latinx Mutual Aid, by Javie Huxley

I was recently watching Patrick Keiller’s documentary London, a film filled with grey streets and black bile, and thinking yet again that nothing under the sun is new. The film takes place during the 1992 general election and details the despondency that Major’s victory left in its wake, the shock that after the ravages of Thatcherism a Conservative government could still be elected. In the film you have the visual representations of London’s growing inequality - the edifice of One Canada Square, the hollowed out buildings in the City bombed by the IRA, symbols of the extraordinary invisible power concentrated within the Square Mile. And also signs of life - Ridley Road, the old Granville Arcade at Brixton Market disproving that there was nothing there before Franco Manca and Honest Burgers, the Shopping Centre at Elephant and Castle, at this point a lurid pink. Watching it I was overwhelmed with melancholy, not just for the London of my childhood, but because something made 30 years ago could still be so relevant today. Every single one of those spaces that represented hope, some small outcrop of life untarnished by the blandness that can sometimes smother London like a blanket, is now under threat. And the government has won again.

For Keiller’s narrator, the election of a Conservative government simply means life will get worse.

“His flat would continue to deteriorate, and his rent increase. He would be intimidated by vandalism and petty crime. The bus service would get worse. … His job would be at risk and subjected to interference, his income would decrease, he would drink more and less well, he would be ill more often, he would die sooner. For the old, or anyone with children, it would be much worse.”

So why do we keep electing them? There are many reasons you can point to as to why Labour lost the last election, but the actions of Labour-controlled councils over the last 20 years is right up there. It is the Labour-led Southwark council that sold and demolished the Heygate Estate and approved the regeneration of the Shopping Centre despite strong opposition from the Latinx community. It’s also a Labour-led council in Haringey that is trying to build over Latin Village. These battles and betrayals have already played out in Labour heartlands across the country; London may generally be red now (as Owen Hatherley details in his fascinating book-length essay in the New Left Review) but this cannot always be taken for granted.

Today’s newsletter is by Javie Huxley, from the Save Latin Village campaign. Javie has been integral in the fight against the regeneration of the Latin Village market in Seven Sisters, organising with traders to get their voices and concerns heard. At a protest earlier this year I was heartened to also see representatives from similar grassroots campaigns at Ridley Road and Elephant and Castle join and extend their solidarity, acknowledging that these are all London-wide fights. There is a fear that COVID-19 may just be the excuse councils and developers need to fast track changes without due approval, which is all the more reason for vigilance. Our restaurants are under threat - yes - but what about our city? It is the fight for space that was the biggest issue before coronavirus, and it will be the biggest issue afterwards.

At the end of this newsletter there are links to donate to the campaign as well as tomorrow’s Zoom party. Tune in and you will learn that what is at stake is way more than arepas and empanadas, something intangible that the term ‘restaurant industry’ cannot encompass or ever hope to understand.

Save Latin Village – Migrant Markets & Latinx Mutual Aid, by Javie Huxley

The Latin Village is a treasured indoor market outside Seven Sisters station in Tottenham, made up of dozens of lively small businesses from restaurants to hairdressers. As a space, it is completely unique in London - when you step inside, you’re greeted with the delicious and familiar scent of deep-fried Colombian empanadas, oozing with piping hot shredded beef or pork, ready to be eaten with little tubs of burn-your-lips-spicy aji picante. You can’t ignore the bustle of locals on a weekday enjoying a quick catch up over rich coffee and maybe a slice of brazo de reina - an indulgent, sweet dulce de leche cake that fills me with childhood nostalgia. The mood becomes electric on a Friday and Saturday night, regulars will exclaim ‘salud’ and clink their Club Colombias together, before venturing onto the dance floor for a joyous salsa to celebrate the weekend. There are always large groups feasting on the ‘bandeja paisa’; a platter that is quintessentially Colombian, piled high with meats like chicharrón as well as  avocado, fried plantain, beans and an egg on top for added decadence. Typically accompanied by an arepa you can use to scoop up any precious leftover juices on the plate. Food is made to be messy and shared in the Latin Village, it’s a social affair.   

Traders within the market are predominantly Latinx and I am quick to boast that most of them are women. The Latin Village is a true example of how female migrants can be empowered when supported and surrounded by their community. I’m a British-Chilean immigrant and I grew up in a tiny, predominantly white town called Felixstowe. I struggled to find any sense of belonging until I moved to Seven Sisters and found the market with so many proudly Latinx people within it. It’s campaigners like Mirca Morera and Vicky Alvarez that made me part of the family and taught me how to be bolder. They were the catalyst to help me find my political voice and finally explore my heritage in a way that felt comfortable. Plus, I realised being Latin American extended beyond my undying love for empanadas. Given my own experience, it’s no surprise the Latin Village is a community meeting point for Latin Americans and, above all else, it is a vital hub for the BAME community much like our sister community the Latin Quarter in Elephant & Castle. 

The market is a source of pride for the Latinx community, but for years traders within it have been subject to harassment and eviction threats. Campaigners and traders alike have been fighting for over 17 years against its demolition. Last January, Haringey Council passed a Compulsory Purchase Order, which would allow developers Grainger PLC to demolish the Latin Village and start their ‘regeneration’ of the site. In short, our hub would be replaced with 196 unaffordable homes and a generic shopping centre, despite our presentation of a viable alternative through the Wards Corner Community Plan and last year’s legal battle in the High Court. What these plans don’t understand, or choose to ignore, is that the Latin Village is not just a source of valuable income for members of the community, it is a vital support network. A building that facilitates mutual aid and empowers migrants, in a time of increased hostility and failed institutional support.

It feels all too convenient that the regeneration scheme is accelerated during this pandemic. There is a tempting rhetoric to view coronavirus as ‘the great leveller’ but in reality the pandemic has allowed those that were already unprotected and teetering on the edge of poverty to be pushed well over the edge. On Monday 16th March, the power was cut to all traders within the Latin Village. Due to the lack of natural light, traders were forced to work in the dark and lost a lot of perishable food stock. It was after this point that the situation spiralled. On the 23rd of March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the closure of non-essential shops, which excluded market stalls and restaurants which were able to operate as takeaways. Despite this, traders within the market were not permitted to offer essential services and the Latin Village was ordered to close. To add salt to the wound, Grainger PLC reminded traders of their commitment to the demolition of the Latin Village and the plans to move the traders out towards the end of the year. Multiple traders reported being locked out of the market without warning or adequate time to rescue their belongings and perishables within their units. 

Following the Latin Village’s closure, we continue to hear case after case of people in our community turning to food banks after losing their livelihoods, only then to struggle to access these vital services due to factors such as language barriers. Many migrant communities have sunk further into survival mode. It’s becoming harder to protect the health and livelihoods of the most vulnerable when our vital hubs have been closed with no certainty that they will reopen. 

Mutual aid has become a part of the public consciousness during the UK’s lockdown. It has been heart-warming to see communal support through small acts of kindness – like checking up on a sick neighbour or delivering care packages. At last we’re seeing a lot more people realise the importance of collectivism over individualism. These mutual aid networks that have developed during COVID-19 are a small victory against a government that has revealed, in plain sight, a callous preference of profit over people. These systems, however, are not a new phenomenon for BAME communities. The Latin Village is the perfect example of how mutual aid is an integral part of markets. Working-class, migrant communities have inherently relied on these networks to survive for decades, be it through sharing a hot meal with a fellow trader after a long day’s work, or discretely sending care packages to those in the community dealing with food insecurity. 

Mutual aid for the Latinx community is also the volunteers that are working tirelessly to translate documents and help to navigate the endless bureaucracy of universal credit and emergency funds. It’s the endless WhatsApp messages between Latin Village traders checking in on each other, sharing legal advice and sending uplifting videos to boost morale. It is figures like Vicky Alvarez, a trader and fearless campaigner, calling you a week into lockdown just to tell you she loves you and we are in it together. Even after her sleepless nights she is providing legal aid for fellow traders. 

We must go beyond seeing the Latin Village as just a market. There’s plenty of discussion surrounding the restaurant industry during COVID-19 that primarily focuses on the economic contribution restaurants make to their area, but this fails to consider the cultural significance of so many markets, especially those run by migrants. The worth of our communities is not defined by the material wealth we generate. After all, what has kept the community resistant to endless knockbacks? It is knowing that we will be supported by people that understand our journey. People that understand the trials and tribulations of being uprooted from your country of origin, just to end up in a place that doesn’t care for your basic rights in a time of crisis. It is only through these grassroots networks that we can begin to create a sense of safety and support. It's only after these systems have been established that traders can begin to create the delicious food that we’re so well known for. 

We must choose what is worth preserving after this pandemic. My heart felt so full after seeing images of Ridley Road market buzzing with locals buying essentials - I would love this appreciation to extend to our Latinx hubs. The Latin Village was shut down due to COVID-19, but many traders argue our grocers provide a valuable service to the community during a time of crisis. Latin American produce is near impossible to find outside our market, and there is a potential to distribute fresh goods and a takeaway service that the wider community in Tottenham could rely on. Access to food should be a cultural right. Latin Americans cannot simply pop into Tesco on a whim for a bag of arepa flour in the same way we cannot access essential services in Spanish. Latinx people are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the UK, yet so many of us still sustain ourselves through systems that we have carefully built, without the aid of the government.

Food is the most wonderful gateway into communities. It continues to be my strongest cultural tie to my Chilean heritage. I would struggle to recite the Spanish alphabet, but give me 10 minutes and I will tell you hazy yet delicious memories of childhood birthdays - I would beg my mum to make her mouthwatering pastel de choclo and alfajores overflowing with dulce de leche. But it shouldn’t end there. Our migrant communities are initially built through necessity and then sustained for decades after by the love that connects the people within them. For our Latinx community mutual aid does not and will not stop once this pandemic ends. Please help our wonderful community fight social cleaning by donating to our CrowdJustice if you can or joining us for our ¡SLV ZOOM FIESTA! this Saturday. We need to protect our migrant markets at all costs, not just because they serve Colombian coffee and pan de bono (as tasty as they are), but because they provide so much more.

This newsletter was written and illustrated by Javie Huxley, a British-Chilean illustrator and activist who has been at the forefront of the Save Latin Village campaign in Seven Sisters. Javie was paid for her work for this article. To donate to the campaign, please click here https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/latinvillagepueblitopaisa/

Photos in order of appearance are by Karla Lizethe @framesfromhunter and Mario Washington-Ihieme @maz_o

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