Behind a fruit stall, next to Seven Sisters Underground station in North London is a bustling indoor market that hosts one of Britain’s largest Latin American food communities. Wards Corner, also known as the “Latin Village” or “Pueblito Paisa” has many names but for an entire diaspora, it is simply home.
Inside the market, music plays, kids run through the aisles, and vendors holler from one unit to another. Other people simply hang out, enjoying tamales or Colombian coffee while soaking up the atmosphere. Watching this happy scene, it’s hard to believe that Wards Corner is under threat. Existing north of Hackney and south of the Tottenham Hotspurs football club development plans, the market has largely evaded the throes of gentrification—until now. Earlier this month, property developer Grainger announced that it would be funding a 108-home development in Tottenham Hale, demolishing the Latin Village to make way for new flats.
The Latin Village occupies a former Edwardian department store, which closed in 1972 and soon fell into disrepair. For decades, the space remained unused, until migrant communities moved in and set up the hairdressing salons, clothing stores, cafes, and food outlets we see today. In the early 2000s, it became a valuable community space for Latin American arrivals who had fled various political upheavals for new lives in London.
Speaking to Save Latin Village, a campaign group founded to stop the destruction of the market, long-time patron Sara Ocampo said: “It opened the doors for me to start a life in London and get ahead without knowing the language, without a profession.”
While Grainger says it is meeting with Latin Village traders to support them through the redevelopment, many are worried that the social benefits Ocampo and others like her get from the market will not be accounted for.
Vicky Alvarez, Colombian-born stall operator spearheading efforts to save the market tells me that “it has been a fight almost ever since” Grainger’s project was announced, as increased rent and bills have already forced many traders out. But in the face of this, the Latin Village community is holding firm for fear of losing what it has built over the years.
“We are a family here and we work as a family, business represents family,” Ben, who runs a unit in the market, told Save Latin Village. “If the business is gone, the whole family is torn apart. I built this business in ten years, now if it’s taken, you take me 20 years back.”
Those who’ve visited Latin America or its diasporas in the US often lament the lack of authentic food in the UK. With a smaller Latin American migrant community in Britain compared to the States, restaurant chain versions of South American food tend to bear little resemblance or affordability to that on the continent. As such, places like the Latin Village and other hubs such as Elephant and Castle’s market are a precious resource for Latinxs missing a taste of home.
Marta Giraldo, who runs a cambio (currency exchange) in the market, told Save Latin Village: “Beyond the economic benefits, the Latin Village is important because it’s a cultural site where can share ideas, tastes, socialise, and enjoy music an food.” Here, affordability for both business owners and consumers has lead to commercial and cultural exchange around butchers, barbers, DVD shops, and the market’s most popular enterprise: food.
With vendors from Peru, Honduras, El Salvador, and other countries across South America, the market offers food from across the region. Colombian food is the most widely represented, and on my visit, I watch plates of pollo, rice and beans, carne desmechada (a Colombian shredded beef dish), and plantain-dressed salads delivered from food outlets’ kitchens to diners gathered around aisle tables at lightning pace. Many of the food stalls are also selling festive natilla, a creamy Colombian dessert often eaten at Christmas, as well as sweet fried dough balls or bunuelos.
Save Latin Village is currently raising funds for a market restoration plan that it feels is inclusive of the community. Every inch of space here, from the barbershop chairs to the cafe tables are being used to organise protests and spread the word about their campaign. The narrative feels familiar: a story of migrants turning an otherwise neglected space into a thriving enterprise, only to be threatened with having it taken away.
As evening descends over the Latin Market, the aisles become crowded and tables are filled with people enjoying freshly made empanadas. The seating at the El Estanquillo supermarket is cleared to one side, and a sound system quickly rigged up. Fairy lights and the glow from the shop fronts provide the only illumination. Families and groups of friends sip lime-topped cervezas, as couples dance hand-in-hand to a soundtrack that nobody can resist moving a body part to.
The people of the Latin Village endeavour to sustain their community for generations to come. In the meantime, they will resist in any way they can: with their presence; with a drink, a meal, and a dance.
You can find out more about the Wards Corner development plans and donate to Save Latin Village’s crowdfunding page here.