The fight to Save Latin Village has reached David and Goliath heights
25 Oct 2019
Illustration by Javie Huxley
The Latin Village – also known as the Pueblito Paisa – is a vibrant indoor market next to Seven Sisters station in Tottenham. It’s a beloved hub for the Latinx, and wider BAME community, in north London; providing over 60 working-class migrant traders with a livelihood, which makes it the second largest concentration of Latin American businesses in the UK. The long-standing market also serves as one of the few havens where first and second-generation Latinx migrants in London to celebrate their culture. Despite all this, campaigners have had to fight relentlessly to save the Latin Village for almost two decades. Now, 2019 threatens to be the year that we lose that fight – and the Village – forever.
I found the Latin Village in 2017, the year I moved to Tottenham. I will always remember spotting it for the first time and being completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe I was hearing so many people speaking Spanish like my mother. This wave of familiarity gave me an instant sense of belonging after a life-time of feeling like an outsider. I could smell the food I loved, the scent of freshly-baked empanadas filling my nostrils, giving me a heady rush of childhood nostalgia. I saw people that looked like me after all this time.
I’m a first-generation immigrant from Chile. My family moved here when I was just three years old, to the tiny coastal town of Felixstowe, Suffolk. Sounds idyllic to some, but it was conservative and extremely white. In my primary school, I was usually the brownest kid in the class, despite having a light caramel complexion. I always found navigating these white spaces came at the expense of my Chilean identity. Which I felt like I was losing touch with anyway; it wasn’t like there was a Felixstowe Latinx community around me to share it with me. Instead of trying to connect with my history, like reading the Isabel Allende books that my mum would tactically leave around the house, all I wanted was to eat turkey twizzlers for dinner and watch Byker Grove reruns after school like my friends.
“Displacing minority communities and ripping away their livelihoods is social cleansing for capitalist gain. We need community resistance to win”
My childhood was spent trying to squeeze myself into a white identity, which like a hand-me-down from a shorter relative, was ill-fitting and dangerously restrictive. And it left me confused; I wondered why no matter what I did, there would always be someone pointing out my apparent alienness. Like when teachers would get flustered and sigh when they reached “Javiera” on the register. Or when I moved to a new school in Ipswich and was asked if I was a Filipino classmate’s sister. The list goes on. No matter how much love and reminders of my Chilean identity I received from my family, it was never enough to help me verbalise the feeling of otherness that my experiences outside the home instilled in me, let alone begin to unpack it and heal.
Then came the Pueblito Paisa. I’ll never forget my visits during the World Cup in 2018. I basked in the electrifying atmosphere of Colombian celebrations or commiserations after a match. The sense of joy was contagious – I could see facets of my own personality in the turbulent displays of emotion and unfaltering hospitality. Next thing I knew, I was at the Latin Village with other campaigners, planning our next steps over a bottle of Club Colombia and steaming hot arepas. I have the warmest memories of my British-Colombian friend patiently taking me by the hands and teaching me to salsa, after she saw my panic when everyone got up to dance and I couldn’t remember the steps my mother had taught me. The Latin Village gives first-generation immigrants a safe space to learn and grow.
Yet, future generations may not have the same joy of discovering the Latin Village. On Thursday 10 October 2019, Save Latin Village, a dedicated team of trustees and campaigners, were devastated to lose an appeal against the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) at the Royal Courts of Justice. The CPO gives the go ahead for the demolition of the Latin Village and allows Grainger PLC – Britain’s biggest build-to-rent developer – to begin their “regeneration” scheme of 196 luxury homes and a shopping centre. This plan, which unites Haringey Council and Grainger PLC, has been in the pipeline since 2005.
“Social cleansing” is a more accurate term than “regeneration”; the demolition would displace a predominantly Latinx community in favour of profit. Even the United Nations have warned that the demolition would threaten the cultural rights of traders. It’s a terrifying phenomenon, echoed across London, with other hubs for marginalised communities, like Elephant & Castle’s Latin Quarterand Ridley Road Market in Dalston.
“I always find myself returning to the question: ‘how would you feel growing up without your community?’ I’ve finally found mine and there’s no chance I’m letting it go.”
To make matters worse, Grainger’s plans are supported by the Latin Village market managers Quaterbridge-MAM. Quaterbridge-MAM have subjected traders – such as Vicky Alvarez a prolific campaigner – to racist discrimination and intimidation, which includes personalised insults and threats of eviction, whilst pocketing from the deliberate negligence of the Latin Village. Additionally, selected traders, most of them ones who have been extremely vocal in the anti-demolition campaign, received a rent increase of 28% – with only one week’s notice in August.
Appeals have been made to Haringey Council to act in the interests of the Village. Yet, nothing has been enough to snap Haringey Council into supporting their own minority community and removing the market manager, despite the council being Britain’s first far-left leaning Labour council, led by Joseph Ejiofor a member of Momentum’s national co-ordinating group. The Save Latin Village team has even created an alternative community plan – the Wards Corner Community Plan – to try and spur the council into action by presenting a viable alternative to Grainger’s redevelopment.
The Save Latin Village legal team will appeal again, which means raising even more legal funds, predominantly sourced from the general public. Community action is imperative: our institutions are failing migrant communities miserably. We’re taking the campaign out of the courts and onto the streets, starting with our upcoming protest on Saturday 26 October.
The Latinx community in Tottenham are unapologetic. Discovering them, the Pueblito Paisa, and my place within those spaces, helped make sense of my confused existence. In 2018, I met up with Mirca Morera – the wonderful founder of Save Latin Village and current trustee – she showed me around the village with an acceptance and warmth I’d only ever received from my family.
Shortly after our meeting, I felt inspired to create illustrations for the campaign in and simultaneously started to fall in love with my roots. I found a safe space to explore the complexities of my identity, where I truly felt I belonged, irregardless of my broken Spanish. I’ve even made life-long friends in the other campaigners: we’ve created a family and it continues to grow.
For the first time, I can call this vibrant corner of England my home. Now, as a campaigner and trustee for Save Latin Village, I always find myself returning to the question: “How would you feel growing up without your community?” I’ve finally found mine and there’s no chance I’m letting it go.
We need all the solidarity we can get for our battle of David vs Goliath proportions. Support can come in many different forms. You can follow us on social media – Instagram @savelatinvillag, Twitter @LatinVillageUK – for regular updates on the campaign. Also, you can simply read or share our Wards Corner Community Plan, which sets out a viable alternative to the demolition of the Latin Village. Or you can donate or share our CrowdJustice for legal fees.
Finally, make sure you join us at our protest this Saturday 26 October at 12pm, outside the Latin Village (Seven Sisters station). Bring your friends and help us make noise for our incredible working-class, BAME community in Tottenham. We will demand Haringey Council follow their own recommendations and get Quaterbridge-MAM out.
We cannot let our government and local councils sign off another working-class, migrant community to a soulless developer under the guise of ‘regeneration’. Displacing minority communities and ripping away their livelihoods is social cleansing for capitalist gain. We need community resistance to win – with the support of others, that is possible. La lucha continua: the fight continues and we are stronger than ever.