Community-run marketplaces are a legacy of our ancestors. The market is the heartbeat of the community – where people come to nourish themselves with food, culture, and traditions. It is a space where vendors, neighbors, friends, and family connect amidst the sounds of community: music, chatter, children laughing, elders reminiscing, mothers exchanging recipes. A marketplace is more than a business, because it is a site for food access and community building.
A marketplace, if seen strictly as an economic enterprise, may not have been established in our community, the Chamizal Neighborhood, one of the most impoverished in the nation, according to the Federal Reserve Bank. The average income here is $12,000 a year. That is perhaps why no major supermarket chain has established a store here. Of course a health food chain is even less likely to be based here, because they target customers with an even greater income.
For nearly 30 years we, the women of La Mujer Obrera, have taken it upon ourselves to create social enterprises based on community needs such as daycare, housing, and food access. We believe that we deserve a marketplace with healthful foods that places community wellness in equal priority with monetary profits – not in spite of our neighborhood’s poverty, but precisely because of it. We deserve access to healthy foods because our grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren are being assaulted by an epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity that is unprecedented and in large part due to the types of foods that are available and affordable for us. We have a right to shift the course of our own destinies and defend our communities from deaths due to chronic diseases.
We also have a right to healthful foods that are based in our culture, history, and traditions. The traditional Mesoamerican diet is a stark contrast to what people associate with Mexican food today. We have a right to know and utilize ingredients like amaranth and chia, which were outlawed during the Spanish conquest as part of a military strategy. At Mercado Mayapán , we are re-learning about ingredients of the Mesoamerican diet, having taste tests, cooking demonstrations, and nutrition education for our staff and our community in English and in Spanish.
Now, we are working to start an indoor Farmers’ Market at Mercado Mayapán . We are working with farmers who do not use pesticides and whose small farms (50 acres or less) are located within 100 miles of El Paso. And although business strategists encouraged us to place our Farmers’ Market at more profitable locations in town and to target more affluent customers, we are happy to house the Farmers’ Market in this neighborhood, where people need it the most. Our food stamp friendly Farmers’ Market, with promotional and educational materials in both English and Spanish, will be housed in Mercado Mayapán , amidst the fair trade artisan goods, fresh food court, and cultural programming the women of La Mujer Obrera have worked hard to establish.
Our traditional markets and our traditional foods and cooking preparation methods were inherently healthy. It is our right to celebrate and live those roots. It is a legacy we will leave to our children and grandchildren.
Mercado Mayapán is currently open Friday-Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Farmers’ Market will be inaugurated June 4, 2011 at 11 a.m.