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At The Latin Market

May 28, 2018
by the gentle author

Fabian Alberto

Saturday nights at the Latin Market above the station in Seven Sisters are legendary, celebrated for the exuberant crowds, the variety of delicious food, the salsa dancing and the live music. This astonishing labyrinth of shops and booths built into a former department store is almost hidden from the street, yet you only have to walk through the frontage to discover yourself in Latin America. Here you can get a meal or a haircut, find a flat or a job, change money, buy fresh food and get your nails done, all under one roof.

Originally set up by small traders of South American origin, it now includes, Africans, Iranians and many others. Here in N15 – London’s most racially diverse postcode – the market is sometimes referred to as the United States of Tottenham. It is open to all and despite the best efforts of developers to close it down over the last twelve years, a tenacious campaign to save it has ensured that the market still flourishes against the odds. Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I went on along on a quiet day to take portraits and listen to the traders stories.

Support the Campaign to Save the Latin Market

Fabian & Aleyda Alberto Catano Casavid, Restaurant Manantial

Fabian – “I was badly injured in the London bombings of 7/7. A year later I came to this market and met Don Alvaro who said to me, ‘I am selling half of my butcher’s shop, take it and do what you like with it – this will help you overcome your depression and stress.’ So I bought it with my compensation money from the bombing and I started to sell food because I always liked food and I had learnt to be a cook in Colombia.  Now I have been here for thirteen years. I still get panic attacks every so often but this business has been a tonic for me. I have now had seven operations but working here distracts me from all that. It is my home! I arrive here at seven in the morning and leave at eight at night. This small restaurant is everything for me.

The new market administration have been trying to get rid of some the traders so they took away my licence claiming I did not pay my rent. I took them to court and it was established I had paid. Now they claim they took it away because I did not pay for electricity. I usually paid around £140 a month but then they increased it to £900 a month. I used to pay £70 a month for gas and then they increased that to £400. I have suffered a lot of discrimination from the management. This market is very important because a lot of vulnerable people can find a refuge here. People arrive here from South America without food or anywhere to live but we can solve their problems because we are all family.”

Paula Andrea Alvarez Martinez, Genesis Money Transfer

“I am from a village called Anserna Caldas in Colombia, where I grew up on the family farm that belonged to my father and his father before him. We kept cattle and grew coffee. But the story of my family is tragic because most of those on my father’s side have been assassinated, my uncles, my grandfather and my father. A feud arose with another family and the killings began. I witnessed this violence in my childhood and all these losses became too much for us but nobody wanted to leave. When things got really tough in 1992 my father came to London. He did unskilled labour, cleaning and washing dishes, before returning to Colombia after a year.

At that time, there were a lot of problems with armed guerrillas and they kidnapped my elderly grandmother, but my father confronted them and took my her back. He became a hero, featured in newspapers, but from that moment he became a target and the threats began. It was very difficult time for our family. My younger brother was in London and he sought asylum. The day my father was killed, I was away on a school excursion and my cousin’s boyfriend arrived at half past ten. I knew something had happened but I never imagined my father was dead. Our lives changed. We became separated. I was eighteen years old and I went to live with my aunt in Bogota. I worked and studied psychology. After sixteen years, I met my current husband who is British and four months ago I came to London.”

Juan Carlos Alvarez, Don Carlo Restaurant

“I was one of the first traders in this market fifteen years ago. We were looking for a place for the Colombian community. My first business here was the car wash outside, then I sold the car wash and opened a restaurant. Always I have been around this market and my children have grown up in it – both of them are at university now. I am working now to pay for their fees.

When I started it was crazy because some people were using the units for prostitution and drug dealing and nobody else dared enter, yet slowly it got better. I am disappointed now because it used to be cleaner and more secure but recently it has been run down by the management. They want to turn it into a dump so they can justify knocking it down. They want to emphasise the negative. Still, after three, a lot of parents come with their kids and all of us we look after them. Anyone that arrives from South America, they know this place and we can help them. I work with local schools who bring children to try South American food and they learn about another culture, without even leaving Tottenham.”

Vicky Alvarez Martinez, El Cafetal Services

“I started working here sixteen years ago. The reason was that I was a single mother with a daughter, divorced from my ex-husband. It was so difficult financially for me to work and earn enough to pay the bills. My friend told me that there was a unit to let in the Latin Market but I did not have any money so I went to the bank for a loan. I thought it would suit me because I could take care of my daughter at the same time as working and earning money. When my daughter finished school each day, she would came here and play around in the market.

At first, I brought merchandise from Colombia like silver and Colombian jeans for women. I was also working part-time somewhere else then, so when I finished I picked my daughter up from school and we came and opened up here. We were only three or four traders then but slowly the community started to come and the need of everybody else became our needs. That has been the real achievement – it is not what we sell, it is not what we do it, it is the community we have created. People come here with problems and we understand because we have been through the same struggles. In the beginning, it was the Colombian community and then people from all over Latin America and then people from all over the world. Now it is a market for everybody.”

Ben Sanday Nyerende, Property Services

“I come from Uganda and I have been trading in this market since 2006. I came to Britain in 2002 because there were so many difficulties in my country and circumstances forced me to leave. This village is for everyone and there is a vibrant community here. Everyone is very helpful here and we found it easy to integrate and work with them. It feels a million miles from Africa but it makes a real difference for a person like me who comes from far away, to mix up with these good people. I started up as an estate agent in the market, we manage and rent properties, and I am one of the few that will work with vulnerable people living on benefits. People that other agencies reject, we take them. My customers all come through this market and they are from all parts of the community.

As traders, we used to have a sympathetic management in the market but in recent years many things have changed. The new management have driven away our customers and affected our livelihoods, by saying they are going to knock down the building in adverts all over Tottenham. They will not fix anything, they permit the property to be vandalised. This is their way to drive us out but this building brings everyone together, so many people from different cultural backgrounds. The whole building has free parking but the management give out parking tickets and drive customers away. They created their own company to make money out of this, pounding us with penalties. I received a parking ticket in the mail for a time when I was not parked here. There is nowhere to buy a ticket but they fine you for not having one. The whole system is scrambled! People are scared and living in a fearful manner, but I am not scared – they will have to take me out of here with a bulldozer.”

Farhad Zarei, City News

“I have been here in this market since 2002, running a general store selling housewares and doing key cutting. I bought the shop which had already been running for twenty-five years.  Since then, the market has become busier and my business has grown, so I was able to expand into the next unit two years ago. The South American people have brought a lot of business. It is a very important place for me because I have been here nearly seventeen years and all my life is working in this market.”

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Judi Jones permalink
    May 28, 2018

    Thank you Gentle Author for highlighting this important market . .which is a lifeline for so many people who want to earn a living…yet sadly once again it’s ruthless commerce versus community . . . so frustrating.

  2. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    May 28, 2018

    Supported and shared.
    It sounds like a magical thing.
    Local councils can be so astonishingly out of tune with the people they represent. It’s shameful they have the wrong priorities. Encouraging community should be in the legal requirements/ written commitments of all local councils.

  3. May 28, 2018

    Who is this management, and why is the local authority allowing them to behave like this?

  4. Richard Smith permalink
    May 28, 2018

    Thank you for telling us about these good people GA. What a struggle life has been for them and my heart goes out to them. The market is important and I hope it remains open for many, many years to come.

  5. pauline taylor permalink
    May 28, 2018

    This is becoming a horribly familiar story in our country now and developers have no shame in working to destroy a thriving community like this. Consequently of course we are all the losers apart from those who are already too rich for their own good; situations like this are powered by pure greed and I find that quite evil. I wish all of the people featured here every success in their fight against the developers, they surely deserve it.

  6. Sue Hare (Radley) permalink
    May 28, 2018

    What a fantastic place the local community must benefit from such hardworking Londoners. I wish you well for the future

  7. Gaynor permalink
    May 28, 2018

    Just subscribed and I am really enjoy receiving the newsletter, absolutely brilliant – thank you

  8. Patricia permalink
    May 28, 2018

    Another uplifting story GA….and another example of a community fighting to survive. Fight on I say!

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