Border links by Julie



Head for the Border: Al Gran Mercado in Phoenix


            I took the advice of Dr. K and went to the Al Gran Mercado swap meet.  I was amazed at what I saw.  I felt as though I was in Mexico.  I have been to certain parts of Mexico before and this was definitely a little part of Mexico in the middle of Phoenix.

            I asked my neighbors to go with me because my husband was working and insisted someone go with me.  To my surprise my neighbor, who sells coffee to the family who owns the land, knew Hector the man who has run the swap meet for about twelve years.  This was terrific because I was able to meet Hector and ask him a few questions about the swap meet.

            I asked him how long the swap meet had been there and he said about thirteen years.  It actually started out small but over the years it has grown exponentially.  He told me that on any given weekend there are roughly thirty-seven thousand people who attend.  I was completely amazed, but after walking around not surprised.

            As I approached the swap meet I could hear two different Latino live bands playing, which really set the tone.  I then had to enter through a metal detector which put a little fear in me just because it is completely out of the ordinary in my culture when I go shopping.  As soon as I walked through the detector I was immersed in the Latino culture. 

            I was surrounded by families and people of all ages.  They were all of Latino decent.  I felt as though I was out of place because I could see people staring at my neighbor and I.  I didn’t feel uncomfortable but I have an incredible understanding now how the Latino immigrants must feel living in our world!  I’m sure they endure the same kind of awkwardness I felt at that time.  There was not so much of a language barrier because most of the people I spoke to were bilingual. 

            I looked at everything as I was walked around.  I have to tell you, one of the first things I noticed that was different in this interior US/Mexico border culture was the mannequins.  I know you will probably laugh, but the backsides of the mannequins are much more round than what I would see if I was looking in a window at Scottsdale Fashion Square.  I found this very interesting and humorous just in the difference in culture.  Euro-white, Caucasian, or how ever you want to referrer to them, us, aspire to be so stick thin, as where the Latino culture desires an actual more shapely woman.  Also, when I was looking at the clothes I noticed how many booths had christening gowns and little white tuxedos for small children, which signified to me the customers’ dominant belief of Catholicism. 

            I really felt as though I was in a complete little city in Mexico.  When walking around taking in everything, I noticed the booths had everything from shoes to a few cars for sale.  Around one corner there were televisions and washer/dryer machines and another corner had furniture, including mattresses.  Also all the signage is in Spanish.  There were very few places that had any English posted.  I walked into the food court and was looking at the menu, thank god for pictures because I had no idea what they were advertising. I wish I could have ordered something but I had no time because the people I was with were looking for Hector, the man who runs the swap meet.  Even the smell of the food was so authentic! Also, I noticed all of the different fruits and vegetables they had available in the various stands.  I had never heard of most of them. They have definitely created their own little space that most likely reminds them of home. 

            When I spoke to Hector, I was surprised to learn that the swap meet is open from 6 a.m. until 1a.m on Saturday and Sunday.  I asked him about the characteristics of the people from day to night, and he told me exactly what I was already thinking.  When I was walking around I saw a wide gamut of people.  The closer it approached 6 p.m., the families started to depart and the young single men and women were becoming more prevalent.  By night the swap meet turns into an atmosphere almost like a night club with the two live bands.  It was so nice to see that the Latino community has their own little escape back to their homeland here in Phoenix every weekend.

            The way they get together every weekend reminded me of the book from the “New Pioneers in the Heartland”, Koltyk.  The author mentioned how the Hmong people drive to nearby cities where their relatives reside, to be able to spend time socializing with people form Hmong culture.  The people who attend the Al Gran Mercado swap meet probably come from all over this city just to unite with their own people and culture.  In the article, “The New Immigrants,” Charles Clark, stated that the many immigrants stay in touch with their roots to keep up their self-esteem. This seems to be true for the Mexicans who come to Al Gran Mercado. They are very proud people and proud of their culture, which I respect so much.  So many Americans look down on immigrants because they don’t conform to our “norms”.  But why should they?  This country is based on freedom and is a melting pot.  The only people who are natives to this country are the Native Americans.  We are all immigrants, which our professor Dr. K has stressed many times in class.  I wish more people could see this; hopefully someday this appreciation for the diversity and difference that immigrants bring to America will become more accepted.

            I truly enjoyed myself and I thank Dr. K for opening my eyes by suggesting I attend the Al Gran Mercado.  I would have never gone there if not for Dr. K, the professor of this terrific migration course.  It made me happy to see Mexican immigrants feel so comfortable with their own heritage and able to have their own little niche market where they can express themselves as though they were in their native land.



Return to Julie's home page

Return to Migration & Culture home page.