Latino Supermarkets


A trip to the local market can be quite an experience in South Phoenix especially if you do not live there.  There are many stores there that cater to the areas large Hispanic population.  I have traveled quite a bit through Latin American and  I kept drawing comparison with the South Phoenix stores and to the supermarkets I saw abroad. 

Upon entering supermarkets in South Phoenix it is very evident that these stores are not the same as the average Fry’s or Bashas found in the rest of the Phoenix.  The large number of security officers in one store clues the shopper to the fact that these stores must have some problems with shoplifting or loitering. The security officers followed me around the entire time I was in the store.  Security officers are quite common throughout Latin America. Their presence is probably not noticed much by the store’s regular shoppers. In many places in Latin America it is not uncommon to see men armed with assault rifles guarding neighborhoods or teams of men guarding banks. In one bank I went into in Tegucigalpa, Honduras there was an armed guard at every desk and a half dozen more thrown in just for good measure.   However in the second store there was a noticeable lack of security officers, there may have been some around but they made themselves scarce so as to not disturb the shoppers. I found it quite common in Latin America’s upscale shopping districts, like Jockey Plaza in Lima, Peru, for the guards to only be present when needed.

 The first thing that a “shopping outsider” in a South Phoenix supermarket notices is that the standard American brands are not to be found.  The isles are not brimming with cookies made by the Keebler elves, all of the products appear to be imported.      The amount of some products in the store shows that the population uses these items frequently.  One example of this is Maseca which is a kind of corn flour used for making things like tortillas.

An enormous industrial pallet sized pyramid of this product takes up a prominent spot of the store near the fruits and vegetables.   Another example was “Fud” (a company specializing in meat products?) it was being sold in both of the stores I visited but I have never seen it anywhere else in the city.   

This first store I visited caterers to the poorer Latino residents of South Phoenix and resembles more of an American store with foreign products than it does a store you would be likely to find in Latin America. The products in the second store consisted of both domestic and imported products although the majority of the products appeared to be imported, or maybe American brands catering to Hispanics. The store was much larger and also consisted of apparently many more types of food including seafood, a wider variety of meats and many types of  Mexican pastries. The was many types of juices and desserts which would be very difficult to find in many store in the valley. The food was all labeled in both English and Spanish but English was the subtitle. The store probably did this for the large group of Hispanic Americans that does not speak Spanish. This way  they could also enjoy shopping in store that reflect their cultural heritage.

The second store exudes the character of a Latino supermarket.  The first thing that I notice about this store is that there is no lack of employees to get any job done. This is quite similar to larger supermarkets in Latin America, most notably Santa Isabel in Peru.

In a Santa Isabel there is a young woman in every isle to entice shoppers to buy the latest sports drink or to point out which isle contains canned soup.  It seems quite typical of many businesses in Latin America to use more employees than their American counterparts. I remember eating in one McDonalds in Quito, Ecuador that was so full of employees that they were tripping over themselves to get work done.   This seemingly excessive amount of employees was the case with this supermarket in South Phoenix but the employees all seemed gainfully occupied in their various tasks. 

Both store had the tendency to not follow the boundaries of place in the way a typical American store would.  One author James Rojas, in his article about the Latino use of space states “ The identity of place is created not only by the physical forms  but by the way they use exterior space around their home and businesses.” The way space is used in the supermarkets adds to the sense of community.  The stores extended into the areas outside of their building’s walls . At the larger store this included a large area where people could get barbequed chicken. The area directly outside of the smaller store was full of different people selling different things or asking for donations or representing churches and social groups. Another characteristic of the larger store was that it housed a large picnic style area where the shoppers could sit down and eat. In the stores the “home” was brought “into” the supermarket by including activities associated with the family life such as barbequing, eating and social groups.  



Rojas James, 1999.  “La Vida Latina en L.A.: Urban Latino Cultures” Sage Publications 

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