By: Yolanda Anita Sanchez
Early in the morning you can stumble from your bed, put on some house shoes, and walk across the street to purchase your morning coffee in the La Esquina (the corner) market. In the middle of the day, when you are out of milk to make Mac & Cheese, you can walk to La Esquina market and purchase milk instead of bother the neighbor. Late at night, when you are thirsty for a beer and too broke for the bar, you can go next door and buy libations. (But, you better know how to converse to the store workers and the other customers in Spanish.) The location of this store really illustrates the name, convenience store!
In Phoenix: The History of a Southwestern Metropolis, Bradford Luckingham explains that South Phoenix has always contained the poorer residential neighborhoods, and the more affluent housing areas developed in the northern part of the city. Luckingham contends that South Phoenix contained “low-rent neighborhoods shunned by affluent Anglos and left to the Phoenix underclass.” Mexicans and black residents settled such lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Mexican immigrants have continued to migrate over the border and settle in South Phoenix.
Not surprisingly, the communities in South Phoenix would rise to resemble those in Mexico. Such markets riddle the neighborhoods of Mexican communities in Mexico. I am not speaking of a convenience store on the corner of an intersection or at the end of a street. La Esquina market is in the middle of the neighborhood, away from any busy street, no where near an intersection. Besides South Phoenix, where else in Phoenix can you find a local convenience store in the middle of a neighborhood? According to James Rojas in “The Latino Use of Urban Space in East Los Angeles” chapter of Urban Latino Cultures, “Latino residents…can be found on streets, corners, sidewalks, and front yards as well as in marginal places such as parking lots and alleys.” Such areas, like La Esquina market, “bring residents together.” The author also contends that in the mainstream culture, the use of such spaces will actually isolate residents instead of bring them together (Leclerc). The Latino culture permeates in the South Phoenix area through markets like this one. Yet, the question remains: How long will this store, and others like it, stay in the area?
With the gentrification of South Phoenix now underway, many cultural practices that have dominated the community seem to be fading with the influx of new residents. In The New Urban Frontier, Neil Smith describes gentrification as a process where “poor and working-class neighborhoods in the inner city are refurbished via an influx of private capital and middle-class homebuyers and renters.” Smith explains that such neighborhoods have previously suffered from a lack of investment by the city and private businesses. Using examples in Phoenix, the taquierias that once dominated the streets at night have been regulated to the point of extinction by request of the new community with a different culture and value system. The new residents are slowly chipping away the culture that was once prevalent in the community. Smith argues that this type of renewal “suggests that affected neighborhoods were somehow devitalized or culturally moribund prior to gentrification.”
Are the days of this neighborhood market being counted? It has been open for over 20 years; the current owner has had his job for almost 10 years. Residents depend on the convenience and have made the store part of their everyday routine. Will gentrification close the neighborhood markets? Only time will tell.
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