In the fourth and final instalment of this blog series, we will be exploring communities of place in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. We will hear from Vicky Alvarez, local trader and activist, and Mirca Morera, Founder and Chair of a campaign very close to my heart – Save the Latin Village (SLV). For the past 16 years, SLV has been fighting to save the UK’s only Latin Village (Pueblito Paisa) and the Edwardian locally-listed building and registered community asset it is housed in on Wards Corner in Tottenham, London. As Mica explains; “we are fighting to preserve the cultural character of the Latin Village which was built by a community of Colombian refugees behind a concept of mimicking the design architectural features of the famous village Pueblito Paisa in Colombia, also to create a home away from home where the community could provide mutual aid to the wider community as well as each other”. This grassroots campaign also aims to raise public awareness about the human rights violations occurring in the Village – the second largest concentration of Latin businesses in the UK – and to promote a viable alternative to regeneration through the Wards Corner Community Plan.
Here, Vicky and Mirca describe how the traders, the campaign and the wider community are responding to the pandemic.
Isabel: Mirca and Vicky, Thank you. Tell me, what would you say is the main way COVID-19 has impacted you and your community?
Vicky: In different ways. First economically, since in our community the majority of us are independent merchants and our income is dependent on our work. Likewise, there are people who we employ in our community who depend on the jobs we provide to support themselves and their families. It has also affected our physical and mental health. Since many of us do not speak or understand English well, this has been a dangerous barrier to our health, as we cannot ask for help or access the health system. Without an alternative, many of us can become very sick at home, and by not being cared for, we feel unprotected and minimized as a vulnerable community.
Mirca: I’d say mainly psychological distress. In our most recent meeting, the traders expressed how throughout the years, the market – our Village – has been the only family many of them have. They are used to spending from first thing in the morning to the end of the day together, from Monday to Saturday. Without this family and interaction, shut behind four walls…several of them have reported severe impacts to their mental health, including panic attacks, depression and loneliness.
This has been compounded by the inhumane response to COVID-19 by public-private stakeholders of the market, who have used the pandemic as a shortcut to drive through their gentrification agenda. We have seen the electricity cut at the Village, even before the lockdown began, and traders forced to throw out perishable goods. Now that the Village is temporarily closed – not even allowed to sell essential items such as cultural foods which are vital to the wellbeing of our largely Latinx community – the traders are also experiencing the financial strain of COVID-19, as Vicky mentioned.
Perhaps most distressingly for us on a personal level, one of our beloved friends and traders Fabian – who is at the helm of our fight to save Latin Village – has himself been admitted to hospital with suspected Coronavirus. We are supporting his family and ourselves through this difficult time.
Isabel: What is the main way you and your community have responded to the crisis?
Mirca: As a community, we provided mutual aid to the minority ethnic community who make up the Village prior to COVID-19. In our particular case, we have drawn closer together and our SLV campaign has initiated a COVID-19 volunteer project to assist members of the minority ethnic community to access state support for individuals and businesses.
Vicky: Yes, and it’s important to recognise that compared to how big the Latin community is across the UK, these support groups can only reach relatively few people by comparison.
Isabel: What for you, is the importance of online platforms at this time?
Mirca: As an organisation we have always supported the community through capacity-building. Prior to COVID-19, we strongly encouraged the use of social media platforms for business and lobbying. At present we are aiming to encourage the use of online platforms to facilitate new ways of working which are extremely important for many of those suffering from wellbeing issues linked to isolation and financial insecurity.
Vicky: Yes, they are very important for those of us who can access them, since they are our contact with the outside world, and with our families and support groups… The worrying thing though is that in our community there are people, for example older adults, who do not use online platforms and who are vulnerable and exposed at the moment.
Isabel: Do you feel the way we act as people/communities will be forever altered by the COVID-19 crisis and if so, how?
Mirca: In terms of our own campaign and community, we have noted how the use of online platforms has been key to overcoming barriers to communication and matching volunteers with members of the minority ethnic community which need support. As a human rights organisation we have identified issues with the private stakeholders infringing upon the rights of enjoyment of freedom of association and expression in this particular community. This new way of working will assist with this issue.
Vicky: Absolutely, this situation will change the rest of our lives. For the better or for the worse.
For the worse, many of us have experienced huge economic losses. Many people… [are also fearful of] how much longer this situation will last. I think that something definitive that will mark us forever, is the loss of our loved ones – here, or in other countries. Not having the possibility of hugging them, saying goodbye, holding a funeral, being with them to cry, or being able to process and mourn these losses. We cannot assimilate things when they happen so quickly, which is why I think that not only physical health is at risk, but our mental health too.
For the better, I’d say this pandemic has taught us to value the essentials – health above all, our families and quality time with them, freedom, the role we play in promoting community unity, the well-being of our planet, to leave selfishness behind, to stop and think about our collective well-being, and how we want to make a better world for our children.
Isabel: What is your message to communities across the UK who are new to organising and want to come together to address this issue?
Mirca: As a campaign we have always promoted solidarity with other communities, particularly in times of crisis – such as our seven sisters community, our sister campaign Latin Elephant, and fellow traders at Ridley Road Market in Dalston and Shepherd’s Bush Market, and other residents under threat in Love Lane Tottenham. COVID-19 has transformed the way we commune, and in our case, it has improved unity as members support one another during a critical time. There may be individuals that feel isolated or have additional free time during this crisis. Online communities offer a lifeline to vulnerable members which may not have the resources to explore online platforms. Our experience has been that with the right support we can assist communities to join online platforms, and this may become an established form of communication to advance ongoing mutual aid and future dialogue.
Vicky’s concept behind the creation of the Latin Village, Pueblito Paisa, has personally affected me as it has provided me access to Latin American culture in my hometown in Tottenham without having to cross the Atlantic and increase my carbon footprint. I am grateful for her innovation, and it’s why I founded the second generation Save Latin Village campaign, not to save the market but to save something more profound. It’s about the human rights of persons belonging to minority groups; enjoying both the right to enjoy their minority culture and speak their native language in community. Future generations will also need to enjoy and learn about a key part of their identity, and it is essential to their sense of belonging.
Vicky: …We always have to hope that there will be a better tomorrow for us all, which we must positively contribute towards. As an ethnic minority, it is important that we be recognised and respected in the many decisions made which affect us directly, since we are so often excluded. I think that minorities play a vital role in the development of this country and how it will be ruled going forwards after COVID-19. As a group we can make very valuable contributions to the construction of a better world.
Poster artwork credit: Javie Huxley @javhux
To access this blog post in Spanish, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To take part in our Community, Covid & You research project, click here. You can also find out more about the initiatives featured in this series by checking out the previous installments or by contacting Isabel.email@example.com