This powerful photo series is a love letter to the beating heart of London’s Latinx community
At the Seven Sisters Market in London, the place of this collaboration between photographer Silvana trevale and stylist Daniela Benaim – Vicky Ãlvarez took part in a 17-year struggle to keep the Latin village, also known as “Pueblito Paisa”. Born out of the influx of Latin American immigrants to London in the 1970s, Latin Village is a covered market in the style of a Marlet : narrow corridors and rows of interlocking stalls, offering an ever-changing assortment of foods, goods and services. Passers-by walking through the neighborhood immediately feel the presence of the different Latin American cultures in the market: the storefronts are overflowing with fruit; the tune is populated with Spanish spoken in a wide range of accents; and there are floating smells of Colombian dishes, like Bandeja paisa and arepas.
That said, beyond its practical existence as a marketplace, Latin Village is also a vital hub of knowledge and exchange – the first stop for any Latin American refugee and / or immigrant in London: a place to find help. advice, support and a community. “Social value [that the market] provides is far greater than the income collected by everyone who works there, âsays lvarez. âIf you need medical attention, we’ll find a doctor for you. If you need a job, we’ll find it for you. If you need someone to look after your children, we will look after them for you. This is our real function: to evolve with each other’s needs.
Beginning in 2002, Latin Village fought an uphill battle against its impending demolition as part of a multi-million pound redevelopment plan. Traders in the Seven Sisters Market have come together to form Save Latin Village, a campaign led by local entrepreneurs including lvarez. And in August of this year, more than a decade after developer Grainger began working on the plan, the campaign celebrated victory when it has decided to definitively withdraw from the project.
Reflecting on what it means to fight gentrification (and win), lvarez explains that the success of Latin Village took real work, but in no way should be seen as an anomaly. âAs humans, we get used to the idea that ‘things are the way they are,’ she says. âWe give up our hope in exchange for the idea that there is nothing we can do. And we start to think of gentrification as a fate, rather than a process of social cleansing. People used to call us crazy, but all we really believed in was that we can build cities without sacrificing each other. “
Inspired by the resilience of the Latin Village community, photographer Silvana Trevale and stylist Daniela Benaim – both Venezuelan immigrants in London – created Pueblito Paisa: a photographic series that focuses on the lives of the people who inhabit this market. “We [initiated] this series at the time when the closure of the Latin Village was [definitive]Says Trevale. “We wanted [show] what the market and its beautiful people looked like before it disappeared, but [after the] good news, it has become a celebration of who they are, our rich culture and the magic of being an immigrant.
Given Latin Village’s 10+ years of media coverage, this series also serves as an antidote to the newspaper clippings and footage that turned Latin Village into “just another loud minority,” as lvarez teasingly puts it. What Trevale and Benaim have created is, on the contrary, a true tribute to a fully dimensional community that is alive and still struggling. Currently, traders are focused on raising funds to support a collectively designed community plan that aims to restore closed sections of the market – closed in 2020 – and also set up new facilities to support their growing community.
Trevale and Benaim pay special attention to the new generation of London born Latinx who were raised in the market. In one image, Ada Luz – who was born in the Dominican Republic and arrived at the market at the age of 18, where she worked as a waitress until it closed – was pictured alongside her daughter Adamar and her 11-year-old sister Beatriz; both are part of the younger generation of Pueblito Paisa. The three are pictured at Ada Luz’s aunt Yesenia’s business, Mily hair salon.
Of Dominican origin, Yesenia Cuevas RamÃrez – who moved to London in 2012 from Spain – is, like the majority of business owners in the market, a wife, mother and the main or sole source of income. from his family. Luz’s daughter and younger sister both grew up running through the narrow corridors of the market and surrounded by the many cultures that have come together in Pueblito Paisa. “[It was] a warm place where we felt at home. There were stores that sold things we needed in our country, our aunt’s business was also there, and [my daughter] felt happy to see things [from the Dominican Republic] that she might not have seen before because she was born in Spain. [Pueblito Paisa] is so important because it is a place where Latinos can come together. There is a mixture of [nationalities] – Colombians, Ecuadorians, Venezuelans, Dominicans – and we can share our cultures.
In another image, we see Beatriz in a pale green dress, shyly staring at the camera in a sash and crown that names her Queen of Pueblito Paisa. âEver since Silvana and I first saw Beatriz, we knew we had to photograph her as Queen [queen], said Daniela. âOur idea was not to recreate the typical princess of beauty pageants, but to show how the youth of the market is at the heart of everything. Everything is carefully constructed to provide and protect them – to truly be a home away from home. “
Equally central is the attention Trevale and Benaim give to London’s growing Latin American community. In one image we see Vanessa Chica Toro, who left Colombia for the UK 21 years ago. She stands front and center wearing an asymmetric black, white and green dress and nude heeled boots. As a construction worker, Vanessa is currently trying to save enough money to have gender reassignment surgery. âIf you only knew how I felt the day I was photographed. It was so beautiful to me. I felt like a woman, which is such a beautiful thing, âsays Chica Toro. She remembers that throughout her unusually difficult childhood, her mother made her and her brother wear women’s clothes as a âpunishment,â but that she always secretly loved him. Many people like Vanessa are unable to find support from relatives or institutions and have found safe refuge within Latin Village.
In order to fully mark the festive character of this series, Trevale and Benaim invited Somos Chibchas – a collective of young people for Afro-Colombian dance – to participate in a dance photographed in front of the doors of the Seven Sisters Market. Lined up in rows, the young dancers in Trevale’s photographs are dressed in traditional white and pink clothing. âWe wanted Pueblito Paisa to take London,â says Trevale. Founded in 2010, the collective aims to research, disseminate and preserve Colombian culture – in particular traditional dance. âIt is through dance, music, visual arts and theater that we find a bridge to reinvent our world and our reality,â explains Denny Shailey Ruge Prado, one of the dance teachers.
According to Benaim, the Latinx representation is also a work in progress in fashion. His work began to be heavily influenced by his roots after moving to London in 2018, âI constantly seek to bring more visibility to the Latinx community, honor our heritage and tell our stories. Although we see Latinx beauties in front of the cameras, there are few Latinx creatives in positions of power. I experienced being the only Latina in the room, and I felt lonely and heartbroken. But it also encouraged me to work to create more opportunities and open doors for Latinos. “
When spaces and people are paved, communities lose more than a place of gathering: they lose a vision of who they are. Being in community is a stronghold against this erasure: both physically and spiritually. âAs immigrants we sometimes complain about being invisible, when the real problem is that part of us has been convinced to remain invisible,â says lvarez. “The most difficult part of my job [as an activist] has helped people realize that now is their time to shine. That they can and must take up space.