Migrants, Multiculture, Our People

The Latino David and his Goliath

The Seven Sisters Market, known as Pueblito Paisa continues its struggle to keep this meeting point for the Latin American community alive in London.


Miriam Valero

Upon exiting the Seven Sisters tube station, finding the Pueblito Paisa is complicated. However, if the visitor pays attention, s/he will see a camouflaged door between the shops which has ‘Entrance’ written on it.

If they go towards the hundred-year old building, Wards Corner and open the door, they  will go from being in a typical English neighbourhood to finding themselves in a Spanish speaking market in which one can buy meat directly from Latin America or eat a traditional Colombian dish such as  Sancocho (soup/stew made with fish or chicken, plantain and cassava).

Upon entering the market, one stops hearing English and begins to hear conversations in Spanish amongst the community. Owners of butchers, grocery shops, restaurants and beauty salons joke and chat in their native tongue whilst attending to their customers.

It’s evident that everyone knows one another. They greet each other and ask for help from one stall to another.

The Pueblito Paisa is formed of 62 businesses which are, for the most part, run by Latin American immigrants although there are many  shop owners from  other parts of the world such as Jamaica, Iran and Algeria.

A little way into the market and we find ourselves with one of these shopkeepers, Mauricio, who owns the hairdressers. This singer, by vocation, is the son of one of the first Latin American women who settled in the Pueblito Paisa with a beauty salon.

He tells us that his mother, Blanca, was  part of the first group of Colombians to install themselves here in the Seven Sisters Market fifteen years ago in order to earn a living when she began to establish herself in the neighbourhood.

It was thanks to word of mouth in the community that little by little they more were settling into the market and the area, to the point of converting the district into a Latin American community with one of the highest concentrations there of in London.

Mauricio tells us that the work of these families allowed the market to transform into the economic and social support that it is today for around 100 families, “that is without counting the businesses that have been created in the derivative surroundings of the market” he points out.

How the Pueblito Paisa was born.

The Seven Sisters Market has a long history behind it. In order to learn more , we meet with Chan, one of the longest-standing shop owners in the market who has owned her business for 19 years since arriving from British Guiana (now the independent nation of Guyana).

At her clothes stand, Chan explains how this centennial building began as a Wards Store, a very important shopping centre at the time in the style of current large commercial centres.

After a period of success, the centre fell into decline and closed. After a few years, it became a market and fifteen years ago, the first stalls of the Latin community began to settle there. Chan states that she gets on well with the stall owners and that the coexistence between all the nationalities is as good in the market as in the area. Although she does say that for some time there has been little business. This has meant that many have had to leave the market. Manuel, the manager of the local butchers explains that he came from Colombia after studying Social Communications because he was unemployed and after 10 years in the market he has seen many who have had to leave.

Many others haven’t done so, like him, for whom it seems to bode well and he exports Latin American foodstuffs in order to offer them in the city.

Next to Manuel’s butchers, the restaurant ‘El Manantial’ can be found, from which emanates the unmistakeable smell of traditional food. In the restaurant ten people are having traditional Latin American meals such as the Sancocho. The waiter, who has only been working a month, has been one of the last to settle into the market. He presents us with some free coffee-flavoured sweets from Colombia.

The Market’s Struggle

The Pueblito Paisa began its fight in 2007 in order to remain open and continue its role as a Latin American community meeting point.

Harringay City Council planned hand in hand with the building company, Grainger Plc, to demolish the market and convert it into a complex with a shopping centre and luxury accommodation.

The Seven Sisters Market sellers were urged to leave for a while with the idea of returning to settle in the new commercial centre.

However, the business owners state that they could not be assured of the rent that they would have to pay on returning and moreover, the premises would be forced to disappear as “how are we going to compete with McDonalds? People will begin to come expressly to the shopping centre and no longer will the Pueblito Paisa have its identity” indicates Mauricio.

The Latin and British community of the area have already won two trials and have stopped the demolition, which was considered by the courts as ‘illegal’. Now, they find themselves awaiting a new appeal that will be resolved in October to find out what will happen to their market.

Some business owners reveal that this place has lived through thirty years of attempted demolitions. In the news it has become a strategic zone facing the Olympic Games celebrations and all the modernization of the east end of London.

In this sense, the British community in the area strongly supports the cause of Pueblito Paisa. , The Latin American shop keepers in turn support the English community who are also fighting so that the market does not disappear.

Also the community are carrying out a campaign which will spread knowledge of the virtues of the Latin American community and they will hold a festival at the end of June in order to propel this cause and that of the market.

Likewise, the community’s leaders are working on the creation of a Barrio Latino (Latin Neighbourhood) in which they would be able to unite the entire community and to preserve their customs in the city such as language, food and all their culture.

(Translated by Emma Harris – Email: emma_harris123@hotmail.co.uk)

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