Mi Pueblo

So I went around the supermarket snapping pictures like a gawking tourist so that I could bring you a post on Mi Pueblo, our local Hispanic supermarket.

I guess I should start by noting that, though you’d never know it by looking at me, my great-grandmother was born and raised in Mexico. Not much of Mexican culture got passed down to me—in fact, pretty much none of it got passed down to me—but I suppose my fondness for the Latinos may be to some degree self-congratulatory. In any case I seem to gravitate to Hispanic neighborhoods; the first place I lived in San Francisco was the Mission, and now here in Oakland we’ve settled just on the border of Fruitvale.

Now I’m going to go off on a tangent, but it’s something that’s been knocking around my head lately: I don’t understand the hostility against Hispanic immigrants that’s erupting so virulently in Arizona and other places. It’s not just that I don’t agree with it; I don’t understand where it’s coming from. Hispanic people make great neighbors! They’re hard-working, family-oriented people, and in their areas they create the infrastructure—restaurants, produce markets, bars, street vendors and entertainers—that makes for a great, livable neighborhood.

The contrast between Fruitvale and the Coliseum area of Oakland—essentially, the contrast between the barrio and the ghetto—is stunning to me, and I haven’t fully wrapped my head around it. In the poorest Mexican neighborhoods (and not all of Fruitvale is very poor, but some of it is), you still have commerce and vitality and cultural vibrancy. In the poorest black neighborhoods, there’s nothing. No restaurants, no bars, no grocery stores, no street life other than groups of young men standing around on corners. Block after block of bombed-out houses and occasionally someone sitting on the front steps, staring with an empty face at whatever passes by. I think it must have a lot to do with the generations of institutionalized assault on the African-American family? And I should say quickly that the majority of Oakland’s black population isn’t represented by the city’s worst blocks; mostly the black people of Oakland, like the white people of Oakland, are living in a patchwork of diverse neighborhoods that vary by income. Still, because Fruitvale and the Coliseum area are right next to each other, the contrast between them is really, really striking, and I wish I better understood the cultural and socioeconomic forces that created one neighborhood versus the other. To the uneducated eye, the most apparent difference is that in Fruitvale people are working.

And shopping! Which is why in Fruitvale we have this:

Behind that yellow barricade is where the magic chickens happen. Almost every day they’re roasting pollo asada on the barbeque, and for a little under ten bucks you can take home a whole chicken along with some salsa and a packet of tortillas.

Inside, it’s like a party! There’s music! There’s streamers! People are happy and smiling! Let’s all get some groceries now! Yay!

You want salsa? We got salsa.

You want peppers? Dude, this isn’t even half the peppers. Please note also that you can buy your cactus with the spines still on, or you can go around to where one of the store employees is deftly de-spining them with a great big knife that might be a machete someday if it drinks its milk. I assume you pay a little extra for the cleaned cactus, but it’s probably worth it.

Someday I’m going to make my own tortillas!

This is only a small glimpse of the sweets case in the panaderia. There’s also a savory case, where they sell soft fresh-baked loaves, and rounds of cheesy jalapeƱo bread. People are always lined up to get the fresh bread.

Against the other wall there’s a “deli” that’s more like a whole restaurant:

They also have meat, and seafood, and a whole case of fresh cheeses, but at some point I started to get embarrassed about taking pictures, so this is all you get. Mi Pueblo! What a great place!

2 Responses to “Mi Pueblo”

  • Nina Says:

    You have to take us there!

    We have lots of small Hispanic grocery stores here (bodegas?) but nothing big and glorious like that.

    I am a lot more comfortable in the poor Hispanic sections of town than the poor black sections of town. I put a lot of it down to my own cultural training. I grew up in an area devoid of Latinas of any SES, so I have no reaction other than a positive “oooh! interesting!”. OTOH, the Boston suburbs have a painful history of black/white school integration, so I saw plenty of examples of violent racial strife.

  • Nina Says:

    I guess I meant Latinos, not Latinas? See? I am Hispanically naive.

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