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Pueblito Paisa and the Displacements Faced by its Latinx Community: The Long Term Threats Posed by London’s Gentrification for the Capital’s BAME Minorities

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Isabelle Bollekens is an intern in MRG’s Legal Department, and an MSc graduate in Law, Anthropology & Society from the LSE. In this article she reflects on the impact of London’s gentrification on BAME minorities, in light of MRG’s legal work on the Pueblito Paisa case.

On the 23rd of January 2019, the Secretary of State confirmed the London Borough of Haringey’s Compulsory Purchase Order of the Seven Sisters market.

Locally known as Pueblito Paisa, or the Latin Village, the indoor market is located in the North London area of Seven Sisters under the Tottenham constituency. Nestled in the old corridors of the previously abandoned department store Wards Corner, the current market presents an array of 50 to 60 Latin American, Nigerian, Ugandan and Jamaican businesses, including food shops, cafés and retail stalls. Originating with African-Caribbean traders fifty years ago, the market in the past three decades has mostly been revived by a working-class migrant community of Latin American and Hispanic traders, the majority Colombian.

My first visit to the Pueblito Paisa was in May 2018. As I walked past the rows of typical Latin American foods —including enticing golden empanadas, proudly displayed Argentinean meats on the butcher’s counter, and different-coloured paletas (traditional Colombian popsicles generally made out of milk and fruit, a popular snack in the summertime) at the nearby stalls — I could overhear the Colombian Spanish of the female clients chatting in the open-door nail salons and surrounding hairdresser units. My visit happened to coincide with the day of the royal wedding. As I made way for a group of children running through the market’s tight alleys, I happened to notice several families huddled around a small television screen. The TV was switched onto a Hispanic channel, which broadcasted Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding ceremony across the streets of London. It wasn’t hard for me to picture a crowd of bright yellow jerseys squeezed in the market’s corners around that same screen during the summer’s World Cup, cheering on the Colombian Selección. As a brown mestiza with a Colombian ethnic background, I felt lucky to get this snapshot of my country of origin without having to travel to another continent.

Over the last twenty years, the Pueblito Paisa has become an important informal cultural hub for London’s Latinx community. The market has turned into a vibrant location for Brown and Black locals to share and practice their culture in a safe environment, whether for adults to burst into sudden samba-dancing, or for their children to speak Spanish together outside of their English-taught schools. A number of their parents have fled from the violence of the armed conflict in Colombia to rebuild a new life in London. The market has become a space for these traders to heal from trauma, and to network with other migrants in the UK with similar experiences.

However, recently, this cultural hub and its community have come under serious threat. The Compulsory Purchase Order, allowed by the Haringey Council in October 2016, is the first step of the Wards Corner Regeneration Project, a plan already conceived back in 2003, and led by multinational developer Grainger [1]. Grainger’s plan involves the demolition of the existing market, for the latter to be replaced with “a new modern retail centre” of chain stores and “196 residential units”, leading to the temporary relocation of the Pueblito Paisa [2]. Yet these plans endanger the current modest businesses: likely high rent uplifts, propelled by the construction of apartments priced way beyond council or social housing prices, pressure these stalls into permanent displacement.

On the 20th of July 2017, during a Haringey Council hearing, former Legal director of Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Lucy Claridge intervened with Brunel University academic and lawyer Professor Alexandra Xanthaki in the public enquiry. In its expert statement, MRG argued against the purchase order, highlighting the disproportional impact the redevelopment project would have on the Latin American traders’ rights to enjoy and practice their culture freely as minorities. MRG called on the UK’s State international law obligations to provide additional protections to safeguard minority rights. A week later, the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights released a statement drafted by three Special Rapporteurs on the Pueblito Paisa case. The Rapporteurs assessed that the “plans to close a London market as part of a gentrification project represent a threat to cultural life”, and that their impact on the small businesses having to relocate “would not only seriously affect the economic situation of the people working there, but it would also make this cultural life simply disappear”[3].

This decade-long struggle fought by the Pueblito Paisa community is but one example of London’s many gentrification projects jeopardizing the rights of the capital’s minority groups. 130 local South American, African and Caribbean businesses face similar gentrification pressures in London’s Elephant and Castle. On the 3rd of July 2018, after a heavily local-supported but ultimately unsuccessful campaign run by the charity Latin Elephant, the Southwark Council decided to approve the demolition of the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, for property investment company Delancey to build chain retailers, private flats, and high-priced student accommodation [4]. In 2016, a video advertisement for the recent “Vibe” luxury apartments developed by Telford Homes was heavily criticized on social media for its whitewashing representation [5] of the projected revamped neighbourhood of Dalston in Hackney [6], a London borough that is subject to severe income inequalities along racial lines [7].

Since the 1960s in modern Britain, property industries working hand-in-hand with wealthy private investors have profited from “white flight”, through increasingly sophisticated marketing strategies [8]. Furthermore, over the past three decades, the collapse of social housing funding, the gradual privatization of properties, and the shift to small-scale self-employment and independent retail have furthered the urban marginalization [9] of already socio-economically and culturally vulnerable BAME groups [10]. In a recent research project related to the Grenfell [11] public inquiry, the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission highlighted the disastrous results of negligent council housing policies, pointing to the disproportionate placements by UK allocation policies of vulnerable BAME groups in unsafe and hazardous-ridden high-rise tower buildings [12]. Contemporary gentrification in London is thus the ugly offspring of globalization’s modern neoliberal movements, the UK government’s past and present housing policies, and perpetuated institutional racism.

On Saturday the 23rd of March, a fundraising event will be organized in the Pueblito Paisa by Save Latin Village, a charity run by the market’s locals. In partnership with Grow Tottenham and Threads Radio, Save Latin Village will hold the fundraising event running from 2pm to 5am, with live acts, food, film screenings, and a nightclub scene on the menu. More information can be found on their main Twitter account: https://twitter.com/latinvillageuk?lang=en.

Local trader Victoria Alvarez has also raised an online petition for a legal defence fund to support the litigation costs of the traders’ representing solicitors, for the latter to bar the proposed evictions from being enforced. The petition can be found here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/latinvillagepueblitopaisa/.

As I plan my visit to the fundraising event, I wish to convey the message that empowering local minority communities to fight for their socio-economic and cultural rights must become a priority, from the local level of council decisions to the national level of government policies.

 

Footnotes

[1] Maria Cabrera, gal-dem, We need to recognise the Latinx community in the UK: save Pueblito Paisa (19 January 2017), available at: http://gal-dem.com/latinx-community-pueblito-paisa/

[2] Tottenham Council, Wards Corner and Apex House (2019), available at: https://tottenham.london/WC

[3]Karima Bennoune, Surya Deva, and Rita Izak-Ndiaye, OHCHR, London market closure plan threatens “dynamic cultural centre” – UN rights experts (27 July 2017), available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?LangID=E&NewsID=21911

[4] Julia King et al., Latin Elephant, Loughborough University, and the London School of Economics and Political Science, Socio-Economic Value at the Elephant & Castle (August 2018), available at: https://latinelephant.org/socio-economic-value-at-the-elephant-castle/

[5] The ad focused on the journey of a young middle-class white woman having recently moved into the area, shown exploring nearby costly vintage shops and Stratford’s Westfield department store; none of the ad’s shots included the local businesses and Black and Asian communities working and living in the poorer parts of Dalston.

[6] Laura Proto, The Evening Standard, Londoners criticise ‘whitewashed’ vision of Dalston in ‘nauseating’ property advert

[7] Sebastian Juhnke, University of Manchester, Locating the Creative Class: Diversity and Urban Change in London and Berlin (01 August 2017), p. 11, available at: https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/theses/locating-the-creative-class-diversity-and-urban-change-in-london-and-berlin(07599234-d2db-42bb-b18c-042a658d9168).html

[8] Dan Hancox, The Guardian, Gentrification X: how an academic argument became the people’s protest (12 January 2016), available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jan/12/gentrification-argument-protest-backlash-urban-generation-displacement

[9] For more information on racial inequalities in UK housing, please consult the following 2014 study by the Director of the Human City Institute Kevin Gulliver: https://bmenational.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/forty-years-of-struggle-a-window-on-race-and-housing-disadvantage-and-exclusion1.pdf

[10] Matthew Weaver, The Guardian, How did the crisis in UK social housing happen? (04 October 2017), available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/04/how-did-the-crisis-in-uk-social-housing-happen; Dan Hancox, The Guardian, Gentrification X: how an academic argument became the people’s protest (12 January 2016), available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jan/12/gentrification-argument-protest-backlash-urban-generation-displacement; Julia King et al., Latin Elephant, Loughborough University, and the London School of Economics and Political Science, Socio-Economic Value at the Elephant & Castle (August 2018), available at: https://latinelephant.org/socio-economic-value-at-the-elephant-castle/

[11] On the 14th of June 2017, 72 people died in a fire in the derelict 24-storey residential tower block of Grenfell, a 70s redevelopment building, the majority of the victims from a BAME background

[12] Equality and Human Rights Commission, Equality and Human Rights Commission Submissions Following Phase 1 of the Inquiry (25 January 2019), available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/grenfell-inquiry-phase-1-submissions-january-2019.pdf

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