La Marqueta is a marketplace featuring vendors, shops, cultural events, and live music, located on 111th street and 116th street on Park Avenue in East Harlem, Manhattan. La Marqueta was created in 1936 by the Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Marqueta means market in English and was most popular during the 1950’s and 1960’s. During that time period, close to 500 venders operated out of this particular market. Today, three of the five buildings that were once the market have burned down or torn down. La Marqueta is not as popular as it once was, but the Hispanic community still sees it as an incredibly important place in New York City.
The market, is located in what is known as Spanish Harlem (also called El Barrio and East Harlem), which is publically recognized as a predominantly Puerto Rican and Hispanic community. For many years, El Barrio, has been widely celebrated and acknowledged as a Latino cultural hub. Originally, La Marqueta, was an informal gathering space for pushcart Puerto Rican vendors and merchants to sell their goods. In 1936, the market officially became sanctioned and vendors/merchants began having to rent stalls from the city in order to sell their products to the public. Once it was sanctioned, La Marqueta began to thrive and about 500 vendors sold their products inside five huge buildings. In its heyday, the market was so noisy with eager visitors, that is was almost impossible to hear the person speaking next to you. The market grew in popularity and the New York Times even stated that it was “the most visible symbol of the neighborhood.” Even till this day, my grandparents still talk about how much they loved going to La Marqueta and how when they entered the market, it almost felt as if they were back in Puerto Rico. Going to this market was not just a regular grocery trip for them, my grandparents went to La Marqueta to feel more in touch with their Latino roots and to teach their children about different Puerto Rican traditions. People usually went to La Marqueta to buy Spanish food, traditional Hispanic medicines, recordings of Latin music, and supplies for charms and curses. In particular, my family bought various classic Puerto Rican delicacies such as bacalaitos (crunchy cod fritters), surillitos de maiz (cornmeal fingers), and empanadillas (turnovers made of either chicken, beef, or seafood). Personally, I think that La Marqueta is unique because it basically like a one stop shop for everything Puerto Rican. Also, it was one of the only places in New York City where you could find old records from famous Puerto Rican artists like Willie Colon and buy medical herbs, religious icons (which are extremely popular among older generations of Puerto Ricans), and magic charms and potions which are used in many Puerto Rican rituals. Many Puerto Ricans, including my grandmother, believe in spirits and in magic; La Marqueta served as a place where they could buy bat’s blood, black candles, and various other ingredients for potions, that helped keep away negative energy, bad spirits, and enemies. My grandmother recalls that back in the day, La Marqueta had the biggest and the best selection of potion ingredients and other necessities she needed for her magic practices.
La Marqueta was and forever will be special to Puerto Ricans throughout New York City. This market served as a safe place where families were able to teach their kids about Puerto Rican rituals and traditions. For Puerto Rican families living in New York City, it was hard to stay connected to their roots from back home and it was almost impossible for children who were born in the City to know anything about their Latino heritage. La Marqueta was famous for constantly blasting traditional salsa music each day; sometimes shoppers and vendors were lucky enough to hear a live band play. It was common to see couples and children bailando Salsa in a small section that was carved out for dancing. Without La Marqueta, many Puerto Ricans would not have continued practicing cultural/spiritual rituals such as magic and potion making, and they probably also, would not have kept up with their family’s various religious, dietary, and musical traditions.
The Market is still around and open till this day, but sadly it is not as popular as it once was. La Marqueta will always be a monumental place and a landmark for the huge Puerto Rican community in New York City. Gentrification in the Harlem area, has made it increasingly difficult for La Marqueta to stay open. Additionally, many Puerto Rican delicacies and supplies for charms/curses, that were once only sold at La Marqueta, are now being sold in various bodegas. Many vendors who continue to sell their goods at the market, are losing money because the rent for each stall is $200 each month and they do not make much in sales. Vendors remain selling at this location because they still have hope and believe that good things are in store for this market. In 2003, a nonprofit group called the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation, attempted to bring La Marqueta back to life. This corporation planned to spend close to $20 million to rebuild the entire market and transform it into a more modern space that would still continue to be a Latino market mixed with a cultural center and an incubator for small businesses. Sadly, the plan fell apart in 2006 and ever since then, close to six other plans to revive the market have fallen through as well. La Marqueta has an incredible amount of history and investors see that it is a special place; unfortunately, no one has created a plan that is solid enough to last and truly bring this market back to being successful and popular. Currently, the city is working on a deal with the Harlem Community Development Corporation to create yet another rescue attempt of the market. Many Puerto Ricans and members of the neighborhood, hope and pray that this rescue attempt is successful and La Marqueta becomes restored to its original glory.
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