After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Centro Hispano’s El Mercadito is back. Much more than a farmers’ market, El Mercadito is where community comes together.
“It’s at events like this where you can just organically hang out with people and get to know each other. There’s so much happening on the south side and so many changes that are moving forward. I think relationship building is something that we’re good at Centro and we want to nurture that with a space that’s really reflective of our home,” Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menéndez Coller tells Madison365. “El Mercadito has always felt like walking around El Salvador of another country. It just makes you feel relaxed and happy, too, if you’re a person of color and I think that’s really valuable.”
The Mercadito season kicks off this afternoon at 4 p.m. at Centro Hispano, located at 810 W. Badger Road, and will run every Thursday until Dec. 15. Vendors will include fruits and vegetables from Central and South America, Latinx street food, local honey, Colombian barista coffee, and more.
“I remember we were holding the Mercadito weekly and it was going great but with the pandemic, it all stopped. It’s been two years and we’ve been very careful about bringing it back given everything that’s going on in the community,” Menéndez Coller says. “But we’re excited. I’m really happy that this is working out.”
El Mercadito’s mission is to “offer an open and healthy place where the community can share their cultural heritage and culinary traditions.” The goal is to help break some of the barriers and challenges community members face when accessing healthy foods in a place where smells are mixed with a sense of home and security.
“This was an important way of building community at Centro. I think when I came to Madison, that’s something that I really thought was important for Centro to be a part of … building community,” Menéndez Coller says. “We have vendors that are part of our community and we prioritize immigrant vendors and Latinx vendors. Aside from that, I think the part that makes Mercadito most special is the people that are there and just being with each other. That’s something that we don’t do enough.”
Centro celebrated its first Mercadito back in July of 2015, which was organized by Mariela Quesada Centeno, the former director of adult programs at Centro Hispano, to further Centro Hispano’s health and wellness initiative and create a culturally safe space for the Latino community.
“Mariela Quesada Centeno, who is really involved right now with Roots4Change, was our director of adult programs, and it was a project of labor of love for her that really fit with the vision of what we wanted to do at Centro,” Menéndez Coller says. “El Mercadito is just a way to continue to build community, to be honest, and I hope everybody comes out and just hangs out. We’re gonna have special guests throughout the month and music of all kinds.”
Dave Marcos, who is part of Centro’s development team, is the curator of Mercadito.
“Marcos is incredibly creative and used to own business in Mexico and I’m just really happy to be working with him for so many years on this and continuing to partner with other organizations on this, too,” Menéndez Coller says.
Beyond the fresh fruit and vegetables, street food, honey and coffee, there will be music and handicrafts at Thursday’s Mercadito.
“I think it’s important for the greater Madison community to just come out to El Mercadito to support the vendors and build relationships,” Menéndez Coller says. “It’s a chance to talk to somebody that you don’t know and meet somebody new. I was at the Mad Rep Summit [Madison Regions Economic Development and Diversity Summit] yesterday and one of the speakers was talking about just trying to make meaningful connections once a week. I hope that people will come to El Mercadito and do just that … do something different.”
For more information about El Mercadito, contact Dave Marcos at firstname.lastname@example.org