Mexican Store in El Barrio Falls Victim to Rising Rent

(Photo via Diario de México USA)

Not only was it a colorful Mexican products store where everything from fresh nopales to cassette tapes and posters of popular musical groups could be found, but it was also a pioneer in a predominantly Caribbean neighborhood.

After 27 years of continuous service, the iconic store México Lindo – located near the intersection of 2nd Avenue and 116th Street – will close its doors, and the news has created great sadness among the residents of El Barrio, in East Harlem.

Husband and wife Francisco García and Balbina Nava watched from inside their store as the transformation of East Harlem happened. They proudly narrated what it was like to sell warm bread buns and Mexican handcrafts in a mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood.

The business, based in that neighborhood for almost three decades, came from the couple’s desire to advance and was fueled by their homesickness for Mexico, said García, who came from Tulcingo del Valle, Puebla.

“The changarrito” [Mexican slang for a vending cart or kiosk], as García describes it, opened its doors in August 1990, and became a novelty among the first Mexican immigrants in the community and nearby neighborhoods.

“We used to make bread in our Bronx home and sell it at the shop, and the lines were endless. People lined up to buy their fresh bread. It was impressive,” he said in a nostalgic tone.

García, 64, added that he came to New York in May 1973 after living in Los Angeles for four months, and that he quickly began distributing Mexican products from door to door.

“There were hardly any Mexicans here, much less Mexican stores. I started out knocking on people’s doors, and they got to know me and spread the word. Many other Mexican vendors were doing the same thing in neighborhoods where the community was growing,” he said.

Giving way to a residential complex

Nava cannot hide her sadness remembering all the years she was dedicated to keeping what she calls her “second home” going.

“We spent more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in this store for almost 30 years. It was a lot of sacrifice. We had good and bad times, but we fought on and worked hard,” she said, disappointed. “I am grief-stricken to see my little store empty, lifeless, colorless. My husband and I have ended up accepting that all that begins must end.”

Nava, who came from Izúcar de Matamoros, Puebla, said that the building where her store used to be will be demolished. The new manager, the son of the owner, is planning to build a residential complex.

This is not the first Hispanic business to close in the area due to gentrification. Older residents, including business owners like García and Nava, have been priced out of El Barrio in recent years.

The term “gentrification” refers to a displacement of the original population of a neighborhood by residents with higher purchasing power. In the case of East Harlem, the new residents are artists, college students, middle- and upper-middle-class professionals and so-called “white collar” people, who work in office and administrative positions.

“The new manager has offered us to come back once the new building is finished, but the rent will be three times more expensive and that is something we cannot afford,” said Nava. “We have decided not to reopen the business in a different location. We feel that our time has come to retire. We have even considered going back to Puebla.”

The shelves inside México Lindo are empty, but the hearts of García and Nava are full of good memories and gratitude. “We raised our children here, and here they learned to speak Spanish and to love Mexico. In this little store, my children learned to eat beans instead of hot dogs. Each little corner was filled with good moments,” said García. “This is not just a store: It is our home, and the home of many other Mexicans. Here, we saw our community grow in El Barrio, and now we are seeing it go away.”

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