by Dominique Morales
Aquí Mercado is one of the newest markets to pop up in Seattle, and just five months in, it’s already making its mark. The market was started by husbands and business partners Daniel and Ismael Calderon, who felt the need to create a space that centered the Latino experience.
Everything about Aquí Mercado is about paying homage to Latino culture, down to the name. Aquí translates to “here,” and the Calderons chose the word to convey that the Latino community in Seattle is, in fact, here. Calling it a mercado helped the community know this was for them.
“We wanted to see representation that we don’t see in markets around Seattle,” said Ismael Calderon.
Since April, they have been hosting the market monthly, drawing crowds of 250-plus people, with each market featuring around 20 vendors from the greater Seattle area and beyond, selling and offering food, art, vintage clothing, tattoos, and overall “buenas vibras,” as Daniel and Ismael put it. However, when the Calderons first set out on this endeavor, they didn’t have any set plans to make the market a recurring event. That is, until they received endless questions about when the next one was.
“I turned to Daniel and was like, ‘Well, we can’t just stop doing this,’” said Ismael Calderon. “And if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it the right way — we’re going to do it in a way that represents the Latino culture.”
Representing the culture in an intersectional way that included all ethnicities and identities was a top priority in Daniel and Isamel’s own photography business, and when they set out to create Aquí Mercado.
“All of our businesses [we own] say LGBTQ+ and Latino-owned, because I feel like a lot of people don’t see representation on both sides,” said Ismael Calderon.
This is something vendors like Ále Johnson, founder and creatress of Casa de Espie, a mystical candle shop, have resonated with, knowing that this space was inclusive and welcoming for her.
“That’s very big in the Latine community, to be able to be my truest self around people that are similar to me,” said Johnson. “I feel like this mercado helped attract the right people to me, because now I’m building a really loyal customer base, and I don’t think any of that would have happened at such a rapid pace without being involved in the mercado.”
Aquí Mercado intends to bring forth entrepreneurial, educational, and mentorship opportunities for the Latino community. It creates visibility and a place for these businesses to get the support they need to be successful, even when they feel doubtful. Carlos Martinez, whose first time selling art at a market was at Aquí Mercado, expressed, prior to the market, feeling their art wasn’t for Seattle, questioning if anyone would buy from them.
“We had a conversation with him, telling him, ‘This opportunity has come to you because it was meant to be.’ We assured him he was gonna do great, and then I think he ended up selling out,” said Daniel Calderon.
The Calderons have noticed repeatedly that there didn’t seem to be enough space at the table for their community. So with Aquí Mercado, they have set out to create their own table where vendors can pull up their chairs with ease.
“There hasn’t been any other market that makes me feel seen and at home,” said Nicole Chica, Aquí Mercado vendor and owner of Uva Collection, a jewelry and accessory business. “Dan and Ish care so much about our comfort as vendors, and the fact that they accept all kinds of cultures is amazing.”
And the market seeks to make this table extend far beyond Seattle city limits. Aquí Mercado has had vendors, like Alma De Oro, who come from the other side of the mountains in Yakima and attendees from as far as Portland. Daniel and Ismael don’t buy into the idea of the “Seattle Freeze,” and ultimately that is what Aquí Mercado is looking to challenge. They want people to break out of their bubble and get to know their neighbors.
Daniel and Ismael have said the outpouring of positive feedback is what has shown them there is a need for the community they are fostering with Aquí Mercado.
“I think one of the messages [we received] read, ‘For the first time in a long time, I felt seen, and I felt at ease,’” said Daniel Calderon. “I remember us reading them together. As heartwarming as it was, it’s also concerning, because these people are feeling this much pride with something that only happens once a month?”
And so, they have no plans of stopping. The next mercado is slated to take place Sept. 9 at the Old Rainier Brewery from 12 to 6 p.m., with live music from DJ Crazy Cruz at 2 p.m. The first floor of the market, directly street level on Airport Way, will include a majority of the market’s food and vintage-clothing vendors. The upper level of the market on the brewery’s rooftop is where you will find more vendors showcasing their craft — you’ll know you’re in the right place when you spot the traditional Mexican papel picado! Featured vendors include Cocina Nuundeya, Casa de Espie, Uva Collection, Every Thread Has a Story, Shop Conmigo, and Dolores Preferred. With September being Hispanic Heritage Month, there will be a new addition to the market: “Para La Comunidad Corner,” a place where attendees can go to learn more about local nonprofits and resources for the community.
People planning on attending September’s mercado are encouraged to RSVP so food vendors can plan accordingly to meet demand.
Dominique Morales, California born and raised, received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Graduating amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she continued her education pursuing her master’s in public policy, reigniting a lifelong passion for advocacy and speaking truth to power. She now resides in Seattle and uses her skill set to uplift and tell stories of all the rich and diverse communities of the city and its surrounding areas.
📸 Featured Image: A scene at Aquí Mercado. (Photo: The Juniper Collective)
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