Elm Street for El Mercado: Food, crafts, and a movement for immigrant protections

India Scott held up each kind of her handmade scented candles for aromatic review by the B Square: “This is Black Love…Blackberry Cheesecake…Orange Mint…Lavender and Vanilla.”

The last one earned a request for a second whiff.

Scott’s Dakota Faith Candles and More was one of about a dozen food and craft vendors at last Sunday’s edition of the monthly farmers and artisans market called El Mercado. The market is held on the third Sunday of the month.

Launched in August 2019,  El Mercado has popped up in a handful of different Bloomington spots.

But since April of this year, the market has landed on the block of Elm Street between 7th and 8th Streets, next to the Banneker Community Center on Bloomington’s near west side. It’s the block where the first of Bloomington’s “Black Lives Matter” street murals was painted.

And through the end of the year, that will be El Mercado’s home, according to a partnership agreement with Banneker, approved earlier this year by Bloomington’s board of park commissioners.

On Sunday, the market was also the place where organizers for Movimiento Cosecha  set up a table as a followup to their Thursday march from Switchyard Park to Indiana University’s Sample Gates.

The national movement describes itself as one that fights for “permanent protection, dignity, and respect for all undocumented immigrants.”

A specific project that Cosecha is working on is to make it possible for undocumented workers to get a driver’s license. Beyond protection and dignity, the push is based in part on the practical idea that it will help ensure that undocumented workers have vehicle insurance and that they have completed driver’s training.

Representatives from Cosecha New Jersey organization were on hand in Bloomington to help support Thursday’s march and the tabling at Sunday’s market. New Jersey is one of 17 states where undocumented immigrants can obtain a driver’s license, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At this year’s session of Indiana’s state legislature, both of the bills that were introduced to address the issue of driver’s licenses for immigrants (HB 1138  and SB 319) died without a hearing in committee.

On Sunday, Mara Luna talked with The B Square about Movimiento Cosecha’s efforts in Indiana. Luna is part of the Cosecha Indiana “circle”—that’s the word for the layer that might be called a “chapter” in other organizations.

Luna heads into communities, like Bloomington, that don’t yet have a circle of their own, to help build one. “We pinpoint local leaders, so that we can work with them, and train them, coach them,” she said.

A Cosecha Bloomington circle could eventually be led by Rebekah Amaya. She told the B Square on Sunday that Cosecha is not an organization, it’s a movement. “It’s not passive, it’s always active,” Amaya said. She added, “Whatever our next steps are, they will always be involved in action.”

Setting up a table on Sunday at El Mercado is not active like Thursday’s march, but that’s part of a followup phase, Amaya said, which is called “absorption.”

Creating new circles comes through setting up ways for people to connect, after a more active event like a march, she said, as a path to “empowering the community.”

El Mercado itself is steeped in the idea of empowering a community, providing a place for people of color to sell their wares.

Market organizer Cori Sereni told The B Square she did not see El Mercado as a response to the 2019 controversy surrounding white supremacists at the city of Bloomington’s farmers market. “I don’t want it to be like a response to anything, but just meeting a need in the community.” She added, “It’s more just focusing on people of color and just creating a space for people of color.”

At Sunday’s El Mercado, Sereni was selling her skin care products—oils, aftershave, and perfumes—they’re what she uses in her work as a barber at Angela’s Ebony Hair Designs and Barber Shop. Visible in the bottles of oil are the herbs that Sereni grows herself.

Among the food offerings on Sunday were Chinese buns and dumplings from
B-town Buns & Dumplings. El Mercado is a way faster route to the traditional dumplings than through the normal ordering process, which has a waitlist of about a year.

Santiago Mora (Maíz Columbian Food ) was selling empanadas—a traditional between-meal snack. He told The B Square, as he snacked away on an empanada, “It’s for when you are working and don’t have time. You just add salsa after every bite.”

Tynnetta Muhammad (Tynnetta Sells – Healthy Eats) was until just recently a teacher at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. She was selling vegetable wraps, chicken wraps, pasta salad, and fresh fruit.

Also down from Indy for the day was Diana Elliott, (Taste of Amoré) who was offering peach and apple pies, strawberry lemonade cupcakes, and brownie parfait. Elliott said Sunday was her first time at El Mercado, and would definitely return next month.

The “more” in the name of India Scott’s business, Dakota Faith Candles and More,  includes wax warmers, which get heated up in a little oven, giving off the scent, without an open flame. They’re popular with college students, who aren’t allowed to have candles in their dorm rooms, she said.

Selling his acrylic paintings on Sunday was Ambrosio Jirillo (Ambrosio Paints). The paintings of penguins he did because his daughter likes penguins, he said. From landscapes closer to Bloomington, one of the abstract themes in his paintings was reflections of trees on water.

The every-third-Sunday pattern means the date for the next edition of El Mercado is Aug. 15. (1 p.m. to 5 p.m.)