When Accompaniment Becomes a Calling
by Vernita Kennen
Our neighborhood walk, led by Pastor Monique and congregation members, showed us a changing neighborhood whose Latino inhabitants has gone from 80% to only 50% (many of the congregation’s leaders are commuters from suburban areas) and a neighborhood which is changing with gentrification. We saw no large grocery stores but a few colorful fruit and vegetable markets. Restaurants abounded – taquerias, Mexican and Central American in the majority, but also Chinese, African, Moroccan, Caribbean and McDonald’s, all sending out wonderful and pleasing aromas. Coffee shops are now much more abundant as people who are younger, more artsy and more affluent, have been able to rent the more expensive apartments and houses. (We were surprised to learn that the former funeral home on the corner of the church's block is now a cafe/indoor golf establishment.)
Green space - - or any space - - is at a premium but the neighborhood is extremely colorful and art schools, studios, galleries and murals are everywhere. Throughout the area walls and fences are decorated with bright murals, many from the 1970’s and inspired by the traditional Mexican paintings made famous by Diego Rivera. Santa Maria y Santa Marta itself has beautiful Latino artwork, both in paint and mosaic form. The streets and neighborhoods were clean and we saw few people that we might have suspected were without a home or shelter.
Streets were busy but not terribly crowded with traffic -- buses and streetcars provide transportation and people appeared to walk a lot, frequently carrying their shopping. We saw several offices advertising assistance with immigration issues as well as travel agencies which advertised trips to Mexico and Central American destinations. There were several "variety stores/discount stores" that seemed to sell nearly everything, usually with sidewalk displays of sale items.
It was a walk with busy sidewalks, pleasant faces, and quite clean. We felt perfectly safe and saw only a couple of people who were asking for financial assistance. We visitors enjoyed a delightful "sense of place."