By NATHAN SOLIS
HIGHLAND PARK — Saturday, February 21 marks the grand opening of the York Park at Avenue 50, with a design that was selected by the community vote. (Did anyone specifically ask for a snake slide?) Along with the park’s opening the local Chamber of Commerce and Councilman Jose Huizar will host a community event that hopes to celebrate the businesses and artists from the neighborhood, The York Village El Mercado.
The organizers of the event are not afraid to admit that El Mercado, which will feature local artists and craftspeople as well as music and food, is in celebration of the Latino and Chicano flavors and influences in the neighborhood.“I want to make sure that the Latino footprint does not disappear from Highland Park,” says Edmundo Rodriguez from Elsa’s Bakery, one of the participating businesses.
It’s safe to say that the last few years in Highland Park have been a tumultuous time, with the community’s identity constantly being scrutinized from the national media to social networks. York’s business corridor, from Avenue 50 to 52, has changed wildly in recent years, and housing prices have soared.
Local business owner Yolanda Nogueira sees the event as a way to better define the community, a chance for people who live and work in Highland Park to meet each other.
“We want world recognition that artists and working class people are celebrated here,” says Nogueira, whose family has owned the building at Avenue 50 and York since the 1960s.
A number of volunteers have been actively preparing for El Mercado, including local resident Saúl Narro who holds up a decades-old image on his phone of a York Boulevard Easter Parade . Huizar’s office wanted El Mercado to coincide with the opening of York Park, which meant any delay for the park meant a postponement for El Mercado.
Zahara Jaime of the band Big Circus is playing El Mercado and she is thrilled to play her own neighborhood.
“We usually get asked to play in Silver Lake, Echo Park, Atwater,” says Jaime. “So it’s nice to play my hometown. I guess this is one of the positive aspects of gentrification. I’m able to say a community is rising and bringing forth opportunities for artists, vendors, and musicians.”
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.