Aquí Mercado Creates A Sense Of Community And Belonging

Jacquelyn Jimenez Romero, WA Latino News


A year ago, Ismael and Daniel Calderon hosted their first market – or mercado in Spanish – to celebrate the opening of their third photography studio in Seattle. After the event, the most frequent question they got was, “When’s the next mercado?” 

Almost every month since then, Aquí Mercado – or Here Market – was created and began hosting mercados, previously at the Old Rainier Brewery in Sodo and, most recently, at THE 101 in Pioneer Square.

Ismael and Daniel are a Latino couple originally from California. When they moved to Seattle six years ago, they were looking for something that reminded them of home and their community but noticed that Seattle proper lacked small business markets that focused on Latino culture. 

“We’re not the first person to host a mercado and we’re not the last person to host a mercado but we always pride ourselves in doing it our way and doing it true to our background,” Daniel said. 

According to Ismael and Daniel, when you walk into the mercado, you hear music, smell the food, see people who look like you, and hear people speaking Spanish. ​​In addition to the vendors, the mercado is activated by live DJs, tattoos, drag performances, and hair braiding stations. 

When hosting the mercados, their goal is to create a sense of community and belonging, uplift Latino, POC, and LGBTQ+ businesses, create learning opportunities, and share resources with the community. 

They’ve noticed that people can find Latino culture in Eastern Washington in cities like Yakima or South King County in cities like Burien. According to the US Census Bureau, approximately 8% of Seattle’s population is comprised of Latinos. The lack of spaces showcasing Latino queer culture in Seattle is what prompted them to specifically host mercados in Seattle. 

“We want to show people our communities here in Seattle,” Daniel said. “You shouldn’t have to go to Yakima. These are all amazing places that also have amazing communities, but we’re also here. You should be able to walk down the street anywhere in Seattle and experience community that reflects you and your background.“

Twelve months later, Ismael and Daniel said they never imagined it would become bigger and more impactful. Their most recent mercado featured over 40 vendors selling clothing, jewelry, and art, among other things, and had over 1400 attendees. 

“I feel like that’s what Aquí Mercado has been, is that safe place for anybody,” Ismael said. “No matter what your background is.” 

Daniel says their goal is to create a warm and friendly environment. They do this by greeting all the guests and connecting strangers with each other. Creating those moments where people can make a new friend, dance with a stranger, or shazam a new song feeds into their big-picture goal of fostering a sense of community.  

“It’s like you’re at someone’s quince, but you don’t know who’s,” Daniel said. “Everyone’s having a good time.” 

While the mercados bring a joyful atmosphere to the community, Ismael and Daniel also incorporate learning opportunities for guests by educating them on Latino culture and bringing in non-profits and community organizations such as Entre Hermanos, a Latinx LGBTQ+ resource nonprofit, and Super Familia, an unaccompanied and undocumented youth mutual aid group. 

“If we’re gonna get all these people together in one room, why not make it for good and have an impact,” Ismael said. 

While the mercado has grown tremendously, Ismael and Daniel don’t profit from it, as they don’t charge an entry fee. 

“I feel weird about charging my community to experience their community,” Daniel said. 

Instead, they accept donations and emphasize that the mercado is community-funded and whatever isn’t used for that month’s mercado, will be used for the next month’s.  

Their goal for the future is to turn Aqui Mercado into a non-profit organization so that they can access more resources. 

Ismael (left) and Daniel (right) Calderon at Aquí Mercado. 
(Courtesy of Ismael and Daniel Calderon)

Both Ismael and Daniel balance the mercado, their photography business, their full-time jobs, and, most recently, their new business venture. They are working to open a coffee shop in Capitol Hill called Bonito, or beautiful in English. 

They wanted to take the sense of community fostered through the mercado and make it long-term. 

“​​Ultimately, what we’re doing is creating a community of people who are looking to experience that feeling of belonging that sometimes you don’t feel a lot here,” Ismael said. 

Cover Photo: Shopping at Aqui Mercado, Old Rainier Brewery in Sodo (Courtesy of Ismael and Daniel Calderon)

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