Descubre with Montse: Mercado on Fifth

QUAD CITIES (KWQC) - You can download this podcast by selecting the icon with an arrow going down into a box.

Maria Ontiveros:
It's a cool place! (Laughs) It's family-friendly, it's gosh ... it's so much fun. It's different. You won't see anything like it in the Quad Cities. It's a cultural experience, It's a foodie experience.

Montse Ricossa:
Mercado on Fifth, in its fourth year, attracting an average of 1,000 people every Friday!
From TV6 news, it's Descubre with Montse, I'm Montse Ricossa.

Mercado on Fifth is a staple in Moline, bringing together people of all ages and ethnicities, making its mark in the Quad Cities. We'll hear from the President, Maria Ontiveros.

"Mercado" in Spanish means "market," so Mercado on Fifth is an open-air market on Fifth Avenue in Moline, Illinois. The idea coming from Maria's grandfather, Bob Ontiveros.

Montse Ricossa:
How did that idea come about for him?
Maria Ontiveros:
Well, he grew up down the street from the neighborhood and he wanted to give back to the neighborhood where he came from. So on that neighborhood where the Mercado is, he's developed a couple of properties. There's a Boys and Girls Club, a community health care and now the Mercado so he's really turning that little corner that's the gateway to Floreciente into a safe space.

Montse Ricossa:
For somebody who hasn't been to Mercado, could you explain what it's like?
Maria Ontiveros:
Sure! Well, it's an open-air, family-friendly, street market that we put on every Friday evening. We have food vendors, retail vendors, kids activities and cultural entertainment and it's really become a gathering place for the community, so it's a lot of fun!

Montse Ricossa:
Like you said, I think the Mercado has become a really big hotspot for Latinos in the Quad Cities, why do you think that is?
Maria Ontiveros:
I think it's because of the cultural programming where people can go to see their favorite band and they can seek out the food that they miss. For example, Arely's from Muscatine serves tacos al pastor on the tronco. And they don't even do that at their brick and mortar location in Muscatine. I think that's the only place you can get the real al pastor. We have that and paletas that you can't really find easily in the restaurants. So that's really fun and it's kind of a space where Latino culture and heritage is celebrated and I think that's created a buzz for everyone. I think everyone like to celebrate that culture.

Montse Ricossa:
I think this is a really great place for people to get together no matter their culture, no?
Maria Ontiveros:
Mhmm, definitely. And not only that but we need to think about equity so I think one of our priorities is to build up minority-owned businesses and they do take more handholding when starting a business. With the language barrier in some places or experience not owning their own business so we partnered with the small business development center with workshops on starting your own business and that has been free for our vendors and for other businesses in the area. We've also partnered with Black Hawk College to provide Spanish language food-management license so people don't have to go all the way to Chicago and now we have catalyst kitchen and the management is fully bilingual, so we're working to provide an easier pathway into owning your own business. I mean, talking about the community aspect, it's very important to really highlight the culture and celebrate it. To kind of balance the xenophobia that's happening. Yeah, it's worrisome and I love that we're combatting that with LOVE! (laughs)

Montse Ricossa:
What's your favorite thing about Mercado?
Maria Ontiveros:
Oh gosh, that's so hard. I think I love to see people making it their own and you know to see people enjoying it in such different ways and in ways I wouldn't have thought of. Even the lawn chairs weren't my idea, that just came about. The older people sorry, sorry older people! (laughs) come and set up their chairs very early to get their spots, that's a natural development. Picnic blankets. Kids tossing around football or soccer ball seeing the teens out on the dance floor. I love to watch people enjoy it in different ways.

Montse Ricossa:
So it's not just for one age group, everybody comes!
Maria Ontiveros:
Oh no yeah, we have people in their 90's to newborns to teens. I love seeing we've engaged teenagers because I really don't feel like there's enough for middle school and high school kids to do in the Quad Cities and we do get a lot of kids down there'd. I see some of the same kids over and over again. Some of them are being dropped off I heard, so that's cool! 'Go drop me off at the Mercado, mom!' We also just recently engaged the Boys and Girls Club so they've been opening up their gates and allowing kids to play basketball and soccer. It's cool that it's fun for all ages.

Montse Ricossa:
How has Mercado changed at all through the years?
Maria Ontiveros:
Oh gosh, it's taken on a life of its own. I like to say that and it's so true. When we started I had not anticipated what it'd turn into. And I think it has a lot to do with the community partners. Everybody brings something to the table, I love it. People just send me emails. Someone will say 'hey can I do this?' This Friday we have somebody singing a few songs, the Mexican National Anthem and a few special ballads in Spanish and that was just somebody sending me an email. Last week we had the QC Ballet Folklorico perform an interpretation of the census (laughs) the US Census! We have all these people adding their own flavor to it. Even this year we had 3 taco vendors the first week. And that has grown to 14 food vendors, so I mean we're now there's shorter lines and more variety so it's very fun to get a tour, try different things from different places you can come back time and time again and try everything. Again, that has come about through some businesses services we've provided and helped connect people with some of them are vendors at the market started with us and because of us.

Montse Ricossa:
How does it feel knowing you played such a large role in this?
Maria Ontiveros:
I love it. And I don't get paid for this but it's such passion of mine now. In the beginning, I was just helping out my grandfather. I thought It was just gonna be a quick couple of weeks thing where I'd help him out. I didn't have the long term plan to be involved! Now I'm addicted! I miss it when I can't be there on Fridays. We had to go visit families a few weeks back and we were just like, 'oh I can't leave a party!' And when you throw a great party, you want to be there. So it's very cool to see people embrace it.

Montse Ricossa:
Maria has some exciting plans for the future of Mercado on Fifth.

What's something that somebody maybe doesn't know that you do behind the scenes that you think that they might need to know?
Maria Ontiveros:
Oh, well, I think the grant writing is under wraps and we haven't done as much of it this year but this summer we did write it. We're looking forward to hearing the results this month. That may determine the future of our growth

Montse Ricossa:
What would that grant go towards?
Maria Ontiveros:
An indoor space! There's a building next-door to the Mercado we'd like to purchase and use for overflow. It is getting a bit crowded so people can go inside get some air conditioning, bathrooms, maybe some vendors inside set up. It could also be used year-round or if it rains. We've been rained out in the past, we've been pretty lucky this year. But in the past, we've had a few rainouts so this would provide a space to have Mercado rain or shine! And have a few vendors- we have a really cool vision for it but it would be a very expensive project so we're in fundraising mode right now and hoping for the best.

Montse Ricossa:
Maria's family moved to the United States through Laredo, Texas in 1918. She's proud of her family's history.

Maria Ontiveros:
I do identify as a Latina and especially engaging in this project now, it's made me connect back with that. more so than before. My grandfather grew up in that period where Spanish was looked down upon and he was encouraged not to use it in schools and he's kind of lost that. So him and his brothers and sisters most of them don't speak Spanish anymore and so you have 2 generations later, here comes me, I just learned Spanish in High School. I've been able to try to reconnect with my roots because it's not always evident. I remember going to my Great-Grandmother's house and eating her food and that's still a memory of mine. I am really happy to be a part of the Latino community now because they're re-engaging me in that history. For example, the Mexican Independence Day this Friday, I wouldn't have really known about that history if I hadn't gotten involved in the Mercado. the Mexican war of independence and it's really cool to learn about and make me proud! making me proud to have that be a part of me

Montse Ricossa:
While the number of Latinos who speak Spanish is on the rise because of the growth of the Latino population, the percentage of Latinos who speak Spanish has declined 5% in about ten years - from 78% in 2006 to 73% in 2015 according to the Pew Research Center.

Other kids now with 2-3 generations, a lot of kids don't have that Spanish speaking ability as you mentioned, do you think seeing you or going to Mercado can spark that reconnection?
Maria Ontiveros:
Totally yeah, I think there's a lot of people that are in the same position as me that are embarrassed they don't know Spanish as well as other members of their family or other Latinos so I would just encourage people to I don't know, just not be afraid to connect with that part of themselves and to learn more about it and I guess just not be so embarrassed about the language barrier. Because it's really not our fault that we didn't learn Spanish growing up, we're just a product of our upbringing and it's to us to break that cycle. And when I have kids I think I would like to teach my kids about that heritage because it is so special! But it has to be intentional.

Montse Ricossa:
Thank you, you did great!
Maria Ontiveros:
(laughs) haha, thank you!

Montse Ricossa:
Mercado on Fifth is every Friday from 5 to 10 pm until September 27th. You can find them on Facebook at Mercado on Fifth.
This podcast was produced and edited by Montse Ricossa, reviewed by David Nelson, theme music composed by Gabriel Candiani and Eduardo Moretti Valenzuela.

I'm your host, Montse Ricossa. Join us again next time, and in the meanwhile, you can find me on your social media at @KWQC Montse Ricossa (Facebook), @KWQCMontse (Twitter), and @MontseReports (Instagram).

Hasta la próxima, until next time!