Tag Archives: Latinx History

From Arlandria to Chirilagua: The Shifting Demographics of a Northern Virginia Neighborhood

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Krystyn Moon

In the summer of 1980, Edith Zambrano arrived in northern Virginia like many men and women whose lives El Salvador’s civil war had disrupted. After a student massacre her grandfather had refused to allow her to attend school, and with war raging in the countryside she decided that it was time to leave for the United States. Traveling to the United States had always been a possibility for Zambrano, whose parents had immigrated a decade earlier. In fact, the first Salvadorans, working for American diplomats who had previously lived in Central America, had arrived in the Washington metropolitan area in the 1960s. This first cohort of Salvadoran immigrants soon invited friends and family to make the journey and assisted them in finding work in construction, restaurants, and domestic labor.[1] It took Zambrano twenty-one days to travel from El Salvador to the United States, including a trip across the Rio Grande on a raft. She eventually made it to Los Angeles, and then flew into Dulles International Airport where her family was waiting.

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Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, Detroit Publishing Inc., 1902, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Her mother had found an apartment in Arlandria, one of the few privately-owned low-income neighborhoods in the region. Located in the northernmost portion of Alexandria, Virginia, the neighborhood was “where the apartment buildings were known for cockroaches inside and drug dealers outside.”[2] Like many recent arrivals, the Zambranos squeezed nine people into a one-bedroom apartment, trying to save as much money as possible to send to family members back home. They were among the first Latino residents of Arlandria, but they soon saw numerous familiar faces from El Salvador. “One by one, that summer and the next, [Zambrano’s] classmates showed up and moved into her neighborhood…. Her cousins followed…. Every Sunday, the crowds at the neighborhood soccer games grew, and every Sunday, she bumped into someone else from back home.”[3] By the late 1980s, the neighborhood was home to a sizable number of Salvadoran immigrants who nicknamed the neighborhood “Chirilagua,” after a town in southeastern El Salvador from which many residents had fled.

Arlandria/Chirilagua, like the rest of northern Virginia, had only seen small numbers of immigrants prior to the 1980s. Constructed in the late 1930s, the neighborhood’s garden apartments and rowhouses catered to white federal workers, of which an overwhelming majority was native born. With the passage of local and federal fair housing policies in the 1960s, Alexandria slowly began to desegregate its housing stock, and for the first time large numbers of African Americans moved into the neighborhood. Racial tensions ran high in Arlandria, with two incidents of white-on-black violence that provoked widespread anger and destruction throughout the city.[4] Simultaneously, rapid suburbanization along Four Mile Run, a large stream that emptied into the Potomac River near Arlandria, had created what Adam Rome asserts was “an environmental catastrophe.”[5] Northern Virginia’s sprawling tract housing and shopping plazas ensured that water had few places to go, especially after a drenching storm. One of the most memorable was Hurricane Agnes (1972), during which one Arlandria resident drowned.[6]

sampson121_arlandria_fourmilerun_flood_21jun1972_300
Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library
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Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library

Arlandria’s environmental and social turmoil made the neighborhood an affordable, although potentially dangerous, place to live for newly arrived immigrants. Refugees from Southeast Asia who needed a place to live once their sponsorship period had ended made up the first sizable number of new arrivals.[7] Immigrants from all over the world, however, also moved to the neighborhood. By 1975, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Iran, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, and Turkey lived in Arlandria.[8]

In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s cuts to social services combined with Cold War policies created a crisis for those near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder who lived in the region. In response to Reagan’s nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, both American citizens and immigrants moved to Washington to take advantage of the growing economy, with government contractors making billions of dollars selling products and services to the Defense Department and other federal agencies. Meanwhile, service industries flourished along with construction jobs, domestic work, and clerical positions, all of which saw an increasing number of foreign-born employees. Although job opportunities expanded, so did living expenses, with rich and poor competing for places to live within commuting distance of their employers. Thus local developers began to buy undervalued apartments and convert them into high-end rentals or condominiums that appealed to a new class of white professionals, known as “yuppies.” In Virginia, low-income residents had little recourse. State and local governments had enacted few regulations protecting renters from predatory landlords and developers.[9]

The proximity of Arlandria to Washington, D.C. along with its undervalued real estate market, was perfect for mid-to-high-end redevelopment, which local governments believed would lead to more tax monies. In response to changes in the housing market, Artery Organization, Inc. purchased over 1,000 apartment units in Arlandria in 1986. It created a firestorm among city officials and local residents. At the same time, two other developers, Potomack Development, Inc. and Freeman/Cafritz, had purchased other apartment complexes in the neighborhood with the intent to renovate and raise rents.[10] These sales constituted 74% of the neighborhood’s apartments, all of which were slated for conversion and potential displacement of the existing residents. Magda Gotts, an Arlandria resident and member of the newly formed Alexandria United Tenant Organization (which hoped to protect local residents from displacement and eviction), told reporters, “it’s going to be an exodus of people. There is no place for these people to go. I’m speechless.” [11] Alexandria’s mayor, Jim Moran, noted this would be “the largest displacement in the city’s history.” Despite their concerns, local officials believed little could be done.

Tenants Flyer
Tenant Flyer from Tenants and Workers United circa mid-1980s, photograph by Krystyn Moon

Tensions over housing soon pitted African American and Latino residents living in Arlandria against each other, eventually leading to violence. The arrival of immigrants in the neighborhood had angered some African American residents, who only in the past twenty years had the opportunity to live in Arlandria and had struggled to find housing in the region. Latinos, many of whom were unrecognized as refugees by the federal government, could not apply for housing assistance programs, and were limited to privately-owned units. In July 1986, a fight broke out in the streets of Arlandria between African American and Latino residents, leading to forty arrests. In response, the local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews organized a series of community meetings to develop a list of issues that affected Arlandria residents and facilitate interracial and intercultural conversations to mitigate tension. Everyone recognized that pending displacement triggered the violence.[12]

In the meantime, tenants and their supporters organized protests to raise public awareness and demanded city officials and developers be held accountable. Two groups, Alexandria United Tenants Organization and the Arlandria Community Campaign to Save our Homes, organized Latino, African American, and white tenants to protest and speak out against displacement.[13] Within weeks of the first sale, 200 residents walked through the streets singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” invoking the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”[14] A year later, tenants and activists organized a large-scale, interracial and interethnic march from Arlandria to City Hall, including Edith Zambrano. While giving speeches on the City Hall’s steps, Mitch Snyder, a Washingtonian homeless activist from the Community for Creative Non Violence, suggested protesters take over City Council chambers, symbolically displacing local government. It was the only time in which protesters had successfully shut down City Council. Frustrated by the presence of protesters in their chambers, Mayor Moran threatened to send agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to arrest residents, and almost came to blows with Snyder.[15]

Meanwhile, city government scrambled to put together a plan to help as many tenants as possible. By the end of the summer, it had worked out a compromise with developers to put aside one-fourth of their apartments for the next five years for low-income tenants who received Section 8 subsidies. The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) also began renovations of 152 units to be put aside for public housing.[16] That same year, a group of local Episcopal churches established Carpenter’s Lodgings (now Community Lodgings), a non-profit to address homelessness in the neighborhood. In addition to housing, they offered job training, childcare, and other social services to local residents.[17] Many residents still wanted cooperative housing, in which they owned units with support from public and private funds. The Tenants Support Committee, established in 1989, used the bankruptcy of one of the developers to acquire 300 units. It took an additional ten years to create the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative.[18]

In the end, Arlandria’s housing problems in the 1980s established lasting changes between residents and city officials. Local government needed to be more responsive to the needs of low-income residents, who now included not only African Americans and whites, but also a diverse immigrant population. Creative public and private partnerships, in the wake of cuts to federal funding under the Reagan administration, could also offset massive displacements. More participatory forms of local governance, which African Americans had demanded since the 1960s, fostered a sense of belonging and community. By the late 1980s, Arlandria had not become yuppified as many feared, but maintained its diversity.

Edith Zambrano eventually legalized her status and moved out of Chirilagua, like many Salvadorans who came in response to the civil war. Newer immigrants, however, have moved into the neighborhood, which is still known for its sizable Latino, especially Central American, community today.[19]

2018 Headshot AKrystyn Moon is a professor of history and director of American Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Her teaching and research include US immigration history, popular culture, race and ethnic studies, foodways, gender and sexuality, and consumerism. She is the author of Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s (2005), and several articles, essays, reviews, and blogs on American immigration history and ethnic identity. Additionally, she has worked as a public historian, collaborating with the Office of Historic Alexandria for several years. As part of this partnership, she has written “Finding the Fort: A History of an African American Neighborhood in Northern Virginia, 1860s-1960s” to assist in the inclusion of African American history in Alexandria’s public programming. She was also the lead historical researcher and interviewer on “Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future,” an oral history project funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Her current research looks at ways in complicating the public’s understanding of the past, especially through her research on race relations and immigration in the Washington metropolitan region. She serves as the president of the Alexandria Historical Society, and is the recent past president of the Southeastern Regional Chapter of the American Studies Association.

Featured image (at top): Mural depicting the community’s image located on the Tenants and Workers United Headquarters, photograph by Krystyn Moon

 

[1] Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).

[2] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Arlandria Negroes Protest Police Action,” Washington Post October 6, 1969, C4; E. J. Bachinski and Michael Hodge, “Youth Slain, Disorder Hits Alexandria,” Washington Post, May 30, 1970, 17.

[5] Adam Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 3.

[6] “Fairfax Flood Death Raises Toll to 15,” Washington Post June 27, 1972.

[7] Christine R. Finnan, Rhonda Ann Cooperstein, and Anne R. Wright, Southeast Asian Refugee Resettlement at the Local Level: The Role of the Ethnic Community and the Nature of Refugee Impact (Menlo Park, CA: SRI International, November 1983), 119-133.

[8] Data collected by author on 1975 VA Marriage Certificates, Department of Health–Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics; State of Virginia; www.ancestry.com (accessed on September 18, 2016).

[9] Michael Schaller, Reckoning with Reagan: America and Its President in the 1980s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Haynes Johnson, Sleepwalking through History: America in the Reagan Years (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003); Simon Head, “Reagan, Nuclear Weapons, and the End of the Cold War,” Ronald Reagan and the 1980s: Perceptions, Policies, Legacies, ed. Cheryl Hudson and Gareth Davies, (New York: Palgrave, 2008), 81-100; Matthew Evangelista, Innovation and Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995); Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

[10] Memo: Receipt of Arlandria Report; From: Lionel R. Hope and Carlyle C. Ring Jr.; To Mayor and City Council; City Clerk, Docket Minutes–City Council, October 28-November 15, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[11] Mary Jordan, “Tenant Group Gets $16,000 in Alexandria; Organization’s Flier Angers Mayor Moran,” Washington Post March 12, 1986, C4; Mary Jordan, “Apartment Purchase Plan Stirs Controversy; Displacement of 3,000 Low-Income Persons Feared in Alexandria,” Washington Post June 11, 1986, C4.

[12] Around the Region,” Washington Post June 4, 1986, C6; Kim McGuire, “Keeping Sunnyside Up is Goal of Residents,” Washington Post June 26, 1986, VAB11; “Around the Region,” Washington Post August 22, 1986, B5; “Arlandria Inner Group 1986 File,” Citizen Assistance—Subject Files, January 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[13] Special Meeting–September 13, 1986; City Clerk—Docket Minutes—City Council—July 17-September 13, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[14] Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1986, B3.

[15] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 6, 2017); Sandra Evans, “Alexandria Tenants Protest; City Council Forced to Adjourn by Group,” Washington Post, February 22, 1987, B3; Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1987, B3 .

[16] “City of Alexandria Annual Report: 1987,” Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[17] Community Lodgings: About Us; http://www.communitylodgings.org/about-us/ (accessed September 6, 2016).

[18] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 7, 2017).

[19] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

Member of the Week: Llana Barber

Barber - PhotoLlana Barber

Associate Professor, American Studies

College at Old Westbury (SUNY)

 

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My first book, Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000, explored the history of Dominican and Puerto Rican experiences with urban crisis in Lawrence, MA, and Latinx activism to transform the city. When it was published last year, I thought that would mark the end of the project. Instead, it has brought me the opportunity to travel widely to discuss my research, and these conversations continually push my ideas to evolve. So, although I am no longer in the archives in Lawrence, I remain engaged in this research.

My new project, however, is quite different. I am researching the incarceration, interdiction, repatriation, and deportation of Haitian migrants from the 1970s to 1990s. I argue that this militarized migrant exclusion was central to the formation of the U.S. as a nativist state. While this project does not have a distinctly urban focus, there are surprising methodological overlaps. Being an urban historian has made me particularly attentive to the fact that dramatic inequality can be created and maintained by restricting human mobility across space, and that force, law, and discourse have long been used in concert to contain marginalized populations. My work applies these urban history insights to the study of national borders and American empire.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

The College at Old Westbury (SUNY) is a small, public, liberal arts college with a longstanding social-justice mission and a student body that is diverse by nearly every metric. My scholarship weaves together several different fields, and I am fortunate that I get to teach in all of them: immigration history, urban history, Latinx history, and the history of U.S. imperialism. My students often have strong opinions and immense curiosity about the past. Their outrage over injustice and their enthusiasm for social movements keep these histories vivid and new for me, so being in the classroom consistently reignites my drive to excavate the past. My students never let me lose sight of the “so what?” in my scholarship; we feed in each other a faith that understanding systems of oppression will help us dismantle them.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I loved Julio Capó’s Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940! His work shows the rich results of applying queer theory and transnational methodologies to urban history. Also, I thought Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965 broke important ground in uncovering the relationship between the carceral state and the nativist state.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

As obsessed as I am with systems, spaces, and structures, history is about people. If your work is missing people’s voices, it is missing the point.

Your undergraduate degree is in dance! What historical event or episode would you want to be commissioned to choreograph a dance about, and where would you stage the performance?

Great question! Yes, my undergraduate degree is indeed in dance, but I was always more interested in the cultural context (who danced and where? who watched and why?), than the content. So, if I may indulge my fancy here: rather than choreograph a dance performance about a specific historic event, I would rather take people out dancing. Popular dance cultures still thrive, and their transformations over time create an embodied record of the past. Similar to oral histories, dance cultures need to be interpreted carefully as historical sources, but there is a lot to be learned about a city’s past on its dancefloors!

Member of the Week: Andrew Konove

HeadshotAndrew Konove

Assistant Professor

Department of History, University of Texas at San Antonio

@AndrewKonove

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

I just completed my first book, Black Market Capital: Urban Politics and the Shadow Economy in Mexico City, which will be published later this spring. It traces the history of Mexico City’s infamous “thieves’ market,” called the Baratillo, from its origins in the seventeenth century to the present day, revealing how illicit street commerce has been central to both the urban economy and urban politics since the colonial era. My new research grows out of that project. I’m looking at how the circulation of informal currencies, which were traded in markets like the Baratillo, spurred new ideas about poverty, economic development, and sovereignty in Mexico and the Hispanic world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I see it as a study that links economic ideas to on-the-ground economic practices and one that broadens my focus beyond Mexico City.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

This semester I’m teaching Introduction to Latin American Civilization—my department’s one-semester survey of Latin American history. At first, the incredibly long time frame was a challenge (I begin the course discussing human migrations to the Americas during the last ice age and end with recent political developments in the region). But it’s actually become my favorite class to teach. I think it’s important for students to think about long-term patterns, something I deal with in my own research.

I’m also teaching a new class on Imperial Spain from the fifteenth century to the Spanish-American War of 1898. The idea behind the class is to put Spain’s interactions with Europeans, Americans, Africans, and Pacific Islanders into same frame of analysis. It covers a similar period as my course on Colonial Latin America, but it takes a global perspective. Teaching this class is helping me to conceptualize a new project that looks beyond Mexico to the broader Hispanic world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

On my shelf is Patricia Acerbi’s Street Occupations: Urban Vending in Rio de Janeiro, 1850-1925, which I’m eager to read. Along with Sandra Mendiola García’s recent book, Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late Twentieth-Century Mexico, and my own forthcoming book, we’ve had a surge of recent scholarship on street vending in Latin America, and that’s very exciting! I’m also looking forward to Matthew Vitz’s A City on a Lake: Urban Political Ecology and the Growth of Mexico City, which comes out this spring.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

I’d encourage them to think and read broadly about their topics, looking beyond their disciplines and outside their geographic areas of expertise. Some of the most helpful scholarship I read in writing my book was the social science literature on the informal economy and studies of street vending outside of Mexico and Latin America. I’d also push them to try to bring their research to a broader audience. We generally gear our first book toward specialists, but it’s also important to share our work with people outside the academy. From op/eds in the local paper to commentary in news magazines to articles in our schools’ alumni magazines, there are many opportunities to take our work to the public. And they might be surprised: in an era of short attention spans and rapid news cycles, there is a lot of demand for experts to provide historical context for present-day challenges.

What item sold at Mexico City’s thieves market would most surprise or delight The Metropole‘s readers? 

In 1895 a vendor in the Baratillo was caught with rails stolen from the Federal District Railway. The report doesn’t specify the length of track he was trying to sell, but it seems like a particularly conspicuous item to try to unload.

Member of the Week: Monica Perales

Monica Perales. Photos owned by PeralesMonica Perales

Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Public History

University of Houston

@mperaleshtx

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My current research blends my interests in Mexican American, labor, and food history. I’m working on a book project that explores Mexican women’s food labor in Texas — this grew out of some of the stories I found of Mexican women’s food experiences and entrepreneurship in my first book, Smeltertown. Mexican women played a central role in cultivating, processing, and selling the food that fed Texans and tourists alike. I’m also interested in exploring the cultural dimensions of the work they performed within their families and communities as well as in broader ways to help define a regional cuisine — how Mexican women’s bodies and images, for example, were used to cultivate ideas about authenticity. Building on my oral history interests, I’m also working with my colleagues in the UH Center for Public History to launch an oral history project called “Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey,” which will be a multi-year project to collect the first-hand accounts of a range of Houstonians and how they experienced this historic storm.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

Over the last few years, my teaching has gravitated towards food and public history, and even more so in my new role as the Director of our Center for Public History (CPH). This coming spring, I’ll be teaching Introduction to Public History — the first time this course has been offered at the undergraduate level in quite some time. In our work at CPH, we see the city of Houston as a vital laboratory, it is a place where the local is global. Through this class, I hope to get students to appreciate the ways in which history doesn’t just exist in classrooms and textbooks, but in our communities. One of or projects will be to work with archivists at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center to examine the changing landscape of Houston’s East End, a historic Mexican American neighborhood that has been undergoing rapid change in recent years.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

Jerry Gonzalez’s In Search of the Mexican Beverly Hills: Latino Suburbanization in Postwar Los Angeles (Rutgers University Press, 2017) offers a new perspective on post-war Mexican American History and suburban history — this is an important addition to both fields. I am also very excited about Miroslava Chavez Garcia’s Migrant Longing: Letter Writing across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). This book, based on a collection of 300 personal letters exchanged by her parents and family members offers a fascinating look at how people created and sustained lives across the borderlands in the latter part of the 20th century. It is a truly beautiful book that humanizes immigration and immigrants, focusing on their hopes, desires, and sometimes failures.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

I believe that everyone has an important story to tell. In my research and teaching, I am guided by the conviction that by telling these stories – of everyday people and communities – the historical discipline enables us to move toward a more civil society and a place where we can understand our shared humanity. I think this is especially important when we think about cities and urban spaces, and what they mean to the people who inhabit them. My advice to scholars starting out in this field is to be open to listening to people tell their stories on their own terms, and to be willing to learn from them.

What cookbook (or book about food) should be on every urbanist-foodie’s shelf?

What a great question! I have been reading a lot of food books lately, and food studies is such a rich resource for understanding the history and culture of a city. I love teaching Jane Ziegelman’s 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement (Harper 2011), which does a really great job of showing how immigrant cuisine in New York adapted to the realities of urban life. For cookbooks, I’m currently loving Sandra A. Gutierrez’s Empanadas: The Hand Held Pies of Latin America and Lesley Tellez’s Eat Mexico: Recipes and Stories from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets, and Fondas.