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Boca Del Río’s Open-Air Market Sustains Tradition And Anchors The Community

The Mexican tianguis sells an array of goods, while keeping families in business.

The tianguis is a traditional open-air market in Mexico. A legacy of pre-Hispanic civilizations, many Mexican towns still have one.

The term tianguis comes from the Nahuatl word “tianquiztli” meaning market or public place. The Mexica and other ancient civilizations exchanged food and other goods there.

Today, having a stall in a tianguis could be a sustained source of income for a family. These open-air markets sell everything from food to clothing. They sell new or used footwear, makeup, electronics, toys, movies, music records and a long list of items.

Boca del Río’s tianguis has existed for 33 years and is still open, despite the global pandemic. (Urvashi Makwana)

Socializing is as essential in the tianguis as it is buying or selling. The tianguis at Boca del Río, Veracruz, bears witness to this tradition.

“Boca del Río’s tianguis has served people for 33 years,” said Benito Jácome García, a vendor in this market. “Throughout this span, we have seen families grow. Some are going into the third generation.”

Boca del Río’s tianguis is a source of work for many families.

“We arrive early. Before 9 a.m., we are already bringing in the merchandise to hang it, so customers can see all the shirt models that we offer,” said Jácome García. “Unlike the stores in the city square, the prices [at the tianguis] are affordable.”

In this place, vendors and customers form a community that cares about staying afloat.

“It seems as if the vendors were a big family,” he said, remembering they “had to say goodbyes to some founders. But those who remain are still here continuing to serve their clientele.”

At Boca del Río’s tianguis, vendors sell clothing, purses and crafts. Some stalls sell used goods. (Chuttersnap/Unsplash)

Once their stalls are ready, the tenants yell: “Come in, come in.” Or, “what are you looking for, little friend?” Being kind is part of their marketing system. It helps them introduce people to products and prices and attract customers to the stall.

The founding vendors remember they had no floor when they first opened the market. Everyone put up tarps in a large piece of land and covered themselves and their products from the sun with large sheets.

Over the years, thanks to everyone’s cooperation, the tianguistas have improved conditions. They have fenced it off and built bathrooms and parking facilities. Each stall owner is in charge of bettering and personalizing their premises. They install stands, flooring, changing rooms, mirrors and sometimes furniture.

People from Boca del Río use their creativity to bring products to the tianguis. (Claudia Rivera/Café Words)

“We sell clothes. We improved our space for the customer to feel much better buying. We have changing rooms, mirrors, like any clothing store. We sell pants for the whole family with prices ranging from 250 pesos to 350 pesos [$12 to $16],” said Mariana Tejeda Zárate, who sells denim clothing at Boca del Río’s tianguis.

The tianguis has peak seasons — such as Easter and December — when people look for clothes for the season.

There are also food stalls, selling Michoacán-style carnitas, Puebla-style cemitas, quesadillas or seafood cocktails. They all boast a longtime clientele.

Boca del Río’s tianguis is located near the city of Veracruz, the municipal seat. It opens only on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, market officials measure clients’ temperature upon entrance and make available hand sanitizer. There is also a sanitizing cabin for customers.

Whatever the circumstance, the tianguis’ vendors do not stop working. They build a community day after day.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos, edited by Fern Siegel.)