El Mercadito returns to provide food, culture, community on Madison’s South Side

Photo by Omar Waheed.

Madison’s El Mercadito is back in full swing as the city’s Latinx community came together to celebrate their respective cultures for the first time in 2023 on Thursday.

Organized by Centro Hispano and hosted at its building in south Madison, El Mercadito offers an opportunity for attendees to experience different Hispanic cultures. The event occurs weekly at Centro Hispano where vendors offer food, crafts and groceries. Most importantly for Centro Hispano is that El Mercadito helps create a sense of community.

El Mercadito’s future in how it can build a community is on Marcos Lozano’s mind as Centro Hispano prepares to move to a new location. The market has seen a few different iterations from when it started. Originally, the idea was to provide an affordable way to provide healthy, culturally authentic food in south Madison, which has long been a food desert.

Photo by Omar Waheed.

The event found a bit of a struggle to get the word out there until a vendor with a large following joined the mix. El Mercadito built up its reputation through continuous efforts — then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“They wanted to bring more awareness to the lack of access to healthy food. It’s not a food desert but a food swamp, I call it, because there are a few stores but it’s more like a few convenience stores and outdated grocery stores,“ Lozano said. “The idea was ‘let’s do a farmers market in southside Madison… make this affordable for the people and give them an excuse to not eat healthy.’”

The market returned after a two-year hiatus with the same mission in mind but a different approach. Centro Hispano wanted to capitalize on building community through celebrating culture instead. The market still promotes fighting food insecurity with affordable grocery options but is now more focused on the cultural aspect. Flags from where vendors are from are posted in stands to invite conversation and education on their respective cultures.

 “We decided, let’s do more street food. Food that is comfort food — food that reminds you of home, that that will make you feel like you belong,” Lozano said.

 As Centro Hispano prepares for its move in the coming year, it wants to bolster the market to make it even more culturally accurate to a Hispanic market.

 “That was our clue for Mercadito since last year to make an atmosphere that makes people that come here recreate a typical market in Latin America,” Lozano continued. “They are kind of loud or noisy, they’re imperfect and sometimes they are not very organized.”

 As they look forward to next year at Centro Hispano’s new building, just a block over by Cypress Spray Park, they planned its new space to be more accessible and welcoming to create the same feel as a Latin market. On-street parking not bound by the limited capacity of Centro Hispano’s parking and away from the busy South Park Street near the freeway can invite the opportunity to be the sometimes-chaotic feeling that Lozano and Centro Hispano wants in the future of El Mercadito.

 Centro Hispano is slated to move into its new space sometime next year between spring and winter.

 El Mercadito is held every Thursday at 810 W Badger Road from 4:00-7:00 pm at Centro Hispano’s building. El Mercadito will be held every week until December 14.