Author: Jack McKernan, first-year student
This past Wednesday, a group of Honors students and staff made the hike down from the Rose Hill campus to the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx to have some challenging discussions about the issues of gentrification and immigrant rights, as well as learn about how locals are fighting back. In the process, we got to enjoy a delicious meal at “La Morada,” where one can find New York’s best Oaxacan food, and some have said, the best Mexican food north of the border.
When you step off the Bx15 bus that takes Fordham students right from the Plaza to the doorstep of the restaurant, the first thing you notice is the message painted in bright red on the door: REFUGEES WELCOME. The folks at La Morada are not shy about their activism; rather, it is a core part of their identity. As legendary Fordham professor Dr. Mark Naison said, La Morada is “the center of immigration and anti-gentrification activism in the South Bronx.” In addition to serving food to the community, they hold workshops, fundraisers, and rallies to support their neighbors. When you enter the restaurant you’re immediately drawn to the various banners calling for an end to deportations and other criticisms of US foreign policy.
Their activism hasn’t gained them many fans in law enforcement, however. It came to a head on January 11, when Yajaira Saavedra, whose family owns and operates the restaurant, was arrested without warrant or stating probable cause by undercover NYPD as they attempted to carry out a sting operation against the restaurant. Saavedra was eventually released as community members crowded the 40th Precinct, but her upcoming court date means her status is still unstable. That hasn’t stopped her activism or her incredible spirit, as she took the moment to tell her story and the story of the restaurant to the Honors group, as well as indulge us in a selfie outside the restaurant.
In addition to their activism, La Morada’s Oaxacan roots mean that they have a solid indigenous identity, and that was reflected in the fantastic meal served. Our main course featured five (!) different Moles, which doesn’t even comprise the entire selection offered on their menu. These were the capstone to a meal which already had us salivating with Guacamole, Rice and Beans, and Sopes, not to mention the various fresh juices and teas that were passed around. As she spoke at the end of our meal, Yajaira was sure to be clear that the delicious food we had just enjoyed is culture that will be erased if the gentrification of “SoBro” or “The Piano District” (as it is somewhat ridiculously marketed by developers) is to continue.
The main lesson learned from the experience– aside from where to take someone in dire need of good Mexican food– is that as Fordham students, we should be conscious of the impact we have on the communities and neighborhoods we interact with. We should step off our home neighborhood of Arthur Avenue to explore the rich diversity the Bronx has to offer and help to break down the psychological barrier between Fordham University and the community we are within.