A Bordertown Square in the Heart of Phoenix

v i s u a l i z i n g   i m m i g r a n t   P h o e n i x

José Grijalva

May 2017

The first expedition of the Spring 2017 Visualizing Immigrant Phoenix research group was to the Mercado De Los Cielos at the Desert Sky Mall. When approaching the mall, I could not help but be engulfed in the inherent diversity of the immigrant-dense Maryvale neighborhood with its culturally distinct businesses and vibrant murals of Mexican presence and strength. Upon arrival at the Mercado a familiar atmosphere fell over me, despite never having been there; it reminded me very much of the atmosphere at the US/Mexico border in San Luis, Arizona, where I come from.

Walking through the Mercado De Los Cielos, I could not turn a corner without seeing people dressed in very lively colors. It is worth noting that the primary ethnicity present at the Mercado is Hispanic, and the shops clearly cater to the cultural preferences and needs of a clientele comprised of Latino immigrants and a long-term Hispanic diaspora. The Mercado is located in a former Mervyn’s, but after this mall anchor department store went out of business in 2008, Desert Sky Mall retooled itself to fit the changing neighborhood surrounding it, now 30-50% immigrants and 65-85% Hispanics.


Oddly enough, the Mercado is not just another department store, but is more of a well-established, indoor swap meet with tiny shops run by many individual vendors. It is a “one-stop shop” with tax offices, vendors of jewelry, toys, clothing, and baptismal and First Communion outfits and flouncy qinceañera dresses, hair and nail salons, dental offices, clothing repair and alterations, photography studios, yerberias (herbal remedy shops), shoe stores selling cowboy boots (see my story on the Mexican pointy boots!), as well as migrant remittance transfer outlets, curio shops (see Ileen's story on evil eye amulets), and cell phone stores around every corner.

Food courts sell Mexican favorites like raspados, Sonoran sushi, corn cobs with chile and cheese. There's a merry-go-round and other rides for kids.

To my biggest surprise, the center of the mall is set up like a Mexican town square, with park benches set out around a large raised stage for weekend performances of ballet folklorico, Mexican traditional dances. We arrived on time to catch several dances that visualized different aspects of Mexican cultural traditions. Just as important as the diversity of the dance troupe present on stage, was the kaleidoscopic diversity of the audience in attendance at this stunning display of the beautiful bordertown show in the heart of our fair little city of Phoenix.