Mi Pueblo Es Su Pueblo (My People Are Your People): The Latin Market You Have to Visit
By Diego De Jesus
Photography by Jordan Randall
Pueblo Flea Market has sprouted into an enclave for the Latin community in Lakeland. It’s a hub of hundreds of vendors representing a plethora of Latin American backgrounds who sell their specialty products that, in some cases, go back generations or, in others, demonstrate a novel passion toward a greater vision.
Before Mi Pueblo came to fruition, it was the Lakeland Farmers Market, and there were just a few regular Latin vendors. But since Giovanna “Joanna” Loyola Contreras took over, her vision of creating a home away from home for Latin-born people has been actualized.
When she came to the States from Peru, Joanna fell in love with the people, culture and environment of how Americans do business and decided this is where she wanted to start her own entrepreneurial journey.
Since then, Joanna has brought the essence of Latin America, its people and sprouted a mini-village that comes alive on the weekends along Swindell Road in north Lakeland. She bought the market five years ago to create a family-friendly environment for the Hispanic community. Gauging by the lively crowds and passionate vendors, she has done well.
Joanna wanted Mi Pueblo to be distinct from the usual experience of going to a flea market. Attention to detail was imperative when bringing the air of Latin America onto the 13 acres the market sits on. Everything from the beaten dirt roads, the aroma of piquant meals and the variously colored buildings all emulate the ornamental aesthetic of a Latin village.
One recent Sunday, a line of people along the main road of Mi Pueblo wrapped around a bright red shack waiting to get to the front door, where Olivia Mederos clamps tortillas on a press and fries them on a flat-iron griddle. For 10 years she’s been in the same shack bringing her children to work at Taqueria Mederos, specializing in antojitos or traditional Mexican street food.
Mederos was at the market long before it was so well established and has seen first-hand the vision Contreras has, not only for the market but also the people who make it special.
“The old owner wasn’t worried about improvement and improving the quality here and helping the vendors,” Mederos says. “Joanna’s focus is helping and improving the process, improving the people and improving the vendors. Her focus is on the people.”
Joanna dubbed her market Mi Pueblo or “My People” to reflect her dream of turning the market into a place where Hispanics can come, feel comfortable and experience a family environment that is inviting to people of all ages and backgrounds.
I wanted people to look at this piece of land, this tiny swath of land as their pueblo, their town, their city for Hispanics to view. This little piece is ours,” Joanna said.
Just across the road is Mi Pueblo Restaurant that serves Mexican and Peruvian dishes. It is owned by Joanna but managed by Andrea Reyes. The 21-year-old Reyes came from Venezuela with her family and brought with her an immeasurable work ethic that landed her the assistant general manager role after serving as a waitress for less than a year.
She learned the ins and outs of the restaurant business and continues to expand her knowledge under the watchful guidance of Contreras who took her under her wing. While working as a waitress at Mi Pueblo, Reyes bussed tables at another restaurant where she would connect with other customers, and tell them her story and about Mi Pueblo. Through word-of-mouth, she sparked their curiosity about Mi Pueblo, driving more traffic to the market.
Ultimately, Reyes wants to establish her own cosmetics and clothing line and also become a veterinarian. Many like Reyes have been guided by Contreras’ impeccable managerial skills. The market has become a playground not only for unique businesses to build their base but also to thrive thanks to Contreras.
“They started off here or they built a solid foundation here and then they opened their own location afterward,” said George Loyola Contreras, Joanna’s son who works with his mother on the weekends.
Bibiana Gelves has been a general manager at Mi Pueblo for a year and also operates a booth where she sells Colombian children’s clothing and calzado, sandals, imported straight from Colombia. She utilizes a connection with her brother that allows her to browse catalogs and request whatever’s in demand.
She has locations at multiple flea markets that sell these articles of Colombian children’s clothing, which she notes are made with all-natural products to help prevent rashes.
Knowing what sells has always been her forte, so when she noticed what Mi Pueblo was doing she saw the market as a gold mine of potential and instantly wanted to be a part of it.
With the same mission in mind, Contreras has opened a second Mi Pueblo in Belleview, Fla. thanks to the big loyal following of customers and vendors who follow Joanna because they know they’re going to be treated like family.
“The biggest objective I have for my locations is that when people come here, they feel at home, they feel relaxed, they feel at peace,” Joanna says. “To keep developing as business owners, as entrepreneurs, as women, men, sons, students and also as a place where we can mix all of our cultures while respecting the American culture and having the American culture respect the Latin culture.”
Mi Pueblo is open each weekend from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Sunday is when the market truly comes to life, and thousands of visitors come to envelop themselves in the wide cultural umbrella of Latin America, including eating authentic fare that leaves them immersed in culture and often has them coming back for more.