Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Welcome to the Latin Quarter 3...The Elephant and Castle

I will make no bones about it, I love Latin America. What started as a tour on school time at the beginning of the Century has turned into a fascination for the Catholic inside of me. In fact, it is the one reason to stay Catholic. Now, out of all the parts of the world (excluding Greenland), Latin America has never been that well represented in London, until very recently. In other words, we have missed out on a most beautiful part of the world. Thankfully that has now changed:

London's Latinas and Latinos are not that visible. Until the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes, most people in Britain did not realise there was such a thing as Latin Americans in the UK. Most of our (skewered) view of this rich and vast land comes from the USA. Great. Their portrayal of Latina America as a flamboyant society obsessed with large bottoms is unfortunately not that accuarate. In the UK, the Lain Americans are very quiet, keeping their heads low and getting on with their daily business.

In a broad arc from Vauxhall to Camberwell, this is London's Latin Quarter, centered on that neighbourhood known as the Elephant and Castle. Not the Buena Vista version of big brass bands and rum but the London version of cleaners and minimum wage workers. A black economy supported by student visas and heritage passports scraping a living economically richer than their own countries but vastly inferior in terms of culture and environment. After all, who would choose to make the Elephant and Castle their own home, an area that has been filled with the neglect and incompetence of every Post-War government.

If you do not believe me, then get on a Nightbus at 4am at the Elephant. From all corners of the roundabout workers wait for people like me to roll in. Summer or winter, it is always cold at this time of the day, an unnatural time to wake up. You want to know where the flamboyance and life has gone? Quite simply it has been sucked out of you this early in the morning. Still beautiful, still stunning and still proud, in fifteen years time, the sounds of salsa and rumba will be as common in South London as Bhangra is along Southall Broadway...

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