A Place at the Nayarit is an intimate exploration into the meaning that food spaces have in Latinx immigrant communities. The Nayarit was what Molina describes as a foundational “place making” space that fostered rich fictive kin ties within Los Angeles and Mexico. The restaurant was first established as a business around 1943, and this book focuses primarily on the Nayarit location in Echo Park on Los Angeles’s Sunset Street which opened in 1951. This restaurant was meticulously run by Molina’s grandmother, Natalia Barraza, who operated as a well-connected figure in the neighborhood’s Latinx community. In fact, the Nayarit was quite unique because it was created and maintained by a single Mexican woman in a time where immigration and city policies targeted and scrutinized single Mexican women in the United States.
This restaurant, named after Barraza’s hometown Nayarit, was a Mexican establishment that proudly cooked Nayarit Mexican food—an important distinction when considering that many Mexican restaurants of this time made a profit off catering to a primarily white clientele who expected a homogenized and Americanized version of Mexican food. The pride taken in making specifically Nayarit Mexican food quickly established the tone and direction of Barraza’s Nayarit. Molina also stresses that the pride in making familiar hometown food was deeply intertwined with the restaurant’s status as a “place making” space. It was, as Molina puts it, a place where people went to be seen and to see others—both Mexican and other Latinx community members—to establish that this was their neighborhood and that they belonged there. Molina conveys that community identity and personal identity were both shaped by and shaped the restaurant itself and the resources that the restaurant provided its staff and the local clientele.
Now as deeply rooted as the Nayarit was in Echo Park, it however, like many other ethnic enclaves, still existed on the margins of the traditional archive. Thus, much of this narrative was stitched together through interviews with former employees and residents. From a reader’s perspective, this approach does not at all detract, because Molina was able to conduct a fair number of interviews to flesh out this narrative. Indeed, Barraza was noted for having facilitated numerous immigration journeys to California by providing people with employment in the United States as well as a reference for other employment and future life ventures. Many individuals and families that relied on Barraza for resources fondly recalled not just the delicious food but also the safe environment and community that was fostered by the restaurant.
While this book is centered on the memories of the Nayarit, Molina also weaves these narratives alongside the better-known historical events of the early twentieth century. Coverage of key events such as the Mexican Revolution, World War II, and ensuing civil rights lawsuits all add depth to the interviews. The bibliography should be helpful for those looking to expand their knowledge on the more minute aspects of the Nayarit’s place in history; in particular, those interested in the intersection of urban centers, food, race, and identity will find Molina’s bibliography to be quite rich.
Overall, this book is an enthralling microhistory seeking to collect the memories of a long past community space. It is a boon for those looking to better understand the connection between food spaces and identity and also a means to remember a non-archival based history that might otherwise be erased by current-day gentrification of Echo Park.