Bodega. Colmado. Latin market. Whatever your preferred term is, I'm sure you have probably frequented a Latin grocery store at some point in your life.
For as long as I can remember, my father Freddy Castillo has worked in a bodega (and he currently owns one). As a young girl, I loved hanging out in them with my younger brother; together, we'd walk through the then-towering aisles, running our small fingers alongside detergent and cans of habichuelas, gravitating always towards the candies displayed behind the transparent counter. I especially loved observing the colorful characters who would pop in and out of the bodega - most with an interesting story to share with my dad. To me, bodegas are more than a corner store; people go there to share nostalgic stories of their upbringing, to look for employment, and much much more.
In honor of this gritty gem, below is a humorous, only semi-serious look at things and people you would most likely spot in a bodega - or outside of one.
This piece is based on the author's experiences as a Dominican-American growing up in New York City.
Family Comes First
By the front counter, you will most likely see photos of the bodega owner's family members, especially of his/her kids. Photos are always a conversation piece because people always want to know about your personal business. Am I right... or am I right?
When it comes to decor, sometimes bigger is better in a bodega. Such is the case for this ginormous pilon, which we can completely rule out for actual usage. Still, it's cute.
Hair, Hair, Hair
As a kid, I would watch my mom buy some of her favorite hair products from our local bodega. Some mainstream hair care brands have nothing on these Latino hair saviors!
Plantain chips, or affectionately called platanitos, are a staple in most bodegas (particularly Dominican-owned ones). You literally can't just have one. Well, I can't.
He's Busy, People
Bodega owners/workers are busy human beings. They're fielding phone calls, responding to the flood of (sometimes aggravating questions from customers), and negotiating business as usual. I know from experience. Sometimes, they may even be too busy to tend to you. The late (and hilarious) comedian Rasheed said it perfectly: "Papi always on the phone while you trying to buy something, ain't he? This n----- on the phone, you standing there, he catch an attitude with you like you're disturbing his conversation!" LOL.
Bodegas are perfect for fine-tuning your Spanish. Thankfully, some are merciful like this one and include signs in English.
What's a bodega without coffee? No, seriously, it's all about the cafe. America runs on Dunkin? Not quite. Bodegas do the caffeinating job, and at a cheaper price.
You've seen them. They huddle inside (or outside) the bodega to talk. Endlessly. I'm referring to the bodega's patrons with the loosest schedules ever. Childhood tales, bitter memories, and fiery debates on politics constantly stream out of their mouths. Sometimes, you learn from them, but other times, you can't help but wish to hear silence for once. Even if for a minute or two. Not gonna happen.
You can never have enough...
Plantains. If you don't already now, there is something called "Platano Power." It's even reached sports clubhouses, such as the one belonging to the Tampa Bay Rays.
I will finish this off with a sorta-scary photo of a cat. If you grew up around NYC bodegas, you know where I'm going with this. There is almost always a cat in a bodega to keep the mice in line... or as a cute pet? Who are we kidding; it's for mice.