By Sonia Lopez
Wells Avenue is located in a zip code with the highest population of Hispanics in Reno. The city’s overall Latino population is twenty-nine percent, but here in this southeastern corner, it is forty-two percent. A four-block long stretch of South Wells Avenue has become a destination for Latinos from across the state to buy anything from Quinceañera dresses to Mexican rattlesnake cream, things they can’t find anywhere else. Next Generation Radio’s Sonia Lopez has this story about a street that connects people to their Latino roots.
Wells Avenue is the of the heart of the Latino community in Reno, according to Emma Sepulveda, director of the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno.
When she first came to Reno in 1974, she lived in an apartment right off of Wells. She says back then, it looked nothing like it does today; there were no Latino-owned or oriented businesses. It was for the most part an Anglo neighborhood.
Sepulveda says Wells came into existence as a Latino enclave as their population rose in Reno.
“The numbers were demanding almost to have a little bit of what we left behind, here in Reno, and I think that is what was really part of creating this change and the creation of Wells Avenue,” she said.
When she first arrived in the 70’s, Reno’s Latinos made up only three percent of the total population. Today, twenty-seven percent of the population in Reno is Hispanic. The zip code with the largest share of that is 89502, the area in which Wells is located.
Today Wells Avenue is a thriving diverse community with a variety of business like Latino tattoo parlors, Irish bars, Pupuserias, Brazilian Jiu jitsu, and Marketon. Marketon is a local grocery store which has a large variety of Latino products. It is not just a grocery store for Latinos, people from different backgrounds shop there too.
Sepulveda says when she first lived on Wells, Marketon was not there, it was an Anglo owned grocery store. But as the neighborhood changed, the market was taken over by Latino owners. Even though she doesn’t live in the neighborhood anymore, now that the store has become Marketon, Sepulveda still goes there to shop.
She says they have spices she cannot find anywhere else, and she likes the feel of the place. “I just walked in right now and you could see people are shopping like they did in Latin America, you know you don’t come by yourself, you come with your family,” she said.
“Everybody knows if you want good Mexican food you go to Wells to the food trucks.” – Emma Sepulveda
Sepulveda says Latinos come to America because they want to be here, but they also create neighborhoods filled with their culture in order to maintain a connection to home. “We want to assimilate but we still want to have connections of where we came from,” she said.
For the Latino community, Wells is a place to make those connections. It has created a bridge that not only unites American Latinos to their culture, but invites others into Latino traditions. It one of the few places in the region where young Latina girls can come to buy there Quinceañera dresses.
The street is full of life and color, decorated by the diversity of the businesses. But the four-block section at the center of the South Wells Avenue does have a majority of Latino shops. According to Sepulveda, about sixty-eight are operating.
It is not just restaurants, but dress shops, hair salons, notaries, and travel agencies that truly cater to Hispanics in Reno.
Amber Trudel Werhta and her husband own Paleteria Morelia. A paleteria is a shop that sells Mexican frozen snacks, candy, and drinks. They named it after Morelia, her husband’s home town. Her business specializes in authentic Mexican treats like Horchata, a traditional rice drink.
“We make it traditional how they make it in Mexico,” Werhta said. “We set the rice for hours with cinnamon and vanilla and then we actually blend it. It’s not a powdery substance, it’s authentic and we want to keep it very authentic. Most places you get it out of the bottle and its already premade.”
They also serve frozen strawberries with a special cream that they import from Mexico. Werhta says many customers are transported back to the homes they left behind by the familiar flavors. “Food that your parents made or that reminds you of home,” she said is not only delicious “it brings back memories.”
For Wertha opening a traditional Mexican shop on Wells has put her more in touch with her own Hispanic roots.
Werhta is a native of Reno. Her father is Mexican and mother is white. She says she didn’t truly learn Spanish until she started interacting with her largely Latino clientele. Marrying a Mexican helped too, she admits. Now she is raising her two children to be bilingual and steeped in their Mexican heritage.
Wells allows for Latinos who immigrated from Latin America to find a taste of home. It also helps them pass their traditions on to their children, to not only tell them about their culture, but actually show them.