DIVERSITY AND INTERCULTURAL EXCHANGE ON DEVON AVENUE
Over the last forty years, Devon Avenue has become the home of a diverse group of people, including Orthodox Jews, south Asians and south Asian-Americans, as well as many other immigrant identities. Today, Devon Avenue is a vibrant center for many south Asian restaurants, book and video stores, grocery stores, and jewelry and clothing stores. Restaurants feature a wide variety of cuisine, from “pure vegetarian south Indian food” to “Punjabi dhaba,” meaning road-side restaurant.
As you walk down the street, you see bright storefronts covered in posters wishing Muslim residents a happy Ramadan or advertising community events with Hindi singers. Pedestrians and shoppers come from diverse backgrounds and speak a variety of languages. This diversity is also reflected in the kinds of the herbal products sold in Devon grocery stores; products hailing from Ayurvedic medicine popular in north India, Siddha — a branch of Ayurveda popular in south India — and Unani — a humoral tradition originating from Islamic and Greek tradition commonly practiced in Muslim areas of south Asia.
The Indo-American Center is a valuable community resource providing support for every aspect of the immigration process for a diverse group of immigrants including people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Iraq. They also offer classes in financial literacy, training workshops on how to succeed in the workforce, classes on applying for citizenship, and much more. The center holds English as a second language (ESL) classes every morning during the week for students with a variety of levels of English comprehension. In these classes it is common to see men and women from all over south Asia enthusiastically practicing their English skills and swapping stories about their family and homelands.
Grocery stores are more than just a place to buy food. They also serve as a way to understand how people in the community use foods and herbs in their daily life. These informal methods of herbs and foods are tied to cultural knowledge such as Ayurvedic and herbal practices passed down through generations.
The Herbal Aisle
When entering Patel Brothers, you immediately see a series of white shelves housing packaged herbal remedies. These shelves span along the entirety of the right side of the store and are segmented into smaller cubby areas that display many beauty and health related items, such as bottles of hair oils, boxes of henna dyes, and turmeric and sandalwood skin cream. The packaging for many of the items includes descriptions in multiple languages. Many of the Ayurvedic products, such as essential oils and balms, had several labels in Tamil, Telegu, English, and Hindi script along the sides of the boxes. Products manufactured from multinational brands like “Colgate” or “Himalaya” are known as Ayurvedic proprietary medicine because they contain generic herbal mixes and are labelled as “Ayurvedic.” To learn more about the herbal products at Patel Brothers, see the collections gallery.
The Grocery Aisle
The market offers a wide variety of produce catering to Indian and South Asian cooking, including coconut, ginger, and bitter melon (labeled Karela). The refrigerated section, located at the back of the store, also held different types of yoghurt and cultured/fermented milk, which are traditionally used to treat stomach ailments in Ayurvedic medicine. At the furthermost right side of the store, there was a row of frozen foods, including samosas and naan. Making our way to the front right side of the store, we saw a fridge full of different pickled and fermented items, including mango chutney.
Unlike Chinatown, Devon Avenue does not have dedicated herbal stores espousing specific health philosophies. Grocery stores contain a mix of Ayurvedic and Unani products along with produce and spices that may play a role in health depending on the knowledge of the customer. See the stories from Devon Avenue to learn more about how south Asian immigrants conceive of wellness.
Kamdar Plaza sells food in an in-house buffet along with groceries, herbal products, cooking implements, and incense. On the right side of the store front, there are boxes of incense, some from Indian companies and others from Mexican companies. See the collections gallery to learn more about Kamdar Plaza.