WKU student’s family shares culture in community

Jouana Cueas, 14 of Bowling Green holds up the tray of sweet breads she and her mother are purchasing from the bakery at Mercadito Hispano Feb. 13 in Bowling Green. “I only know the name of the churros,” Cueas said. “This pan [bread] is for home. My mother knows all the names.” Mercadito Hispano, along with the restaurant and market, offers services as a bakery and butcher shop as well. Joseph Barkoff/HERALD

Joseph Barkoff

Located in an older, dilapidated neighborhood across the tracks from WKU on Woodford Avenue, the Mercadito Hispano restaurant occupies a one-story duplex.

Though El Salvadoran in its roots, Mercadito Hispano is a hub of Hispanic diversity in Bowling Green.

However, Mercadito Hispano is often mistaken as a Mexican restaurant.

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Through one entrance in the front of the building is a modest, clean restaurant, and on the other side is a small market with ripe avocados, frozen tamales and everything in between.

Manager Melissa Escoto, Bowling Green sophomore, is a double major in marketing and management at WKU. She is also the middle child of Mercadito Hispano’s owner and chef Gloria Escoto.

“Anywhere you go,” Melissa Escoto said, “slang and accents — a lot of people can tell where you are from by your accent.”

Mercadito means “little market,” and Hispano is an all encompassing reference to being descended from the original conquistadores of Spain.

After Spain conquered large areas of Central and South America in the 15th and 16th centuries, the conquerors’ offspring, regardless of their native country today, are referred to as Hispanos.

Mercadito Hispano, as it has done for the last 15 years, caters to a community of customers from various origins.

Antonio Ramirez, 33, originally from Mexico and Texas, now lives in Russellville. He has driven 40 minutes east at least once every week for 10 years to purchase delicacies made in the bakery.

“It’s the best place for sweet breads and cakes for birthdays,” Ramirez said.

According to census data, the Hispanic community in Bowling Green has grown to 6.5 percent of the population in the past few years.

As the population grows, Melissa Escoto hopes to help her family’s business grow with it.

“Hopefully in the future — the reason I am going into marketing and management — I would like to open a whole other business, like the whole store, on the other side of town towards Scottsville Road,” Melissa Escoto said. “I think that would be a really good area especially with the interstate right there.”

A specialty of Mercadito Hispano and El Salvador is the pupusa. Similar to a taco, the pupusa is made with a corn meal mixture called masa de maiz.

Instead of cooking the masa to form a flattened vessel, the maker adds fillings like beans, cheese and pork to its center, covers the filling with more masa and cooks the dish on a flat top.

A 2012 thesis study by Caitlin A. Reyes at WKU found that of the 80 people surveyed, more than 30 percent of the Hispanic population responding to the questionnaire were from El Salvador; Mexico was a close second with over 20 percent.

Melissa Escoto doesn’t get upset when classmates are misinformed about what country her family is from.

“Anywhere you go, honestly, the first thing people think if you speak Spanish is that you’re Mexican,” Melissa Escoto said. “Obviously some people take it [as] offensive, and some people let it slide.”