By Sherry Mazzocchi
On the Saturday night after Valentine’s Day, La Morada is half-full.
Or half empty, according to Yajaira Saavedra, co-owner of the popular Oaxacan restaurant. Lately, La Morada is quieter than usual.
Known for its traditional molé sauces and handmade tortillas, La Morada, founded over five decades ago, is more than just a restaurant. It is owned and operated by Oaxaca-born Mixtec speakers Natalia Méndez and Antonio Saavedra, who are undocumented immigrants and Yajaira’s parents. The cozy Mott Haven eatery has deep purple walls, a lending library and is a home away from home for neighborhood residents like themselves.
“My sister compares this place to the barbershop from Luke Cage,” she said, referring to the Netflix series. “You have construction workers sitting down next to businessmen in suits here.”
La Morada is also a center of neighborhood activism. Saavedra and her family have rallied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the DREAM Act, tenants’ rights and bail reform, just to name a few.
Its place in a community of working class immigrants and undocumented people is a respected one. The restaurant has a friendly vibe, and a sign on the door proclaiming “Refugees Welcome.” Other signs proclaim “Black Lives Matter” and “No More Deportations.”
It is considered a safe space by and for the neighborhood.
On Fri., Jan. 11th, Saavedra witnessed an arrest in progress outside of the restaurant. When she began recording the police action with her phone, a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer in plainclothes in the restaurant told her to stop. He also told her he was an undercover police officer and no one in the restaurant could leave and no one could enter.