For Mother’s Day, author Natalia Molina remembers her grandmother Doña Natalia Barraza, the impressive woman who opened the Nayarit restaurant in Echo Park, Los Angeles in 1951. The restaurant became an urban anchor for the local community of Mexican immigrants, offering a space of belonging in Los Angeles.

My grandmother adopted two children, but her influence as a matriarch extended to so many others, whom she employed, helped immigrate, fed, and cared for in the decades she ran the Nayarit in Echo Park. The restaurant provided immigrant workers and customers with the familiarity of home and a ready-made social network, offering local history, introductions, and information about how to navigate the system—all invaluable assets for newcomers attempting to negotiate a large, daunting foreign city. The resources and networks available there allowed working people to assume full identities that went beyond who they were as laborers. At the restaurant, immigrants might not feel any more American (nor was that necessarily their goal), but they were insiders.

They contested the prevailing order in the course of their daily lives, by belonging, mutual support, and placemaking. They too were making history. This book tells their stories.

Natalia Molina
Natalia Molina. Photo credit: Mike Glier

The Nayarit was much more than a popular eating spot: it was an urban anchor for a robust community, a gathering space where ethnic Mexican workers and customers connected with their patria chica (their “small country”). That meant connecting with distinctive tastes, with one another, and with the city they now called home. Through deep research and vivid storytelling, Molina follows restaurant workers from the kitchen and the front of the house across borders and through the decades. These people’s stories illuminate the many facets of the immigrant experience: immigrants’ complex networks of family and community and the small but essential pleasures of daily life, as well as cross-currents of gender and sexuality and pressures of racism and segregation. The Nayarit was a local landmark, popular with both Hollywood stars and restaurant workers from across the city and beloved for its fresh, traditionally prepared Mexican food. But as Molina argues, it was also, and most importantly, a place where ethnic Mexicans and other Latinx L.A. residents could step into the fullness of their lives, nourishing themselves and one another. A Place at the Nayarit is a stirring exploration of how racialized minorities create a sense of belonging. It will resonate with anyone who has felt like an outsider and had a special place where they felt like an insider.

“With a gripping narrative, Molina documents how her extraordinary grandmother established a restaurant and used it to nourish a community of immigrants.”

—Kelly Lytle Hernández, author of Migra! and City of Inmates

“In this stunning book, Natalia Molina reanimates for us the stories, loves, and lives that flourished under the elegant but faded ‘Nayarit’ restaurant sign that’s hovered over Echo Park for decades: a story that is not only her family’s own but also a spark of Mexican American world-building in Los Angeles.”

—Karen Tongson, author of Why Karen Carpenter Matters and Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries 

Learn more about A Place at the Nayarit