A Cambodian woman waits behind a booth for customers to admire her vast selection of handmade dresses and gold jewelry. Peels from sugarcane stalks cover the ground, carved off during the sugar juice extraction process. The smell of smoke and spice fills the air. Oil sizzles in frying pans. “Come back in a half hour,” a Vietnamese man says – a small price to pay. He and his family prepare “every day, several hours a day” to sell their popular sesame balls and other goods here at FDR Park each weekend.

Forty years ago, a group of Laos and Cambodian refugees sought familiarity in the open green space the park offered. They cooked for each other while their children played in the grass. For a time, the unofficial Southeast Asian Market stayed private, a place for solidarity, but nearby residents soon complained, and police challenged vendors on the use of public property for private businesses.

Enter Roxy Taginya. Our former VISTA member started service with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation in 2021, the same year the Vendors Association of FDR Park facilitated an agreement enabling the market to continue. Right away, she noticed a need for support on the Vendor board and onsite at the park – for example, nobody cleaned up the cooking grease.

Roxy sparked conversations and helped facilitate leadership development within the board roles. She organized the park operation, which now includes waste training, formal business registration, and a list of vendors. Her business competency increased. She found herself handling negotiations between several stakeholders and discussing a written commitment that the park remains the permanent home of the market. By the winter of 2022, Roxy also had her hand in coordinating the budget and conducting surveys to identify vendor needs.

“This work is really inspiring and that’s why I continue to do it. I’m proud to be a part of this unique stage of the market and I’m really grateful to be able to empower this immigrant refugee community that helps make Philly vibrant.”

She now holds a full-time role with the Friends of FDR Park and continues to advocate for the Market. We look forward to witnessing the enormous progress Roxy makes in the coming years!

The Southeast Asian Market operates from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each weekend until November.

Check out the Southeast Asian Market at FDR Park