International Book Day: Four "Magical" U.S. Latino Bookstores You Should Know
In the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, one of the few pleasures no one can steal from us is reading. We celebrate the wonder of literature with a trip to some dreamy bookstores.
The quarantine is hitting the book industry hard, although some say people are reading more than ever. In the end, what other windows to the world do we have? The Internet, yes, but the reading experience provides what no other art provides, a stimulus to the imagination of complete freedom where the reader becomes, in his own way, a co-creator of the story.
To celebrate International Book Day, we have visited some of the most interesting and beautiful Latino bookstores in the United States that, as you can imagine, not only promote reading but have strong community ties. Will you join us?
It's a beautiful, feminist bookstore in Crown Heights, Brooklyn run by Afro-Latina, Kalima DeSuze. Since it opened its doors two years ago, Café con Libros has become a valuable resource offering children's and adult books from a feminist perspective, which is its driving force. This is how DeSuze, daughter of Panamanian immigrants, described it to Amny.
"I wanted a space that was explicitly feminist. Many of our spaces are dominated by men and I think it's important for us to say that this is ours, and that's good," she said.
Café con Libros also has other particularities that make it unique and consistent with DeSuze's political ideals. For one, realizing that women earn statistically less than men, the books are priced lower than in other bookstores and she puts a lot of effort into listening to her customers, thanks to a bulletin board where they can suggest what books they would like to see in the store.
Since the state of emergency was established in the United States, and with it, the quarantine, this fabulous bilingual bookstore in Bushwick, Brooklyn run by a collective of writers, booksellers and artists has decided to keep their online Spanish classes running and also their bicycle book deliveries. They have also used the physical space of the store to collect personal protective equipment and other aid items.
The history of this well-known community bookstore is as beautiful as the space itself. When the real estate bubble threatened to turn Bushwick into a neighborhood for the nouveau riche, Mil Mundos emerged as a place to empower the neighborhood with half of its titles available in Spanish, which is the most widely spoken language in the neighborhood.
Since its inception in 2018, it has become a multicultural epicenter for exploring Black, Latino and indigenous heritage through literature.
The particularity of this bookstore located in Los Angeles is that it is devoted to children's literature by Latin American and Spanish authors. Its owners, Celene Navarrete and Chiara Arroyo, wanted to promote the importance of bilingualism and reading among children of Latin American origin and to keep the community connected.
In addition, both also organize and participate in numerous cultural events throughout Southern California to encourage reading among youth.
The bookstore and children's book distributor began its journey in 2012, when Chiara and Celene, who had met at the bilingual school their children attended, were looking for books in Spanish for the little ones. When they couldn't find them in L.A., they set out to return with suitcases of children's books every time they traveled to their home countries. Over time, other parents began to take an interest in the initiative.
"So we decided to take our hobby one step further and start curating a collection of authentic, beautifully illustrated and culturally diverse Spanish-language literature," explained Chiara Arroyo.
It's the only bilingual bookstore in Arizona, can you believe it? Its owner, Rosaura "Chawa" Magaña, created Palabras because she witnessed her parents struggle with language barriers, and discrimination. She wanted to change that for others.
"I knew I wanted to create a bookstore and a community space," said the Phoenix bookseller, who was inspired by Librería Donceles, a traveling art installation that serves a dual role as a Spanish-language bookstore. "At Librería Donceles, I saw poets reading in Spanish, discovered books I had never seen before about different aspects of Latinx culture, and saw musical performances in Spanish."
Magaña is a first generation Mexican-American and very aware that the literary canon rarely represents the stories of Latinos, so she wanted a very diverse selection of books in Palabras, something that would make a difference.
"I started with only five books and great hopes," she recalled about her beginnings in 2015.
The bookstore also has gallery space for local artists, book clubs focused on women's literature, and has been very active during the coronavirus crisis. It's organizing virtual queer poetry salons and using the bookstore space as a place of mutual aid where people can meet to exchange goods.