by: John Rodriguez
In a section of East Harlem known as ‘El Barrio’ its high Mexican population has contributed to the area attracting attention because of sense of culture and great cuisine. Recently the area welcomed another attraction by opening its first bilingual book store. La Casa Azul has been a project for its owner and founder Aurora Anaya-Cerda who has been the past six years trying to bring the bookstore to life in East Harlem.
Anaya’s path to opening the bookstore began when she went to school in order to learn how to run a business. After completing her education, Anaya asked the community of East Harlem to make her dream come true. Able to raise $36,000 in just 40 days, Anaya received help from investors who matched what she put in.
After successfully launching an online bookstore in 2008, Anaya wanted to create a space where residents of East Harlem could go to read and buy books in both Spanish and English. Along with her online bookstore, Anaya organized numerous literary events in the area over the years. Both endeavors appeared to be Anaya’s prequel in providing the community an actual space to physically go to and share their love of literature.
“Opening a bookstore here, specifically in this area, it’s an important thing,” Edwin Supo, a visiting patron, said describing the importance of the bookstore opening. “It’s where the culture starts, basically. Everything is very historical and future poems. I believe it strengthens our community as a Latino culture.”
One intention for opening the bookstore was to “show the talent of so many Latino writers here in New York and nationally,” said Anaya and, “to have children be able to pick up a book and see themselves reflected back in that, whether it’s through the language that they know, the language that their parents speak and to see, ‘Wow, this person has the same last name as I do.’ That’s a very special moment.”
A visitor and patron, Citlalic Jeffers-Pena, agrees with Anaya saying how the shop offers “literature that reflects the experience of residents.” Another appealing aspect of the bookstore is the atmosphere of the store itself. Anaya had designed the store to evoke memories, give the store a home feeling where time is spent with families and reading is involved.
According to Marlene Pratt, Anaya succeeds in her intention because, “when you go to the big stores, they’re somewhat impersonal. Here, you know that you’re in the neighborhood that you’re going to walk in, you may know the person behind the register, and you may know the person who’s stacking the books.”
So, if you find yourself in El Barrio and have some time to read why not take some time and stop by La Casa Azul and support this new bookstore.