Latina To Open First Latino Bookstore in East Harlem

  • Aurora Anaya-Cerda will open up Harlem's first Latino bookstore this spring.

    Aurora Anaya-Cerda will open up Harlem's first Latino bookstore this spring.  (Photo: Johnny Ramos)

  • Photo: Johnny Ramos

     (Photo: Johnny Ramos)

When Aurora Anaya-Cerda was a middle school teacher in Los Angeles, she found that books that included Latinos ignited a spark in the immigrant students – giving them a sense of connection.

“[Books] made them see that they were not alone in this country,” said Anaya-Cerda, who now lives in East Harlem.

The epiphany planted a desire in Anaya-Cerda, 33, to open a bookstore that would highlight and promote Latino literature and other art works.

Now, years later, her dream is finally coming true. This spring, the Mexican-American who would never give up will open her bookstore, La Casa Azul, at E. 103d Street in East Harlem.

Because it’s a Latino store, it’s very important because it will shore everyone how talented we are. We’re not just that one shelf at Barnes & Noble. We’re more than that.

- Aurora Anaya-Cerda

Plans are for the bookstore -- named after the home “Casa Azul” (or “Blue House”) in Mexico where the late artist Frida Kahlo grew up, and which was converted into a museum – to carry literature in English and Spanish by literary giants such as Gabriel García Màrquez and Junot Díaz, as well as be a place where the public can discover works and handicrafts by local artists.   

“We have to have a home for books, a place for art that focuses on the Latino community,” said Anaya-Cerda, who despite her young age already has received numerous awards for service to her community. 

She chose East Harlem, whose population is more than half Latino, specifically because of its culture. 

“East Harlem is very rich in culture already, and that is one of the things that attracted me to live there,” she said. “We have the visual arts, we have Museum Mile. We have the performing arts. You can go to a restaurant, a café, and have a good time. But there isn’t a place for [Latino] literature yet.” 

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Her goal for the store is to “complement what’s already existing in the neighborhood, to give children that opportunity.”

She aspires to get children reading, to expand their knowledge on a variety of subjects, and to teach them to learn and embrace Latino culture.

Indeed, she hopes to duplicate in a new generation of children the wonder that she and her Los Angeles students felt when they came across and soaked up books that told Latino stories.

“I think it’s very special,” she said. “A key point for me was when I finally discovered literature that was written by Latinos.”

In 2008, she put it this way to a reporter: “Because it’s a Latino store, it’s very important because it will show everyone how talented we are. We’re not just that one shelf at Barnes & Noble. We’re more than that.”

Her family always stressed education; it was very important to her mother, and the traits reflect on her. She graduated from U.C.L.A. with a minor in education before going on to teach middle.

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The brick and mortar La Casa Azul will be the pot of gold at the end of a long, tough journey that involved frustrating, often discouraging attempts to get financing – not an easy thing in the midst of a national struggling economy and banks that got increasingly reluctant to extend credit.

She had to start small in order to develop the means to open her business. She opened an online bookstore in 2008.

“That was kind of plan B,” she said. “My plan A was to open a bookstore. But that was impossible, banks were not lending money to small businesses.”  

“I wasn’t getting the loans but I didn’t want to stop there,” she said. “So I decided to launch the website instead.  I did it for several reasons -- one was just to figure out if this was something I wanted to do.  It started out as a platform for me, I was also able to connect to publishers.  It became a way for me to establish partnerships with community organizations."

As Anaya-Cerda’s website grew a following, and gave her notoriety in the world of literature, as well as important connections, the dream started to become more and more real. 

She realized that she was going to go through with this -- no matter the cost.  

She found a donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, who pledged to contribute $40,000 to the opening of her bookstore if she was able to match the amount with fundraisers.  

So she launched a 40-day campaign to raise $40,000 – and did it. The donor kept his promise.

Anaya-Cerda is not resting on her laurels. Her sleeves are going to stay rolled up for a long time. Success for her is not just about opening a store, but making sure it does well.

She said she wants to “continue that momentum and work together to have it stay open.  The mission of the store is exactly that.”

E. J. Aguado Jr. is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.

You can reach E.J. Aguado at: or via Twitter: @Aguado91

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E.J. Aguado Jr. is a freelance journalist living in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter at: @ejaguado