East Harlem bookstore highlighting Latino literature started through community crowdfunding

Three years after opening its doors in East Harlem, La Casa Azul bookstore continues to inspire through the works of literary giants such as Gabriel García Márquez and Junot Diaz.

The store, entirely dedicated to highlighting and promoting Latino literature, is the brainchild of Aurora Anaya-Cerda who named it after Frida Kahlo’s home in Mexico City.

“When she was alive, it was a place where artists came together,” Anaya-Cerde, a middle-school teacher turned entrepreneur, told Fox News Latino. “And to make it with a focus on Latino literature, that was very intentional.”

La Casa Azul, which means “The Blue House,” is located at 103rd Street in East Harlem – the heart of El Barrio, a section of New York City where more than half the population is Latino.

“So many of the residents of this community are of Mexican and Puerto Rican and Caribbean descent,” she said. “Why not have a space like this in my neighborhood?”

The bookstore is truly a labor of love for Anaya-Cerde, and since opening its doors La Casa Azul has hosted hundreds of events and programs aimed at Latinos, including poetry nights, film screenings, book clubs and art exhibits.

The dream of a store almost did not come to fruition, however.

“Many different banks declined my loan for years,” she said. “So that was very discouraging, it was something that I had been dreaming of for six years before the store ever opened.”

But the Hispanic community rallied around Anaya-Cerde: neighbors, residents and even other people’s coworkers donated to make La Casa Azul come alive.

“The bookstore was crowd-funded. It was the support of over 400 people – 70 percent of those were complete strangers,” she said.

Cyrus Boquin donated to the bookstore, because he was tired of seeing local small bookstores fail.

“Over the years we have seen … small bookstores fail, specifically the Latino focused ones in New York City,” Boquin told FNL. “So the idea that one would be created and coming into El Barrio was a dream come true for us.

Much more than a bookstore, La Casa Azul is a cultural workshop where children and adults can interact with authors, painters and musicians.

“For me working at La Casa Azul has been a discovery of my own cultural identity,” Emilia Fiallo, an employee at the bookstore, said. “I would say I didn’t know that we were out there. I didn’t know that Latino writers were there writing for our community.”

Celebrity readings, family picnics and concerts are just a few of the activities La Casa Azul today sponsors, but after celebrating its three-year anniversary, the bookstore is just getting started.

“I believe that every community needs an independent bookstore,” Anaya-Cerde said. “So, of course, it is a dream of mine to see not just a house here in New York but also in other cities very soon.”

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