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Art Exhibit Doubles As Used Book Store For Spanish Speakers


Now the story of how one Mexican artist is trying to revive Spanish-language bookstores here in the U.S. Simon Rios reports from member station WBUR in Boston.

PABLO HELGUERA: "Muerte A Filo De Obsidiana" de Eduardo Matos Moctezuma.

SIMON RIOS, BYLINE: Pablo Helguera recites random titles from the shelves of Libreria Donceles, or Donceles Bookstore. Walk into the space and you see a normal used bookshop with massive stacks and a cash register up front.

HELGUERA: And despite the fact that Latino communities throughout the United States are growing exponentially, we have less and less access to books in Spanish. In New York City, where I live, the last major bookstore that sold books in Spanish closed 10 years ago.

RIOS: Under the surface, Libreria Donceles is an art exhibit with a social mission as much about Spanish literature as it is about raising the profile of those who speak the language. Helguera says his work on one hand is a response to the disappearance of bookstores and on the other to the invisibility of people who speak Spanish. And it's a portal into the countries they're from.

HELGUERA: If you actually are in the middle of Montevideo or in the middle of Mexico City, You walk into these, like, ancient stores that have been there for, like, ever. And they have these piles and piles of materials, and you can get lost for hours looking for them.

RIOS: Libreria Donceles has more than 10,000 titles in Spanish, and the range is spellbinding - from art books to kids' books to cookbooks and poetry. Rosie Magana visited when the bookstore was in Phoenix, one of eight cities that have hosted Libreria Donceles. Magana says it made her think of her parents, who immigrated from Mexico.

ROSIE MAGANA: How much easier it would have been on them to be able to have a space with things - with books in Spanish. How much easier it would have been on them just to have a community space like that.

RIOS: So Magana decided to open a bookstore of her own in Phoenix inspired by Libreria Donceles. And when that project comes to an end, her bookstore will take in some of the books now on display in Boston. Colombian artist Lina Maria Giraldo says finding a book in Spanish in Boston is like striking gold.

LINA MARIA GIRALDO: I'm an immigrant. And sometimes you've lost where you're coming from.

RIOS: Giraldo says she reconnects with her Latino heritage standing in Libreria Donceles.

GIRALDO: Having a space like that that is filled with books in your own language, it really brings your roots, it brings history, something that sometimes you can't explain to your daughters.

RIOS: It's very much about her 4-year-old daughter. Giraldo struggles to get her to speak Spanish.

GIRALDO: Now, if I force her, she will speak Spanish. But she usually answers me in English. And that kills me a little bit. And it's because of that there's not really a lot of spaces where we can talk in Spanish.

RIOS: And that, Giraldo says, is why Libreria Donceles matters. For NPR News, I'm Simon Rios in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Simon Rios
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