Jimmy Santiago Baca, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sandra Cisneros, and Pablo Neruda are among some of the most prominent Hispanic, Chicano, and Latino authors you can pick up at any bookstore in the Valley. But what if you wanted to purchase a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera in its original language? You might be able to find it, but not without phone calls and online searches. This distinctive lack of Spanish-language bookstores in the Phoenix area is precisely what inspired Phoenix native and first-generation Mexican-American Rosaura “Rosie” Magaña to open Palabras.
Located on Grand Avenue in Phoenix, Palabras, which is Spanish for “words,” will sell and rent out Spanish and English books and serve as an outreach center for a community Magaña sees as neglected by the arts scene. She plans to open the nonprofit store as an event and workshop space this fall on November 14, during the annual Grand Avenue Festival. Palabras will officially open as a bookstore when Magaña collects enough books.
“Phoenix has a large population of low-income and Hispanic people who would benefit from something like this,” Magaña says. “I feel that within that community, some people get left out and don’t get to be a part of the arts district.”
Palabras will share its space with a yoga studio and Creation Station art gallery in La Melgosa, the hard-to-miss embellished building on Grand Avenue. The turquoise hue and yellow trim on La Melgosa might stand out anywhere else, but it fits with its surroundings in one of the most art-centric areas in Phoenix. Similarly, the bars on the window have a decorative and charming feel, rather than a dangerous one. The studio space that Palabras will occupy is small with concrete floors and looks out onto the street.
Beatrice Moore, the landlord for the distinctive building Palabras will call home and owner of the Bragg's Pie Factory building, has worked in the area for nearly two decades. In her time, she has seen many businesses come and go. The ones who fail, she says, make the critical mistake of ignoring a large potential customer base.
"I think a lot of the time, businesses come into neighborhoods like ours and they don't reach into the demographics," Moore says. "I say, 'Think about all those people who might patronize your location if your products appealed to them and were reasonably priced.' That doesn't mean you have to tailor to only that demographic, but part of it is what you offer."
Despite the growing arts scene in downtown Phoenix, the Mexican-American population lacks roots in the community. Shocking as it may be — Hispanics and Latinos make up 30.3 percent of the Phoenix population — there just aren’t as many cultural hubs for the city’s Spanish-speakers.
Last year, artist Pablo Helguera brought his traveling library exhibit to Combine Studios in downtown Phoenix. From March to June, "Librería Donceles" served as the only Spanish bookstore in the Valley, according to Helguera. After visiting his exhibit, Magaña says she realized how serious the disconnect was between the local arts scene and the Hispanic community. She sought to create a Spanish bookstore that would become a permanent part of downtown and that would embrace the rich culture that she seeks to involve with her work.
Magaña will also work with Enrique Cortazar, the cultural attaché to Mexico, to build this list of resources and empower visitors to find whatever help they may need.
“I went through the hardships of learning the [English] language and trying to make a living without knowing about the resources available,” Magaña says. “We want to have a folder with lists of organizations that can help Latinos in the community who want to get a GED and take ESL classes”
Magaña hopes that through donations she will have 1,000 titles in the store within the next year. In addition to selling and renting books, Magaña wants Palabras to complement its artistic surroundings. She plans on exhibiting work from local or Mexican artists and will host occasional poetry readings. Palabras will also share its space with Oh My Ears, a local organization that strives to bring music to the community. They will contribute Latin American inspired pieces to Palabras events
For now, the building serves as an open creative space for locals while Magaña works to build the shop's literature collection. Until then, Magaña and her crew will continue to clean up the historic building in preparation.
"I think it's going to be a nice addition to the neighborhood, considering the combination of books and music," Moore says.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version to clarify that Palabras is a nonprofit that will open as an event space on November 14 and later open as a bookstore once its amassed a book collection.
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