Sunday, September 19, 2010

Libros Schmibros, ¿Qué?

Olga García Echeverría

Amo a mis libros. The ones I’ve been lugging around since my college years. The Ethnic Studies ones that saved me. Frantz Fanon who helped decolonized my mind. The memoir of a Woman Warrior slaying ghosts. James Baldwin who took me to Another Country. I love Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Langston Hughes’ insurgent verses, "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up…?"

Amo a mis libros. A las antologías that birthed nuevas metodologías--This Bridge Called My Back and Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About. Books that changed me forever--Ntozake Shange’s Colored Girls and Galeano’s Open Veins. Gloria’s Borderlands and Zora’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

I cannot name them all—Angela Davis, Leslie Marmon Silko, Edward Said. They are unforgettable--Gioconda dressed in dynamite con un fosforito en la mano. Neruda’s melodramatic suspiros, "Puedo escribir los versos mas triste esta noche." Lorca’s yearning Yerma. Woman Hollering Creek. Krik? Krak! The God of Small Things.

Amo, amo, amo a mis libros. So much so that I’ve clung to them throughout the years, their numbers steadily increasing. They’ve survived it all—my radical Spring cleanings, my numerous moves, earthquakes, erosion, and most recent even an explosion. They’ve outlived lovers and long-term relationships, overflowed from shelves onto tables, desks, chairs, and eventually the floor. Then they went into boxes, and finally into storage. They may have stayed there indefinitely among the dusty rubble of unused things, but last month as I moved once again I had an epiphany: putting great books into storage is tragic, like Tennesse William's Laura holding on to her tiny glass menagerie. It's criminal, like killing a mockingbird. Now that I've read and enjoyed them, why not open the cage and let the libros fly into the hands of others? Farewell to Arms and Farewell to Manzanar. Fly caged book, fly!

I Know Why the Donated Book Sings

My books landed in the heart of Boyle Heights. On 1st Street, in a lending library and community bookstore called Libros Schmibros.

A Libros Schmibros volaron mis libros. I'm so happy about their new home. Aside from loving the name of the bookstore, I think the founder David Kipen deserves a big aplauso for giving books like mine another chance to breathe. Bien laid back and a lover of books, David opened Libros Schmibros this past July. He came up with the catchy title to represent both the Jewish and Latino history in East Los. Since July, David has had a steady stream of neighborhood people coming in to browse the shelves, ask questions, walk away with little treasures in their hands. While interviewing him in his library recently, a homeless woman named Patricia came in. She wanted to let David know she had lost Seabiscuit, the book he lent her not too long ago. "Sorry," she said. But she brought in a used copy of The Da Vinci Code to replace it. David smiled warmly, "You didn't have to replace it, but that's great. Thanks." Maybe she'll bring him two dollars later she adds shly. "No, no," he reassures her, "Don't worry. That's not necessary. This is great." Then came in some curious high school students who repeatedly said "It's pretty cool" when asked what they thought of the space. Then a woman asking for libros en español. Then a couple of young men who had fixed David's bike for 18 dollars. David's face beamed when he saw them. Y asi nos pasamos el tiempo en Libros Schmibros, cramming in an interview whenever we could squeeze in a few minutes.

Why Boyle Heights?
"Why not Boyle Heights? I've got family buried not too far away at the Jewish cemetery across from Calvary. When I came back from my gig in Washington, I also took the Gold Line and I started to fall in love with this area."

What’s the goal of Libros Schmibros?
"The goal is to take a whole bunch of books, thousands and thousands of books that have been in storage where no-one can get to them and let them circulate, let them walk around the neighborhood and the city and make new friends. With the addition, gradually, of events and more and more books, and with luck, even more and more bookshelves to hold them, and with even greater luck, more people checking out and buying books to free up space for the new books that come in, it gradually starts to resemble a kind of beating heart for the neighborhood. It’s not meant to take the place of Corazon del Pueblo across the street, but if I can augment, if can also create something that feeds the community and keeps people reading and gives folks a place to come in and kill 45 minutes in the afternoon where they feel safe and they can talk about literature or politics or whatever they feel like, pull down a copy of this mornings paper, which I set out every day, then I feel my time here isn’t wasted. I’m certainly getting plenty out of it and the people who keep showing up certainly seem to appreciate it."

Although David just opened his library/bookstore this summer, there's already something incredibly charming and magnetic about the place, even magical. Take, for example, his Day Book, David’s current check-out system. Ain’t it beautiful with its rustic cover and tattered yellow pages? David explains that eventually, with the right software he’d like to simplify and computerize, “but for now the Libros Schmibros check-out system has an antiquated charm. If someone wants to check out a book, I just write down their name and email in The Day Book and I give them around 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the length of the book. I write the due date on a post-it and give it to the person checking out the book so they remember when to bring it back. If someone doesn’t have an email, I write their address. If they don’t have an address, I trust. I don’t want to turn anyone away. That’s pretty much it. Enjoy!”

Wow! No IDs, no applications, no pedo. Just books, books, and more books.

Marisela Norte & El Elvis: The Two Coolest Volunteers Ever

And if The Day Book didn't convince you of Libros Schmibros charm, check out who's hanging out at the cozy librería. How cool is it to walk into a community bookstore and run into young, brown bookworms and East LA’s beloved poeta, Marisela Norte? I would say it’s Super-duper Libros Schmibros EastLos cool.

When I asked Marisela why she had volunteered, she answered, "Where can you get a book around here? You can’t get a book around here to save your life and that’s what books do and that’s why this space is needed."

How did you hear about the space?
"I met David because we are Facebuqeros. When I saw the write up on the bookstore in the LA Times and read about what he was doing here, I sent him a message and said I have time and I’d love to volunteer in any way that I can, help you stack books, take things out of boxes, whatever."

Is there anything you’d like people to know about this place?
"It’s very accessible by way of the Gold Line. All you have to do is get off at Mariachi Plaza and walk a couple of blocks, so there’s really no excuse not to visit. There are places to eat around here too. There’s a really good .99 cent store too at the end of the block, next to where Lion de Oro used to be, one of the best. If you need a phone card because you’re gonna make a phone call to Honduras, for example, you can get it there. I mean, it’s like a one-stop shopping place. It’s all there."

Anything else you'd like to add?

"I’m excited because books still excite me and people’s interest in them excites me. David has children’s books and las señoras are coming in from off the street, asking 'no tiene libros en español' because they want to learn about hierbas and how to get healthier. That’s amazing. That’s wonderful. I’m so happy David opened the door here."

Then there’s Elvis. He currently works at the Central Library in downtown LA, but he’ll be volunteering at Libros Schmibros as soon as his summer job is over. He’s checked out a couple of books already--Edgar Alan Poe’s poems and a collection of ghost stories. And when David stepped out for a few minutes to take care of bike business, Elvis jumped right into action, using the Day Book to help a visitor check out a book.

Is there anything you'd like to share with Bloga readers?
“People should check it out. There’s a good collection and it’s a great place to chill cuz we’re close to Mariachi Plaza.”

And they kept coming in. Fanny Julisa, who lives in the neighborhood and was visiting the library for the first time. "I love it! There are lots of old books that you can’t find in bookstores anymore. It feels so welcoming and I just love it."

High school student Martin and college student Anabel with their selected libros said they love the check out system. They kept asking, "That's it? We can take them?"

And this is Tina Turner, who checked out a book that I had just donated the day prior. Yay!

What's the story behind your name?
My original name is Christina, but I hate to be formal, so I drop the Chris. Hernandez is my married name, but I give that a break, too traditional, so I use my maiden name, Turner. So, there it is--Tina Turner. Ha, ha! It’s cute, no?

What did you check out?
Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge by Cheech Marin. I love art and I love Cheech Marin. I didn't even know he painted! I’m gonna be a regular here. I’m a bookworm, you know. I think he has a cute little system here, the book guy. He doesn’t ask you for an ID. You give ‘em trust and you bring it back when you’re supposed to. I like that. We need trust in our community.

Libros Schmirbos is currently open Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays from noon until "Vin Skully comes on to call the Dodger game" (that's how David said it). David lives in the back too, so he says if you ever see him around the bookstore outside of those hours, just knock. "Come check it out," he added. "Tell your Bloga readers that It’s here for them. It’s here for everybody. Nothing makes me happier than to see people in here pawing over my books because they’re not my books anymore. They’re everybody’s books." And they're not my books anymore either. Adios mis queridos libros. Hello Libros Schmibros.

Libros Schmibros
2000 East 1st Street
Boyle Heights, Los Angeles CA 90033


tatiana de la tierra said...

cool. can't wait to visit los schmibros and have a few of mine join the collection.

msedano said...

a warm and comfortable space it is. thanx david, marisela, elvis, all the volunteers. and all the writers of books. and all the books that, for want of libros schmibros, would be homeless. somewhere out there, there's a home for you, libros huerfanos.

liz said...

This essay was not only informative, it was fun to read. Music for the eyes! I'll be 'round Libros Schmibros with some freed books soon.

hugO Nelson Chávez said...

... this is a wonderful write up on books and a wonderful spot i MUST visit. Que respiren, caminen, vuelan los libros (and so i now go to release my books from there boxes in my closet)! Like Marisela Norte said, there's really no excuse not to vist!

David "Squeaky" Medrano said...

I consider myself one of the Latino Chosen. My family moved to Wabash Avenue in 1952. I attended all 8 years of elementary school at Our Lady of the Assumption on Evergreen accross from the now famous Manny’s El Tepeyac. As a wide-eyed young mexican-american boy growing up in a thriving 1950′s Jewish community I was fascinated by the bearded black-clad orthodox jews, the delicatessen where Kantor's got its start, the mysterious architecture of the synagogues, the strange language of the Jews, the Jewish weeklies with their strange looking alphabets, the Jewish hermit who lived in the abandend shack in the vacant lot behind our City Terrace house. We shopped at Moe’s hardware store on Wabash, at the Jewish five-and-dime on the corner of Wabash and Evergreen, and rented from the Harmatz family. Our home was a duplex, but had the old world archetectural features, the moorish arches, nooks and spires, of the Spanish revival homes that had been so well maintained by their post world war Jewish owners.

I remember the Jews as warm and welcoming. Our basketball coach was a young Jew by the name of Archie who, it is said, volunteered to coach the catholic school’s teams because he was attending Cal State Los Angeles in City Terrace and wanted to do community service. I had a crush on “an older woman,” the teenaged Jewish girl who worked at the Malabar Branch Library and read us stories on a weekly basis.

This was my universe as I was coming of age. The boundary was as far as your Western Flyer could take you and get you home before the sun went down. Somehow I didn’t notice how quickly things were changing. The Jewish bakery on Wabash was soon a Panaderia and the Jews were quickly relocating to the westside. How quickly it all went away. I was lucky to have had these experiences., My little sister, 7 years my junior , missed most of this.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “Jewish pickle” but I miss the five cent Jewish pickles we bought at the Jewish five-and-dime in my old Jewish neighborhood.
Thanks for reviving these memories for me. I will be in to visit when I’m back in Boyle Heights.

David Kipen said...

You'll all be welcome here at Libros Schmibros. Thanks so much for such a thrilling writeup, Olga. Plainly, you get it. And yes, of course I'm on Facebook. We should be Facebuqueros too, no?

All finest,

David Kipen
Libros Schmibros:
A lending library/used bookstore for Boyle Heights
2000 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90033

Summer hours: Mon., Wed., Fri., from noon til Vin Scully signs on

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Thank you all for your comments. David (the Latino Chosen), I enjoyed reading about your memories of Jewish East Los. I have always been fascinated by East Los Angeles' numerous cemeteries, each one testifying to the cultural influences that have shaped the area.

And the other David...I will look for you in el Facebuk mundo.

Peace & Books Y'all!