More Than a Bookstore

Aurora Anaya-Cerda

Aurora Anaya-Cerda is being honored as a Champion of Change for her accomplishments as a crowdfunding pioneer.

My mom instilled in me a passion for reading, and in books I discovered many worlds. She taught me that education was the door to opportunities and no one could take that away from me.

La Casa Azul Bookstore is a reflection of who I am as an artist and entrepreneur, and my goal to feature Latino/Chicano writers. One of the reasons why I decided to open La Casa Azul Bookstore was because Chicana/o literature was critical in my own education and identity.

Growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on—from cereal boxes, to magazines and comics. When I discovered Chicana/o writers like Sandra Cisneros and Rudolfo Anaya, I connected to their stories and began seeking out more books that reflected my identity and experience. By then I was already in high school and I wished I had read about them earlier!

The idea to open La Casa Azul Bookstore had been brewing for many years before the grand opening in 2012. I signed up for my first business course in 2006—not knowing what the future would hold, the experiences I would have, and the places I would visit in planning for the bookstore’s opening.  Looking back at those six years of planning and research, I am thankful for the lessons I learned, the people I met, and the challenges I overcame. Those years reminded me of the importance of patience, and taught me that determination and persistence are important for any dream to become a reality.

In the Fall of 2011, I launched a crowdfunding campaign after banks and agencies declined my loan application for the fourth year in a row. By then I had been running an online bookstore and hosting events throughout New York. I took the leap of faith and launched the “40K in 40 days” campaign, which brought together over 500 bookstore fans and supporters that saw the need for La Casa Azul Bookstore to exist. With their financial support, La Casa Azul Bookstore became a reality, opening its doors on June 1, 2012. Contributions to the “40K in 40 days” campaign came from all over the country and from as far away as Australia, London, and South Korea. Funders sent messages like: “Every community needs a bookstore”; “I grew up in East Harlem, I wish La Casa Azul Bookstore existed for me”; and “Reading saved my life.”

East Harlem has embraced La Casa Azul Bookstore,. making us much more than your average retail store by being the literature hub in the neighborhood. We serve as the “third place,” a community meeting space. Since opening the store a year ago, we have held over 200 events including book clubs, author signings, gallery shows, film screenings, writer’s conferences, and workshops.

We have neighbors, educators, tourists, and many local artists visit the bookstore. Once, Sonia Manzano stopped by to purchase a book, while her cab waited outside to take her to the airport. We also had a surprise visit by Junot Díaz.  That is what is great about being in a city that is home to many great writers—you never know who will stop by!

I am honored to be a part of the White House Champions of Change, and am forever thankful to the funders of the “40K in 40 days” campaign, who believed in the power of community, in La Casa Azul Bookstore, and in me.

Aurora Anaya-Cerda is Founder of La Casa Azul Bookstore.

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