Culturas Corner highlights individuals who make their community a better place through their work, business, volunteering or activism. Today we meet Patricia DeRobles of Café con Libros, an independent bookstore in downtown Pomona, California.
Can you start by telling us about yourself and the inception of Café con Libros?
I am a life-long resident of Southern California transplanted from Mexico. I am a sister to nine brothers and three sisters and a mother to 3 young adults. I have been an educator for over 25 years serving students of color and English learners.
As an educator, bilingual speaker and Mexican woman, I realized a painful lack of access to literature and art that represented my community, the experience of women and children of color and the varied experiences and stories of our nation’s immigrants. Café con Libros was born from a desire to have all those experiences represented, honored and shared.
Why are independent bookstores, especially ones that reflect their community, so important? How does Café con Libros play into that?
Independent bookstores serve their community, they represent their community, they are sustained by their community; the two are inextricably connected. Café con Libros does just this. We serve our community by providing a safe space with art, culture and literature that represents their experience or experiences they want to engage with. We have a large lending library that serves as a free resource. We provide workshops, book studies and other activities that are inspired by the community. Often, community members are leading these activities and this is how they in turn serve their community. We are there for support and encouragement. We provide the space and the platform. Community makes who Café con Libros is.
What reactions have you seen from your community because Café con Libros provides representative art, culture and literature?
The community has fully embraced our efforts. Folks who come in daily and tell us, “I’ve been looking for a place like this.” They express that they feeling welcomed and represented. They see a place for themselves in the art, in the books, in the environment and activities we hold. They see their creative interests reflected here. I often say that the community makes us, makes the space, makes the organization who we are. Our community is creative expression. Our community is the art we represent, support and serve. In turn we feel the love, joy and support of our community. We need the community as much as they tell us they need us.
How has it been dealing with COVID-19? As we continue to grapple with the pandemic, what are your hopes and/or future goals for Café con Libros?
We thought we might need to close the store, but we were able to open in April with limited hours and the community came back to support us. My hope is that we are able to continue supporting our community as we move forward with all the dynamic changes in our nation. We hope to continue serving our youth with resources, information and a safe space to be who they are.
What is your favorite cultural memory?
Every year we create ofrendas/altares for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the dead). I love this tradition because it is a time for the community to honor those who have passed and it is really a celebration of life. Every year we create a community altar and other community members create individual altars in our space. It is a powerful show of community and love.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Know someone who should be featured on Culturas Corner? Nominate them here.