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Language is life: ‘Librería Donceles’ brings Spanish to literary scene

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO

Through March 31, Jamaica Plain’s Urbano Project is exhibiting “Librería Donceles,” a socially engaged art project by New York-based artist Pablo Helguera. The project features a traveling bookstore of 10,000 used, Spanish volumes that serves as a venue for performances, readings and bilingual salon-style conversations about cultural understanding, tolerance and activism.

On the web

For more on the Urbano Project, visit:

The Urbano Project was launched to address the lack of literary outlets serving the ever-growing Hispanic communities in the United States. “‘Librería Donceles’ is a response to two developments on the U.S. urban landscape: the phasing out of the bookstore and the invisibility of the Spanish language,” Helguera said in a press release. During its residence, the library will be the only Spanish language bookstore in the Greater Boston area, a startling fact, especially in areas like Jamaica Plain and Chelsea, with their large Hispanic populations.

Exhibit coordinator Maggie Cavallo estimates there are about 600,000 Spanish speakers in Boston who don’t have access to books in their own language. “We’re seeing a lot of nationalist, anti-immigrant influences right now,” she says. “’Librería Donceles’ demands visibility of Latin American language and culture.” The exhibit stands out in Boston, a city known for its learning institutions.

Breaking barriers

The library has been touring since 2013 in Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and Indianapolis. Boston will be its last stop. Books are pay-as-you-wish with a limit of one book per customer. Each volume contains the name of the person who donated it. The money goes towards Urbano’s art education and social justice programs. The bookstore will be open 1-6 p.m. on Fridays and 10-2 p.m. on Saturdays, as well as for events.

Urbano Project brings together urban youth and professional artists to develop artistic and critical skill sets. Their installations and programs primarily address the themes of racial, cultural and urban identities and place emphasis on community development.

The project features both prominent lecturers and artistic professionals who come to speak, and local shops and institutions that deserve preservation because of their cultural history. As Inauguration Day and threats of a border wall loom large, “Librería Donceles” strives to break barriers.

“A project like this opens up a conversation about the erasure of languages and identities in a potentially threatening national environment,” says Cavallo. “The visibility of the Spanish language is integral to the piece, and to cultural unity.”