PHOENIX — During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s possible you have spent some time curled up with a good book. Maybe it's a book you purchased at a local Valley bookstore.
While there are several, there’s one where you’ll find books you may not find elsewhere. It’s a bookstore with the community at the heart of its business model.
“Palabras” means words in Spanish, and you’ll find thousands of them inside Palabras Bilingual Bookstore in Phoenix.
The concept was inspired by a traveling bookstore/art installation designed to bring Spanish-language books into growing Hispanic communities.
It was the type of place owner and Tempe native, Rosaura “Chawa” Magaña wanted to create for her own community.
“It sparked something in me because I'm first-generation Mexican-American, so it made me think of my parents and having a space where I can feel like I belong there and our families can feel like they belong there. And so that evolved to what we have now,” says Magaña.
Inside, you’ll find familiar titles like Buenas Noches Luna, or Goodnight Moon.
There are books written in both English and Spanish. There are books about different cultures and cuisines, and anything from science fiction to thrillers.
You’ll also find that there’s an emphasis on creating a space where people who may be underrepresented elsewhere, can see themselves in the pages.
"It's important for kids to be able to see themselves in the stories that they read and so that's why I try to make that a focus here,” says Magaña.
According to the Pew Research Center, 31% of Arizona’s population is Hispanic.
Magaña says books need to reflect this changing demographic.
“We don't think about it, but when you don't see yourself, it reflects in our sense of value and self-worth. If you don't see yourself, then how do you feel that you have value?”
But it’s not just about the stories you’ll find between the covers. The goal of this bookstore is also about supporting writers who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Especially in an industry that still lacks diversity.
“I wanted to be able to provide that platform for communities of color to feel like their voice matters and to give them a space to share and to grow and to create a strong resilient community,” says Magaña.
According to a 2019 study done by Lee and Low Books, the largest multicultural book publisher in the country, 76% of people in the publishing industry identify as white.
With that in mind, Magaña says she picks books and authors that you may not necessarily find on national best-selling lists. Instead, she picks books that she says help expand perspectives and that feature accurate depictions of history, and the experiences of marginalized communities.
It’s something she says she’s noticed other bookstores are finally starting to do, too.
"I hope that this keeps growing and evolving and more people start being conscious about that and trying to expand their horizons with what they're reading or what they're absorbing in other forms too"
Magaña says she wants her bookstore to be a place that bridges the gap between the publishing industry and communities of color. But mostly, she says she wants it to be a place that brings people together.
“You feel the connection to the community and to what you're doing when you see it come to fruition and you realize absolutely anything is possible," she tells us.
Magaña says the bookstore also hosts a Women of Color book club and open mic sessions. Both of which are taking place virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Magaña also says she regularly collaborates with local organizations to help people who are in need in the community.
Palabras Bilingual Bookstore is currently open for 30-minute appointments only, Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You can also place orders for shipping or curbside pickup by visiting palabrasbookstore.com.