La Casa Azul Pops Up in La Marqueta

Just in time for the first anniversary of La Casa Azul, the first bookstore in New York with an emphasis on Latino writers and East Harlem’s only independent bookstore – a venture realized thanks to $40,000 raised on IndieGoGo through hundreds of online donations – founder Aurora Anaya-Cerda has experienced quite the month, reports Manhattan Times‘ Sherry Mazzocchi, with the receipt of a prestigious award and the expansion of her bookstore.

(Photo by Sherry Mazzocchi via Manhattan Times)

More than just a bookstore, La Casa Azul holds events for kids, as it did on the pop-up shop’s opening day. (Photo by Sherry Mazzocchi via Manhattan Times)

She was one of 12 entrepreneurs to receive the Champions of Change award from the White House (video) last month for her crowdfunding efforts to start a small business. And more recently, she opened a pop-up version of La Casa Azul.

While the bookstore’s main hub is on East 103rd Street between Lexington and Park Avenues, the pop-up store is nearby in El Barrio at 115th Street and Park Avenue in La Marqueta, a once-bustling Puerto Rican market in East Harlem. In speaking about the location of her newest undertaking, Anaya-Cerda says, “It has a historical significance.”

In the 1930’s and 40’s, La Marqueta was the place where Puerto Ricans newly arrived to El Barrio shopped for food, clothes and items from back home.

Neighborhood people often talk about going there with parents and grandparents. Some of those stories are even captured in poems and books sold in her store.

“I see how our bookstore is the perfect way to tie in the history to this new East Harlem,” she said.

More than just an independent bookstore, La Casa Azul serves as a cultural space that includes educational and children’s programs. On July 6, the opening day of the pop-up shop – with cupcake decorating for kids and live music – the main location held its second annual Frida Kahlo look-alike contest.

(Photo by Sherry Mazzocchi via Manhattan Times)

In honor of Frida Kahlo’s influence on La Casa Azul, the bookstore held its second annual lookalike contest. The winner was Paula M. Sánchez-Kucukozer (far right). (Photo by Sherry Mazzocchi via Manhattan Times)

Most came in traditional long skirts, complete with a penciled in unibrow. One contestant came as Frida with short hair, dressed in a man’s suit—from a famous self-portrait created after a messy breakup with husband Diego Rivera.

Winner Paula M. Sánchez-Kucukozer looked remarkably like Kahlo.

With colorful flowers tucked into her pulled back hair, she wore traditional Mexican clothing, carried a painter’s palette and held a stuffed monkey, resembling another of the artist’s many self-portraits.

The date of the contest and the pop-up opening coincided with the birthday of Kahlo, July 6, 1907.

La Casa Azul is named after the famed Mexican painter’s house, now preserved as a museum, in the Coyoacán section of Mexico City.

“It was a wonderful way to honor her,” she [Anaya-Cerda] said.

It’s events like these, along with other social and cultural activities, that indicate how the community and neighborhood are an integral part of La Casa Azul.

The store is a true reflection of the people in the neighborhood, she said.

“For me, having La Casa Azul in East Harlem, there was never any other option. It needed to be here.”

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