Jackson Heights Bookstore Expands Community Mission

Ramón (left), Paula (center) and Carlos (right) spoke about the work being carried out by the Barco de Papel Cultural Center, a meeting place for neighbors, customers and guests who wish to take part in a variety of events and workshops.. (Photo by Marta Ramírez via El Diario)

Ramón (left), Paula (center) and Carlos (right) spoke about the work being carried out by the Barco de Papel Cultural Center, a meeting place for neighbors, customers and guests who wish to take part in a variety of events and workshops. (Photo by Marta Ramírez via El Diario)

“The secret is to empathize with the neighborhood, the community around you. It makes no sense not to engage with them,” said Ramón Caraballo, owner of the Barco de Papel bookstore. The shop is one of those New York spots meant to get lost in, surrounded by poetry and stories written in Spanish. Still, this small Queens bookshop offers more than the best Hispanic literature: It is evolving into the Barco de Papel Cultural Center.

The space has become a meeting point for Latino residents of the area, although visitors from every borough and from other parts of the tri-state area frequently drop by. “Our workshops attract people from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Some of them are not even Latino, but they have a personal or professional interest in our culture or in certain artists,” said Paula Ortiz, director of the center.

The bookstore was originally created for children, but it immediately began providing cultural activities run by volunteers. “It was the people in the community who gave this center its direction. I only supplied the space,” said Caraballo.

Founder, webmaster and social media manager Carlos Bedoya explained the relationship between the center and the bookshop. “We are currently more focused on the events we are organizing at the center. However, the environment the bookstore offers is crucial. It is not only the venue where we hold our workshops; it’s also about the concept and the atmosphere it creates. Being surrounded by books makes all the difference.”

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What kind of events does the Barco de Papel Cultural Center welcome?

Carlos: We do many different things, but we have four types of events: Learning events, which may be workshops about topics such as photography, handcrafts, etc. We also have activities for children, for instance, on Halloween or Three Kings Day. Kids have a blast, and it offers parents an alternative to having them at home watching TV.

Then there are literary events, in which we welcome both well-known artists with a long trajectory and new poets or novelists who are starting out and need a place to share their work. Finally, we have other art or music events, including photography exhibits, concerts, and history lectures.

What role does social media play in your promotion?

C: It is essential! It’s our way to reach people, to let them know that we are here. We have three Facebook pages. The one for the bookstore allows us to communicate with people who want to come here, such as writers interested in presenting their books. We all end up becoming like a family.

The Center’s Facebook page is used to promote the events and offer information on the activities. Then we have the Campaña page, though which we share interesting articles and share information on the work we are doing. We also have a literary blog, where we introduce authors we find interesting.

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Latino neighbors attend an OSHA course on installations offered by an authorized trainer in which they obtain certification. (Photo by Marta Ramírez via El Diario)

Latino neighbors attend an OSHA course on installations, offered by an authorized trainer, for which they obtain certification. (Photo by Marta Ramírez via El Diario)

Paula: Many Latinos want to read works written in their language with which they can identify, and they also want to make their kids interested. I don’t believe that Latinos do not care about theater or literature. It is just that many of them haven’t had the access to some of these programs because they are usually too expensive in Latin America, and here in New York City we lack time and space. Take this workshop: It’s an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) course about installations, so that [participants] can recognize hazards and prevent accidents. This allows them to get an official license to work in construction, whether they are undocumented or not. It is taught in Spanish, and they use tools they know. The time is also more convenient for them because it is held after work.

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  1. Pingback: A Bookstore That Preserves More Than Language – The Cooper International Learning Center

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