In Queens, a Bastion of Hispanic Literature – and Culture

On a quiet side street in Queens, just off the bustling artery of Roosevelt Avenue and its rumbling 7 train, is a little oasis of calm.

The tiny Librería Barco De Papel – which translates to Paper Boat Bookstore – is one of the last remaining Spanish-language bookstores in NYC. Books by Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca line its crowded shelves, while a mural of Gabriel García Márquez adorns the entrance. Eclectic curios dot the room. On a recent evening, soft jazz piped through the speakers.

The bookstore is like a shimmering mirage from another era.

“It’s like a treasure chest of books,” said Tina Li, a Brooklyn native who was browsing the store.

Owner Ramon Caraballo, who is originally from Cuba, opened the store in 2003, after years working as a street bookseller in Manhattan. His books are mainly donated or secondhand, and encompass genres as varied as religion, children’s titles, and romance.

Though about 2.4 million Hispanics live in the city, Spanish-language bookstores are disappearing. Librería Lectorum and Librería Macondo, two of the largest remaining establishments on Manhattan’s 14th Street, shuttered in 2007. Casa Azul, another popular, independent bilingual bookstore, closed in 2015 and moved its operations online.

Caraballo is holding his own with Barco de Papel, which isn’t only a bookstore. “I’m emphasizing its role as a cultural center more and more,” he said. To that end, he hosts events for Queens’ Spanish-speaking community in the little space, including readings and open mic nights by local authors, literary classes, and even folkloric performances by South American musicians.

“I want to spread the rich traditions and cultures of Latinos to others in the city,” said Caraballo.

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