Thirty year-old Libreria Azteca is the last bookstore in L.A. that sells only Spanish language books. The Spanish language book is dead! This weekend, just a few miles away from the bookstore's Vermont Avenue and Adams Boulevard tired, old storefront, scores of publishers of Spanish language books set up temporary shop at the L.A. convention center to throngs of buyers and the curiosos. Long live the Spanish language book!
Walk into Libreria Azteca and it feels like the past. A rememberanza of the books from the old country. At the LeaLA Spanish language book fair the past, present and future bit at your heels in Spanish. Lots of people on Sunday afternoon made the 17,000 square foot exhibit hall feel too small.
There was Anabel Hernandez, with a translucent scarf tightening around her neck, sitting down for an interview and signing books. Los Señores del Narco, her doorstop-sized non-fiction book about the nexus between Mexico's drug lords and Mexico's top business and banking lords has made her Mexico's Seymour Hersch.
A couple of booths down is former Miss Universe Barbara Palacios lording over the less tall and beautiful while graciously talking up her new beauty book.
A book from Ediciones Era called me like that newspaper ad in Carlos Fuentes's book Aura. I'd read photocopied pages of Los Dias Enmascarados, his first short story collection, for Max Parra's Mexican Literature class 20 years ago. A few months ago I went mad looking for the book's reference to the last days in the Aztec calendar. The anecdote earned me a smile and pat on the back from the stall's cashier as I bought the book.
There's Fran Ilich's new roman a clef, Circa 94, about -- paraphrasing the back cover -- a precocious border kid who spends time in coffee-shops, freeways, downtowns, and discovers what it is to be a pocho on the wrong side of the border. Gotta get it, got gotta get it. Illich threw down guerrilla poetry with us taco shop poets in 1994 at a Market Street taqueria in San Diego and at the bustling Tacos El Gordo in Tijuana.
Books about public administration, kid's books, novels and self help beckoned. At one stall Marta Vega eyed, held, and put back a $30 dictionary published by Spain's Royal Academy of Language. It's nice, she said, but this one is even better pointing to a two-tome edition costing three times as much. She's a Salvadoran immigrant who lives near downtown L.A. and cleans houses for a living. She'd already bought a few books. The first was a history of the Mayans, even though I'm not Mexican I want my family to learn about the Mayans, she said. Her second purchase was a novella-sized book with a dark cover: Una Breve Historia de la Ansiedad, because I suffer from anxiety, she told me.
Librarians talk about how Spanish speaking readers gravitate toward the three "s" books: sueño, salud, sexo. Sleep, health, sex.
The place was filled with Spanish speaking adults ferrying English dominant kids; there were plenty of bilingual adults, too. A dad frustrated at a long line for a "confessions of a Mexican hit-man" book told his lady, "We'll just get it online."
Roberto Islas's nine year-old son told me of his love for the Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. The family lives in Bell. Roberto's the youngest of eight kids from Guadalajara. My mother had no time to read to us, he said. Do you read to your kids, I asked. No, my wife does, he answered. He knew going to the book fair was the right thing to do but he had that husband-waiting-for-his-wife-in-the-Nordstrom-ladies-shoe-section look on his face.
The big publishers have their eye on how well LeaLA does. That's what Jim Milliot, director at Publisher's Weekly told me by phone. Milliot knows the dynamic of families like that of Roberto Islas and how that translates into Spanish language book purchasing. It hardly does, he said. The big U.S. publishers have their own problems on the English language publishing side, their focus on Spanish language books has been in fits and starts. Vintage Español is a recent effort. Milliot, said book buying is done mostly by college educated people. He questions how much Spanish speakers want to read in Spanish. The second generation should, but for the most part, it doesn't.
Raul Padilla Lopez strolled very happy down LeaLA's aisles in his tailored suit and showy shirt, no tie. He's the well-connected former dean of the University of Guadalajara who as the president of that university's foundation oversaw this first excursion into the U.S. book fair world. He's also president of the much, much larger Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara. LeaLA's cost about $1.2 million to organize. Vendor fees didn't quite cover the cost, but they will, he said. Turnout exceeded his expectations and that will mean a larger space at the L.A. Convention Center for next year's LeaLA book fair. Plenty of booths promoted the University of Guadalajara, the state's tourism, and in the fair's conferences writers of the Guadalajara region got top billing.
Padilla Lopez disagrees with Milliot's doubts about the future of the Spanish language book in the U.S. He said he had similar doubts about Spanish language television in the U.S. years ago, and look at it now.
Padilla Lopez is counting on people like Librado Peña to keep coming. I ran into Peña and his 9 year-old daughter as they were taking a break from power book-fairing. She won second place at her elementary school reading contest, he said. Librado doesn't hate books, he just doesn't read much. He drove from Sylmar to the LA Convention Center for his daughter. She doesn't really read in Spanish, he said, they haven't taught her but they want to. Valerie's 82 year-old grandmother inspired her love of books.
"Estoy en mi mundo." This is my world, Librado said, about being surrounded by books in Spanish, and by all things Mexican and of Guadalajara.
Which brings me to the end. Organizers had placed several dry-erase type boards around pillars at the exhibit hall entrance so that people could put their name tags or write something in marker. Of the hundreds of placazos, names, and profanities, this one stood out: "REMEMBREMOS." You don't hear this usage of "to remember" often in Spanish. Remebranza is a common word, meaning a recollection, a memory. It's more common to hear the word recordar, to communicate the action of remembering. But remembremos says so much in this context, it could be the pocho cousin to the English word, to remember, and it is a call to action. Did the writer mean, remember the language, remember the culture, remember what we've lived. All inspired by the books? It's an ideal command after the first Mexican-organized Spanish language book fair in L.A.