All photos by Priscilla Gaona
Hinting to Kalima DeSuze’s Panamanian roots, Café con Libros, the feminist bookstore and coffee shop, references a longstanding tradition in Latino culture, where coffee is a common denominator and discourse is an after-effect. It sits next to a restaurant on tree-lined Prospect Place in Crown Heights, close to where DeSuze grew up, and opened its doors in December 2017 amid doubts that a bookstore identifying itself as feminist could thrive.
“Implicitly or explicitly, most of our spaces are male-dominated and [Café con Libros] has to be, if I have any control, about women—and girls—identified folks,” she tells me by phone.
Café Con Libros is a space where Afro-Latinx identities are represented harmoniously—not as dissonant identities that cannot be embodied in one. As an Afro-Latina, DeSuze represents an intersection where many of us live: Black race and Latina ethnicity, and often, we bridge the two communities, whether it is a chosen responsibility or not. “In terms of my identity, and my empowerment, it comes from Black feminism. My spirit comes from my ethnicity as a Panamanian.”
DeSuze is a social worker at the Silberman School of Social Work at the City University of New York. She is also an activist and a self-identified black feminist who likes to write. Café Con Libros is a reflection of those interests and represents what DeSuze realized was missing from the conversation for women like her.
“I think that one of the things that I am very, very, very conscious of is the lack or the scarcity of Afro-Latina voices in larger storytelling,” she says. “Who is our James Baldwin? Who is our Toni Morrison? In terms of the Latino community, we always talk about Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga—those are unapologetically feminist Latinx women—however, there is a gap in the pushing of narratives.”
For DeSuze, empowering those narratives means creating a supportive community. “bell hooks taught me that in order to do this work, we need to find a community of love and accountability, [a] community of resistance, and I did that from day one,” she says.
Café Con Libros challenges the mainstream with a safe space open for families that can thrive with feminism at its core. It is a space that lends itself as a platform for both powerful and for overlooked writers—AfroLatinas and other women of color—and for community dialogue.
Amanda Alcantara is writer and journalist. She is co-founder of La Galería Magazine and author of the blog Radical Latina. Her storytelling is centered around themes of Caribbean womanhood, from a socio-cultural and political perspective.