Listen: Origin Story – Estelita’s Library
The books in Estelita’s Library are not organized by author’s last name, genres, or by any other particular system. “For us the structure is very simple,” says Estelita’s founder and curator, Edwin Lindo. “The door tells you what section of the bookstore this is. It’s Estelita’s Social Justice Library.” The library is located in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.
The absence of defined sections plays into Estelita’s mission: giving the community a space to come together and expand horizons through culture and conversation. Inspired by similar spaces in Edwin’s childhood growing up in San Franscisco’s Mission District, and named after Edwin and his partner Estell’s first born, Estelita’s Library reactivated the space carrying its legacy as a place for community to speak openly about politics, history and the neighborhood. Since May, the books on the shelves have served as centerpieces and conversation starters. Edwin spoke about the importance of community space to host events, have open dialogue or just sit quietly and read. Guests can buy wine or other refreshments and books are available to borrow or purchase, but you don’t have to be a paying customer to come in and enjoy the space and read for as long as you’d like.
Many of the titles in Estelita’s came from Edwin’s personal collection; the rest were donated by community members. Edwin stresses the importance of bookstores and literary spaces for the Black Panthers and grassroots organizations throughout the 60s and 70s. Having access to these books, and a community space in which to read them, allows people to build relationships and learn from each other. “I love sitting in that chair in the corner reading a book and hearing the six different conversations happening. And being able to see those conversations getting larger, and they start integrating with each other, and all of a sudden there’s one conversation.”
Edwin watches people find the words to describe their own feelings and experiences in books at Estelita’s. “That’s what I believe books are…We get to tap into language that helps us describe our conditions, our analysis, and the way that we want to thrive.”
Edwin gives a special shoutout to Leona and Luis Rodriguez at The Station for saying yes without hesitation. After graduating from the University of Washington School of Law in 2012, Edwin didn’t feel completely at home in Seattle until he and his wife stopped by The Station. It was then that he fell in love with Beacon Hill. “When I moved back a few years ago, we went to The Station. And I went, ‘Oh! This is the neighborhood I’ve been looking for.’”
The space that houses Estelita’s Library was The Station’s original home, right across the street from the coffee shop’s new location. Luis was running a wine bar out of the old shop, and Edwin asked if he could open a social justice-focused library there too. “Luis gave me the key, and next day there’s shelves on the wall. He was like, ‘Oh, you’re serious!’” Edwin laughs. “I was like, ‘Dead serious.’”
Since opening in May, Estelita’s has gained over 300 members and circulated over 1,500 books. The space is home to movie nights, New Orleans style Po’ Boy pop-ups, Salsa and Sangria events, and any other events that community members want to host there. “I’m a curator, we curated this space, but the community makes this place. They decide how it works, they decide how it operates. They want to run an event, they can run an event.”
“There’s something powerful for community, for myself, to be able to say, ‘We have a space.’ Unconditional space. No strings attached,” he says. When Edwin says the space is community-run, he means it. People can take books as they please without worrying about late fees, and if Edwin needs to leave Estelita’s early or can’t be there when it opens, he trusts others to open or close up shop for him.
You can expect to see much more from Estelita’s Library this year, thanks in part to the first-ever Tiny Cultural Space design and construction project from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, which will allow Estelita’s to add a new location in the Central District. In addition to the new location, Edwin hopes that Estelita’s membership will grow to 1,000 people and plans to make his catalog accessible online. Edwin is also in conversation with LEMS Life Enrichment Bookstore to see how the two businesses can support one another, “because LEMS deserves to live indefinitely, and continue to be the oldest black-owned bookstore on the West Coast.”
If you’re thinking of opening your own small business, Edwin’s first piece of advice is to not be in it for the money. He points out the irony that he opened a bookstore in 2018, as physical book sales continue to decline. “It’s not a money maker. So I guess the next thing I would say is, be in community. Don’t try to do it alone. That’s really the only way this place operates. We are absolutely community-centered, and that keeps us going.”
You can find Estelita’s Library at 2533 16th Ave S (right by the Beacon Hill light rail station and El Centro de la Raza). If you come in looking for a particular title, Edwin can help you find it. “Spend enough time in here, you know where the books are.”