Local independent bookstore unites a community through cultural exchange

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Resistencia Bookstore, located on East Cesar Chavez Street, operates as a library and community space for Chicanx, American Indian and Latinx literature and writing. The bookstore holds writing workshops and open mike nights to build a 'safe space' for budding Austin writers to grow.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

In the digital era, bookstores are dying off. 

But Resistencia is not your typical bookstore. One of the longest-running Chicanx, Latinx and indigenous-centered book stores in the world, Resistencia is a communal center created to take an initiative on displaying the richness of culture that went into its opening in 1983. By creating a community space that welcomes discussions across generations and cultures, Resistencia has found success in East Austin against the threat of digital competitors due to strong community support. 

Resistencia was founded in 1983 by Raul R. Salinas, a famous Chicano poet and social justice advocate who wanted to create a bookshop representative of the El Movimiento literature of the 1960s. Lilia Rosas, an adjunct professor of arts and humanities at St. Edward’s University, works at Resistencia and has been involved in its day-to-day operations since Salinas passed away in 2004. She intends to continue Salinas’ mission to maintain a cultural arts organization that emphasized a Chicanx and Latinx-centered celebration of literary traditions.

“(Salinas) created this store with the understanding that we would have books but that we could do so much more,” Rosas said. “Understanding that as Mexican-Americans or (people of Mexican origin) that, in fact, we have a rich tradition of literature that is our own, and (Salinas) understood that in order to kind of see the works that represented who you are, you had to do it yourself.”

One of the main ways Resistencia avoids the fates of other bookstores is through collaborations. Rebecca Torres, a geography associate professor at UT, encourages her students to use Resistencia as a resource to help contribute to their mission of cultural exchange through literature and speech. 

“I want my students to become familiar with this resource that we have in town, while it is beyond a bookstore,” Torres said. “It serves as a community meeting center, a center for activism and a center for promoting art.”

Torres said she’s eager to expose her students in her Latinx migration narratives class to everything that Resistencia has to offer. Each month, they host community events which feature writers and artists. Torres wants students to take advantage of these events, considering such events are what separates Resistencia from its digital competitors. 

“This semester, I happen to have a lot of Latinx students in the class,” Torres said. “So I think this is going to be a great opportunity for them to connect with a community resource while also gaining exposure, considering (that the bookstore has) a lot of writers, speakers and community events.”

International relations sophomore Rebecca Regueira believes it is important for students to find an outlet in local, independent bookstores to support the local economy. As a Cuban-American, Regueira said bookstores such as Resistencia provide her with an outlet where she feels a strong presence of community, which is ultimately what separates Resistencia from
digital platforms.  

“I understand the faults of capitalism and how we, as educated consumers, need to support local businesses,” Regueira said. “So for me, it is that much more important as someone in the Latinx community to support another Latinx-owned and -operated community center.”

Rosas said both Resistencia and the Latinx community as a whole are happy to receive students in order to help build intergenerational conversations and collaboration across all ages. 

Since Rosas became a part of running Resistencia following Salinas’ death in 2004, she has aspired to run a bookstore that would appeal to spirited people. She wants to build off of Salinas vision by allowing Resistencia to be a place anyone can use as an outlet for their artistry.

“Each day, I am very mindful, grateful and respectful for (the fact) that this is not just a career but a path about what spaces hopefully should look like,” Rosas said.