A spot devoted to Afro-Latinx writers opened its doors last December in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Café con Libros, or “Coffee with Books,” is a bookstore and café located on Prospect Place (Nostrand and Rogers Avenues) that seeks to preserve the Afro-Caribbean heritage of its quickly gentrifying neighborhood.
Its owner Kalima DeSuze was born just eight minutes away from the bookstore. As the daughter of Panamanian immigrants, DeSuze always saw herself as a Latina, but found herself increasingly connected to her blackness when she read magazines like Ebony and Essence. “At a young age, it meant something, but it resonates now more than it did then because I was too young to fully understand what they were saying,” she says. It wasn’t until high school, when she discovered the author Toni Morrison, that she began to fully embrace her blackness. “It began to shape my identity as a black woman with Panamanian roots,” DeSuze remembers.
Fast forward to 2017. DeSuze founded and owns Cafe con Libros, where she hopes to bring more visibility to authors that look, live and think like her. “Afro-Latino is already a very invisible identity,” she says. “So I want to find and heighten the Afro-Latinx equivalents of big writers like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.”
DeSuze calls herself a passionate bibliophile. “When I found out that was even a thing, I was so excited to call myself that,” she says. The Crown Heights-born entrepreneur says that she always imagined herself owning a bookstore. But, given that companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have overpowered small bookstores, she hit pause on her dream, until she finally drummed up the confidence in December.
Now, DeSuze finds herself changing her life to accommodate two new babies, a bookstore and an forthcoming child. “I’m now trying to get my life together before all of this comes at once,” she says. DeSuze is currently moving back to Crown Heights, Brooklyn from Manhattan to be closer to her family and her three-month-old cafe.
She hopes that by devoting herself to an Afro-Latinx bookstore she can bring awareness to the gentrification her neighborhood is battling. “I know a bookstore can be part of the problem,” she says. “But I want to be open to the Afro descendant community here. This is our history on these shelves.”