I was seventeen years old when my parents first brought me to Libreria Martinez in Santa Ana. My mother had read about the Latino owned and themed bookstore in a local newspaper and we decided to check it out as a family one weekend day. When we arrived to the store, my mother was concerned, because once there, I wanted to buy politically charged books such as Armando Rendon’s “Chicano Manifesto.” She feared that I might emulate my brother’s activist life or pursue a humanities degree in college, but as long as I displayed an interest in learning and knowledge, my parents would always buy me any books I wanted, even if begrudgingly at times!
On that first day at Libreria Martinez, I didn’t solely encounter books that inspired great interest in me. I also met the man who was realizing his dream of advocating for Raza literacy. When I first met Rueben Martinez, the barber-turned-bookseller’s passion for literature and his community became instantaneously known. He always greeted his customers with a smile, and so from that day on, my family gave him the placa “Smiley.” Also from that day on, I knew I had a place to visit and read literature that I couldn’t find anywhere else. That’s why I found it so disheartening when I first learned that in the very short future, I may no longer be able to have that privilege…
My heart sank in my chest when I read that Libreria Martinez’s days may be numbered. I just can’t imagine a Santa Ana without that bookstore. I wouldn’t want to visit a Santa Ana without Libreria Martinez. That bookstore is the reason I first started going to that damn city in the first place! (And now I can’t get out!) After the initial shock, my first thoughts upon hearing the news were as to what I personally could do about the situation. Rising rents and economically strapped people locked in a recession are spelling doom left and right for small businesses, but I knew I had to let as many people as possible know about the situation. I called Smiley and asked if he could come on Uprising to inform our listeners about the prospects for the bookstore’s future. He agreed and the very next morning, with his trademark charismatic tone, Smiley told the audience that he was not giving up the faith!
The supportive response of community members coupled with Smiley’s unfettered belief gives me a good feeling about the chances of not having to close the doors of the libreria forever. However, with the economy being what it is right now and with the corporatization of the book industry, significant challenges lay ahead in avoiding that unfortunate outcome. The first thing to do is to patronize the bookstore. Libreria Martinez is selling some of its books at a 40% discounted rate to encourage a cash flow. If you have ends, any ends, please head over this weekend and buy those books you may have seen, but have waited on. That’s exactly what I’ll be doing! For months, I’ve always eyed books like Sandra Cisneros’ “Loose Woman,” and Peter Winn’s “Americas,” and now I have absolutely no excuse not to pick them up! (And if you’ve never been to the bookstore, now is about as good of a time as any to start! Tell them Gabriel San Roman sent you!)
Realistically, I know that this isn’t the sole way out of the situation. Another avenue, such as community fund raising, is necessary for morale and cash boosting, but in the end, even that won’t be enough. One place that holds tremendous promise to save the day is the public sector. Orange County and Los Angeles school districts with substantial budgets need culturally relevant literature and there’s no better place for them to be supplied than Libreria Martinez. I’m sure there has to be some contractual agreement waiting out there somewhere. In the end, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I hope some combination of support can ensure that our bookstore stays around for perhaps as long as the one-hundred year old barbershop chair that sits in Rueben Martinez’s office!
Todos a Leer!