Estelita’s Library is not a coffee shop. But it used to be.
The Station previously occupied this space at 2533 16th Ave. S. The caffeinated watering hole for the city’s artists, activists and community organizers moved, opening up the spot for a new operation that provides books and community.
One recent evening at the library, curator Edwin Lindo prepared fried plátanos where people used to order their coffee. A group arrives for “It Will Be Loud,” an open mic held on Wednesdays at Estelita’s. The close quarters and smell of cooking bananas nurture a sense of intimacy.
The titles of books on the walls are familiar, radical, philosophical, historical: the essays of W.E.B. Du Bois, the poetry of Alice Walker, the history of Emiliano Zapata. This library, which began as Lindo’s personal collection, is ever-expanding. Its members can take home a Marvel comic or The Autobiography of Malcolm X, or read a large collection of newspapers distributed by the Black Panther Party.
The library itself is a hidden gem tucked behind Beacon Avenue South.
When Estelita’s opened in May 2018, Lindo named it after his infant daughter, who is of Afro-Latinx ancestry. Fitting, for an ethnically diverse neighborhood currently resisting Seattle’s gentrification.
The new library is a stone’s throw from the large, mixed-income apartment structures of Plaza Roberto Maestas, and the cultural preservation programs of El Centro de la Raza community center. The entire city block is a hub of low-income housing and multi-use gathering spaces, creating an incubator for thriving communities of color. Many businesses in the immediate area are owned by first-generation Americans (The Station, Tacos Chukis), and the positive residential and economic effects are only amplified by Beacon Hill light rail station connecting this community to a fast, reliable form of transit.
For the open mic, fewer than 10 people gather to share their poems and stories and all kinds of other pieces of themselves. Discussions, disagreements and difficult conversations all wind their way between each artists’ contribution, and yet the room is never tense. The space is meant for dialogue. It’s safe. There is no expectation to buy a beverage or baked good or anything at all. Someone discusses their relationships to their ancestors through song. Another shares writing about the struggles of a hunger strike.
Eight months since opening and the library has more than 300 active members and has raised almost $13,000 in a three-day online fundraiser at the end of November.
Like most libraries, Estelita’s runs on an economic model of “just trying to keep the door open” Lindo says. And in a time when Seattle is growing almost faster than it can fill its new towers, a space to sit and read feels revolutionary.
This model of decentralized knowledge exchanges the thought of a library as a “knowledge bank” for a more holistic view of information exchange. This is Decolonization. It means practicing storytelling as a form of preservation. It means practicing sacred ceremony like meals, prayer, song, and the burning of grasses to cleanse the spirit. It means sharing oral history and removing profit from the equation of how to access information. It resolves to remove capital from the equation and inspires liberation by placing importance on community, empathy and ancestral story. All this work requires a special place. A safe place. Where marginalized people are empowered free to speak freely.
Estelita’s offers the city’s antisocial socialites a place to be still with their thoughts, a humble place to share space.