Librería Donceles, A Brilliant and Uplifting Installation at Urbano Project

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for anyone, let alone for this blog. I intended to publish shortly after the election of Donald Trump, but felt that no post—regardless of how good I felt about it—was worthy of being published. It goes without saying that the times we’re currently living in, are dark and terrifying. The anti-immigrant, white-nationalist rhetoric that launched the political career of Donald Trump has exposed many ugly truths about our society. While many of us continue to be in shock following the events of November 8, many more are determined to continue fighting for equal rights, liberty and justice for all.

It’s fitting that the first post of 2017 on The Evolving Critic is about Librería Donceles—an installation by Pablo Helguera currently on view at The Urbano Project in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

Practicing within the realm of performance, visual art, community outreach and social activism, Mr. Helguera conceived Librería Donceles as a socially engaging, part-functioning used bookstore and part-installation that aims at fostering a greater sense of community and cultural understanding in Boston. It also simultaneously exposes the social and economic inequalities that continue to plague Spanish-speaking, tax-paying New Americans in the United States.

The installation—brilliant and uplifting in so many ways—comprises of more than 10,000 used books in Spanish in all subjects, from the arts to travel and everything in between. Titled after Calle Donceles, a street in the historic quarters of Mexico City, Librería Donceles has been—until April 22nd—the only Spanish language bookstore in the City of Boston and the only I’ve ever been to in the United States.

Pablo Helguera performes at Libreria Donceles opening night at Project Urbano

Pablo Helguera performes at Libreria Donceles opening night at Project Urbano. Photo Courtesy of the Urbano Project.

Begun in 2013 in Brooklyn, New York, the project has gone through several iterations and has been installed in Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Indianapolis and finally, Boston. Those who visit the installation have access to all the books and events associated with it, regardless of income or socio-economic status. Those who wish to make a purchase are asked to limit it to one book per visit and donate what they wish for it. The funds collected through the sale of books will go towards Urbano’s arts education and social justice programs, something everyone should stand behind.

To further drive the point that bookstores are the pillars of communities, one of the most important components of Librería Donceles are its salon-like gatherings that bring members of the community together around conversations and workshops that foster and encourage social activism and tolerance. These community gatherings are what make this installation by Mr. Helguera one of the most powerful I’ve experienced in recent memory.

On the day I visited Librería Donceles, an intimate group of people gathered to hear poet and Wellesley College professor Majorie Agosín and her colleague Chris Mollica discuss among many things, the role poetry plays in our lives and the importance of listening to one another.

Librería Donceles reminds us all that celebrating our diversity and humanity, matters now more than ever in these uncertain times. Rather than focusing on building walls and closing our minds, we should focus on engaging and celebrating the many ways that make each and every one of us, human.

Libreria Donceles Helguera

Photo Courtesy: The Urbano Project


Libreria Donceles. Photo Courtesy: The Urbano Project.

Urbano is open Monday through Friday 1-6pm; Saturday 10am-2pm or by appointment. 29 Germania Street, Jamaica Plain, MA, 02130.