"Are you sure this is Black owned? The store name is Spanish."
"Why would a Black person name their business Cafe con Libros?
What does that even mean?"
"Wow, this place is nice. Your wife must be white."
These are literal quotes from folx my husband and I have interacted with. I literally listened as a book group debated for 10 minutes if they were in the right place. I watched as they all pulled up the group text to verify the address. And when it was finally confirmed, someone wondered out loud "why would a Black person name their business Cafe con Libros? What does that even mean?" Imagine the look of mass confusion then shock when one of the members realized they were looking at the same face in the article they we reading - obviously for the first time.
For the past three years, for some, I've been all things except who I really am. I have been Black with no mention of my Latinx ethnicity. I have been white. And when I assert my true identity as I see it, I have been anti-Black.
Fam, none of this is surprising to me. I live in the shadows of my Mom and Tia who have countless stories of standing in elevators as lighter skinned Latinx womxn talked about them in Spanish. They would patiently wait for the right time to enter the conversation, then respond in Spanish - Colón style. My mom and Tia would laugh as they describe the range of emotions that spread across those womxn faces: shock, embarrassment, whatever the look is of being fully gathered on what they once thought was their own turf.
My dad; an Army Veteran, always recounts walking through the bays lined with Latinx men who called him "negativo" until he opened his mouth. He would then be welcomed into their tribe, nicknamed "Panama" and later referred to as "Primo."
As Afro-Latinx, we have always lived in the grips of racial animus. We are familiar with being made invisible by the very people who, if the branches were parted on their entire family tree, would have cousins, grandmas and uncles who look just like us. And now, in the American context, where Black is strictly defined and limited to one persuasion: American Southern Black, we find ourselves on different yet, strangely neighborly land.
So, as we welcome 2021, 30k followers on Instagram and 6k subscribers to the website, I'm feeling a bit Jay-Zish..."allow me to reintroduce myself." My name is Kalima DeSuze. I am the owner of Cafe con Libros, an Intersectional Feminist Bookstore and Coffee Shop in Brooklyn. I am the daughter of immigrants from Colón, República de Panamá. I am the mother of an Afro-Latinx-Caribbean 2.5 year old human, Kaleb Emiliano. The wife of a Jamaican immigrant, Ryan. A United States Army Veteran. Proud social worker = social change maker. Political Identity: Black Feminist who happens to vote Democrat. I am a lover of words with an unabashed predilection toward Black Feminist stories first and foremost -followed by all stories by womxn across the globe.
Cafe con Libros; Coffee with Books, is an ode to my culture. It is an intentional play on words: Cafe con Leche; Coffee with Milk. Choosing "Cafe con Libros" as the namesake of my first child, is one of many ways that I am choosing to lay claim to my identity as I see, live and breathe it. It is also a reminder that neither books or coffee are the province of the privileged; many cultures around the world have deep roots in the coffee industry including Latinx countries. And for the record folx, me representing these truths is not anti-Black.
Fam, it has been a great source of pain to continuously straddle two worlds. And to be honest, it has been emotionally taxing to always fight to be seen and regarded as unconditionally Black and not self-hating as I represent my full racial and ethnic identity. I am Afro-Latinx; I am a Black Latinx womxn. Naming my Latinx ethnicity does not make me anti-Black - it makes me intersectional, layered and a descendant of slaves dropped off in the Caribbean by way of Jamaica (maternal/paternal great-grandmother), Barbados (maternal great-grandfather) who then traveled to Panama for economic opportunities.
Black folx can be Latinx. We can and do speak Spanish. We can and do speak French. There is no pure way of being Black. It is worth repeating again: slaves were not only dropped off in North America. Our ancestors were enslaved in just about every country in the Caribbean and South America. We will never just be Black; it's reductive and violent to erase whole parts of who we are or to actively exclude us.
Fam, I am neither ignorant or blind. I know the root of the tensions in our community. As I work to rightfully stand in my truth as Afro-Latinx thereby inserting truth into the very whitewashed Latinx scene, I also hold in my heart the way some of my Afro-Latinx and Afro-Caribbean fictive kin have used their ethnicity as a way of distancing. This too, I recognize, is painful. I have struggled with how to not show up that way or have anyone feel rejected because I am choosing to identify as Afro-Latinx. Blackness and femaleness have been the most defining aspects of my life experience; it is the lens from which the world acts upon me. So, I wear those identities proudly and with the respect they deserve. Fam, I should not, implicitly or explicitly, be made to choose. Punto.
This division is especially punctuated in the rising "Black Owned" culture where, in my opinion, folx are seeking to give and receive a particular performance of Blackness. Rightfully. What I wish to see is a complication of that performance; a recognition that our beloved Audre Lorde, Shirley Chisolm, Edwidge Danticat and Jamaica Kincaid are all Afro-Caribbean. It's reductive and erasure not to do so. And, it's really the "master's tools."
A singular performance of Blackness will never be me; I simply do not believe now or ever that there is one way of being Black. Truthfully, I do not have the luxury of doing so. Across my social media page, in my podcast feed, through my internal running dialogue, will always be an intersectional lens, a curiosity of womxn who do not look like me yet, have similar stories and a deep, piercing desire to ensure whatever I do in this lifetime, it will be to make the invisible, visible.
So, that is what's with the name: Cafe con Libros. It is an ode to my culture and parts of me that are unseen.
always, - kqd.