Libélula Books & Co. creates a safe space for literacy and arts education | People

Early one morning last May, Celi Hernandez and Jesi Gutierrez stood in the space they had just rented for Libélula Books & Co. With a pen and a piece of cardboard, Gutierrez sketched out his vision for the north and southwest walls of their Barrio Logan bookstore: floor-to-ceiling shelves that the couple would eventually design and build themselves.

“We brought it to life from a sketch,” says Hernandez. A few days later, they drove from Mexico to San Francisco, making stops to collect lightly used books from friends and family to sell alongside new books, vintage items and the personal collection of Gutierrez when the store opened in June 2021. What they curated showcases a range of intersectional voices and stories. In this setting, Libélula Books & Co. flourished as a community meeting place and a center for literacy and arts education.

“The representation of books is the highlight of our space,” says Gutierrez, an arts integration educator and queer Latinx artist whose pronouns are they/them. Central to their and Hernandez’s plan is to uplift authors and artists who are women or women, of color, and/or LGBTQ. “I really believe that space, just like human beings, has an identity. If we call it out and acknowledge it, it creates an open door for all who line up to enter.

Opening a bookstore was a longtime dream for Gutierrez; they have a degree in book design and once worked at the defunct Upstart Crow Bookstore in Seaport Village. Hernandez even says that Gutierrez’s mother describes them as someone born with a book in her hand. The couple shared their idea with their family and with their support, especially that of Gutierrez’s older sister, they set to work.

“We wanted this shop to be influenced by our passions, which are obviously books and art, but also the logistics where we’ve been, especially growing up Chicana,” Hernandez says.

The couple called the store Libélula (Spanish for “dragonfly”) to connect with their ancestors. Gutierrez grew up hearing their grandmother talk about turix, the Yucatec Mayan word for dragonfly.

“She used to say that if you see one, it means the world is open to you; your dreams are available,” Gutierrez says. The two also chose the term because of its basic meaning. “Libélula means ‘impossible creature’. We are an impossible creature.

Libelula Books - interior

The store’s Instagram profile describes it as “belonging to a felonist” because, as a young adult, Hernandez was accused of aiding and abetting in a relationship with a substance that has since become legal. Gutierrez experienced homelessness growing up and has parents who spent time in prison.

As the two continue to overcome the obstacles associated with those experiences, Hernandez maintains a thriving career in the specialty coffee industry, Gutierrez is an educator with multiple degrees, and together they own a business.

Since opening last summer, Libélula has hosted author projectors, children’s book readings, youth workshops and tutoring services. This year, they hope to launch a paid internship, offer arts programming that supports incarcerated youth and adults, and organize drag and queer reading events. It is a place of rest and education, for today’s community as well as for the youngest owners. “It’s super healing for little Jesi to be the space validator,” Gutierrez says. “I always talk about little Jesi because, every day, I try to show myself for them.”

Hernandez adds, “Because wouldn’t it have been special to see people like us back then?”

950 South 26th Street, Logan Ward

About Marcia G. Hussain

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