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Resistencia Bookstore: A historical haven for the oppressed and the go-to place for rare texts

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Resistencia Bookstore's unmistakable sign. Photo by Gabino Iglesias
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A view of the bookstore. Photo by Gabino Iglesias
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Part of the Chicano section. Photo by Gabino Iglesias
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One of many Raul R. Salinas pictures at the store. Photo by Gabino Iglesias
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The mural on the outside wall of the store. Photo by Gabino Iglesias
Austin Photo Set: News_gabino_resistencia bookstore_may 2012_2
Austin Photo Set: News_gabino_resistencia bookstore_may 2012_4
Austin Photo Set: News_gabino_resistencia bookstore_may 2012_1
Austin Photo Set: News_gabino_resistencia bookstore_may 2012_5
Austin Photo Set: News_gabino_resistencia bookstore_may 2012_3

Raúl R. Salinas was born in San Antonio and grew up in East Austin. He passed away in 2008, but what he did with his life still stands today, both literally and figuratively.

Salinas is lauded as one of the most important Chicano poets of his generation and is recognized as a dissident voice who always fought for two things: resistencia and social justice.

His fights for equality and a passionate defense of human rights has landed him in some of the most brutal prisons in the country. Fresh out of prison in Seattle in 1972, Salinas encountered something that would stick with him forever: the bookstore at the Centro de la Raza.

A few years after the idea of creating a space for literature, freedom and intellectual discussion was planted in Salinas' mind, he moved back to Austin. It was 1981 and Salinas set out to open a small storefront shop in the neighborhood where he had grown up. Poetry readings followed and a community grew around the bookstore. Today, what Salinas built is still with us.

Resistencia Bookstore is the go-to place for Chicano literature, poetry readings and revolutionary, social justice and human rights texts. It is also a space where intellectual exchanges are encouraged and where finding the right book is a way of life.

"When Salinas came to Austin, he found himself surround by important movements," said Lilia Rosas, who works with Resistencia Bookstore and Red Salmon Arts, the Native American/Chicano based cultural arts organization housed inside the bookstore.

 "The idea behind Resistencia is, if you don't see yourself reflected in the bookshelves, make it happen, build a space for what you think should be available." - Lilia Rosas

"There was the student movement, the gay movement, the women's rights movement and many others. There was also a strong spirit of do-it-yourself at the time, and that's in part responsible for the creation of this space. The idea behind Resistencia is, if you don't see yourself reflected in the bookshelves, make it happen, build a space for what you think should be available." 

The bookstore has two decades of history in Austin and has managed to remain significant despite the demise of larger bookstores, a financial crisis, the growing popularity of digital books among readers and the diminishing interest in reading by younger generations. According to Rosas, spaces of debate, conversation and support are as important now as they were back in the 1960s.

"There is a need for spaces where you can get this kind of literature," said Rosas. "Take an author like Sandra Cisneros, a mujer who's published by Random House. It's great to have someone like her, but it's not the norm. When you realize that some voices are not receiving the same attention or don't have as big a presence, it becomes even more relevant to have a place for Chicano and Chicana literature, a place that is also for African American literature, for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender literature, for Native American literature."

Given Austin's status as a liberal, multi-ethnic city, it makes sense that Resistencia is as active now as it ever was. With poetry readings, film screenings, dance classes and relationships with Austin Community College, the University of Texas at Austin and St. Edwards University, the bookstore is an integral part of Austin's academic and culture and arts scenes.

At the heart of all that local activity is a desire to let people know their doors are always open.

"We have a lot of Chicano literature here, but that doesn't mean we're exclusive," said Rosas.

 "This place is a haven, a sanctuary for anyone who has experienced oppression. . .Come right in, we're not going to question you, we're not going to card you." - Rosas

"We welcome anyone whose perspective includes social justice, anyone who suffers or has suffered from the multitude of oppressions we still face today. This place is a haven, a sanctuary for anyone who has experienced oppression. It's called Resistencia for a reason. Come right in, we're not going to question you, we're not going to card you."

Besides being a refuge for nonconformist voices and continually supporting social causes, the bookstore has also managed to adapt to the ever-changing needs of younger generations.

"We know we're living in a multimedia age," said Rosas. "We try to adapt, so one of the things we're doing now is showing films. Austin's population is ongoing, always changing. There are a lot of stories out there that we want to share with them, and one of the ways we now do that is with films. Films are a great way to get people thinking about issues, thinking about the what they should be reading. People used to be illiterate, now they're mostly alliterate."

Resistencia's role as an educator goes beyond getting people to read. The bookstore has forged a reputation for having books that are hard to find and for their ability to track down tomes they don't carry or are simply out of print. This skill and their constant disposition have made the store an invaluable asset to the academic community.

"It's become a repository of hard-to-find books," said Rosas. "We have this special connection with presses and publishers that allows us to find what people are looking for. If it's absolutely impossible to find, we will always find something equivalent. People might not want to read what we find, but we do our research and always tell them: 'Trust me and check this out.' If what they're looking for is not here but is something they might be able to find in another niche bookstore, we also tell them to go to MonkeyWrench or BookWoman."

Rosas also shared that one of the best things about working at Resistencia is watching people exploring the shelves. If you want help finding a book, the very knowledgeable staff is there for you. If you want to peruse by yourself, the store is all yours. Visiting Resistencia is a must for book lovers, and almost an obligation for those bothered by social injustice. Rosas extended a personal invitation.

"There's something that I like to say when people enter the store, something like a paraphrase of what Raúl used to say: 'For those of you who have been here before, we're glad you're back. For those of you who have not been here before, we've been waiting for you: this is your home.'"

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Resistencia Bookstore is located at 1801-A South First St. For information on upcoming readings, screenings and presentations, visit Red Salmon Arts' tumblr here.

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