Meet Angela Maria Spring, The Latina Creating Space For Book Lovers Of Color In Washington, DC

credit: Jessica Diaz-Hurtado

After being a bookseller for more than 17 years in the U.S. Southwest and East Coast, Angela Maria Spring wanted to redefine what a bookstore was supposed to feel like.

She yearned to see herself and her culture reflected in every corner of a bookshop and knew what it felt like to be the only person of color in the room selecting titles the stores would decide to sell.

“I never really saw people of color booksellers and, if I did, they didn’t really rise up in their positions. The few people of color that I did work with were super talented, and it was sad to see them caught in the cycle of institutional discrimination,” Spring told Fierce.

(Photo Credit: Jessica Diaz-Hurtado)

So after working at a well-known bookstore in Washington, D.C. for years, the Puerto Rican-Panamanian literary aficionado wanted to create an inclusive space for and by Black and brown people.

That’s when Duende District was born. It’s a pop-up bookshop that sells works by people of color and hosts events and literary discussions for adults and children.

Spring, 36, grew up surrounded by books in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But even though she loved the shops she frequented, she said, “none of them were really for me. I wanted to flip the model. I wanted to have a bookstore where we are everything.”

It was the frustration and hurt of being a Latina buyer and bookshop manager yet still not being able to bring the works that represented communities of color to her stores that moved her to create the industry change she wanted to see.

(Photo Credit: Jessica Diaz-Hurtado)

“I was standing in a section with an older fellow Latina [at the bookstore]. We were both almost in tears because she wanted to learn about Latino culture in the U.S., and we had nothing. Nothing! Because all the buyers are white and they don’t think about that,” Spring said. “She was like, ‘we have so much buying power.’ I’m literally the manager of the sales floor, and I’m crying with this woman because I can’t get these kinds of books in. I felt such shame in that moment. This is not how we should feel in a bookstore.”

With multiple experiences like this in mind, Spring took a moment to re-evaluate her purpose. She asked herself, “What am I doing with my life? My parents taught me to help people. I’m just up here in upper Northwest selling books to rich white people. That’s not who I am, that’s not what I want to do. I want a bookstore for us. For us!”

And that’s exactly what she did. She felt liberated to leave bookstore life and create innovative spaces around the nation’s capital. She connected with Artomatic, a D.C. arts festival, and with Kickstarter. From there, she started collaborating with bookshops and spaces in Hyattsville, Maryland and DC neighborhoods like Takoma Park, Brookland and, now, Columbia Heights.

Often feeling “othered,” Spring created a space where she, along with her speakers and audience, could feel included. Most recently, Duende District partnered with the Latin American Youth Center and invited Afro-Dominican poet and writer Elizabeth Acevedo to read her debut young adult novel, “Poet X.” In another event, the shop also invited author Daisy Hernandez to read from her memoir, “A Cup Of Water Under My Bed,” a text that had a profound impact on Spring’s own identity.

(Photo Credit: Jessica Diaz-Hurtado)

Growing up Panamanian and Puerto Rican in the U.S., Spring could relate to Hernandez’s Cuban-Colombian upbringing. “Being bicultural within our culture, it’s something we don’t talk about enough. The U.S. wants to give us this pan culture, but we know there’s differences. Our families come from different countries. It’s not all the same,” she said.

The feeling of belonging through language is something that Spring also struggled with in claiming her Latinx identity.

“My mom didn’t speak Spanish to me. I’m not fluent. It’s a level of frustration, especially when I go back to Panama and Puerto Rico. It’s awkward. A lot more of us are starting to talk about this. You have this level of anxiety when you try and speak Spanish and feels like I’m not doing it right,” she said.

In these pop-up spaces, she hopes to create a sense of belonging for not only Latinos, but all people of color. Currently, Duende District collaborated to install a permanent pop-up at a Burmese bodega in D.C., featuring books from authors of the Asian diaspora. In the first week of April, it will also host a PEN/Faulkner panel with Black writers Naima Coster, author of “Halsey Street,” and Natalie Hopkinson, author of “A Mouth is Always Muzzled” and professor at Howard University.

(Photo Credit: Jessica Diaz-Hurtado)

On the heels of their first year anniversary, Duende District is a pioneer in the bookshop industry by carving out spaces for communities of color. What are future plans for this important work? Returning to Spring’s roots.

“I would love to take this back to Albuquerque,” she said.

For now, if you’re ever in the Washington, D.C. area, check out Duende District’s pop-up shop and collaborative events.

Read: Every Latina Should Have These Books On Their Reading List This Year

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