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Two Milwaukee sisters launched La Revo Books to reinvent their community's relationship with literature

La Revo Books, Barbara and Valeria Cerda, COVID Earners Series
Barbara and Valeria Cerda
Barbara Cerda (pictured right) and Valeria Cerda (pictured left) at an event. The Cerda sisters opened La Revo Books as they wanted to re-invent their community's relationship to literature by bringing literature by BIPOC authors for BIPOC readers to Milwaukee's southside.

In the COVID Earners Series, WUWM speaks with businesses owned and operated by people of color, who are reimagining our city’s futures through the pandemic. This week WUWM will look at local pop-up bookstore La Revo Books.

You might have seen Barbara and Valeria Cerda of La Revo Books around Milwaukee at local events, festivals, or maybe even in your local park. The sisters opened La Revo Books earlier this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

La Revo is short for la revolución, or the revolution. The two sisters are hoping to change people's relationships with books — especially on Milwaukee's southside. The store intentionally offers new and used books authored by and for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, specializing in Latinx literature. La Revo Books also serves as a space for local BIPOC Milwaukee authors and makers to showcase their creations.

"Books have changed a lot of who I am in very good ways because I don't think I would be so passionate about some of the things I know about if I didn't know that there were books written for and by Latinos or Chicanos or Mexicans," says Valeria.

Central to what the Cerda sisters want to achieve with their business is rebuilding the relationships to reading within their own community so that readers can find a piece of their own identity on their bookstore shelves.

“It's also about reinventing peoples relationship to literature and reading. Personally, in my education I've read books about a lot of white people or written by white people ... that would damage my relationship with reading if I felt all books were like that," says Valeria.

The Cerdas have seen this spark within their own family. Valeria remembers a time when her dad wasn't a fan of reading.

"I remember, even when we first opened, he said, 'Mexicans don't read,'" she says. "Now, I think he's re-thought about it because of all the books we have."

Valeria recounts when Barbara and her had gotten a book of stories and memories written by someone from the same Mexican small town as their dad. One particular story was about how the people in the town would gather in their homes to make gorditas. Valeria remembers looking over at her dad and noticed him getting emotional over this story.

La Revo Books, Barbara and Valeria Cerda's father reads a book
Barbara and Valeria Cerda
The Cerda sisters created La Revo Books to rebuild their community's relationship to reading, including in their own family.

"I don't think anyone has ever told a story about my dad's town," says Valeria. "In a way, it brought back so many images to him."

Like many families in Milwaukee, the Cerda family was deeply affected by the pandemic. Around the time when La Revo Books was about to launch, they had found out both of their grandmothers had passed away from COVID-19.

"We've lost so many people because of COVID-19," says Barbara. "This bookstore is not just a place where we're selling books. We're bringing people together. We are grieving with others [and] helping heal our community."

At a pop-up, Valeria and Barbara say you will find a wide variety of options from best-sellers to used books, fiction books, young adult books, and books by local authors. In addition, they say they are working in building the poetry selection — especially written by local authors.

La Revo Books, over the summer, focused on bringing books written by Columbian and Palestinian authors. And they take special requests from the community.

When speaking about what's next, the sisters say they are still grappling with the pros and cons of having a traveling pop-up shop versus a more permanent space. But, regardless of what the future looks like, the sisters hold a promise: the Milwaukee community will have a say in what is next.

"We are very led by the community," says Valeria. "It depends [on] what the people want because we are here for all. This is a community bookstore, and it truly does depend on what Milwaukee wants to see."

Mallory Cheng joined WUWM as a producer for Lake Effect in 2021.
Beck Andrew Salgado was a producer with Lake Effect.
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