Not Just a Bookstore: La Casa Azul Against Neoliberal Habitus and Gentrification

Kasey Michael Zapatka, Fordham University


This thesis is about the struggle between two competing visions for El Barrio, the well-known East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. As the neighborhood gentrifies, low-income and low-skilled residents are pushed out by the consumption patterns of better educated, higher-skilled gentrifiers. El Barrio "loses its soul" when gentrifiers are prioritized over low-income and low-skilled residents. In short, real estate developers, politicians, and neoliberal development policies remake the neighborhood for "whomever can pay the highest rents." As this struggle continues, residents have found an ally in La Casa Azul Bookstore, a recently opened Latino/a themed-bookstore in the neighborhood. Not just a bookstore, my ethnographic analysis and evaluation of La Casa Azul specifically examines how programming, events, and activities function as valuable resources and opportunities for the community. While many residents are being displaced or excluded from El Barrio's local economy, I argue that this bookstore: (1) provides the community with a counter logic to the neoliberal development and cultural policies that are working to restructure the neighborhood; (2) is a "cultural fortification" that intentionally includes local residents, artists, and authors in the production, consumption, and distribution of culture as a means to include them in the local economy of El Barrio; and (3) activates a public sphere that stimulates community opinions, cultural exchange, and social interaction. Working with and for local residents, La Casa Azul Bookstore empowers the community to demonstrate their "right to the neighborhood" and their "right to culture" as they participate in events, programming, and activities at the bookstore. As the neoliberal mechanisms of privatization and deregulation work to gentrify the neighborhood and push out local residents, La Casa Azul Bookstore's mission promotes Latino/a literature, encourage Latino/a literacy, and preserve Latino/a culture. In so doing, the bookstore helps the Latino/a community resist El Barrio's gentrification, refuse exclusionary development policies, and demonstrate its "right to the city." La Casa Azul is helping El Barrio "retain its Latino/a soul."

Subject Area

Social structure

Recommended Citation

Zapatka, Kasey Michael, "Not Just a Bookstore: La Casa Azul Against Neoliberal Habitus and Gentrification" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI1584735.