Uniting a community through the love of literature

Chloe Sarmiento

Developed two months before COVID-19 shut down the world, the Seattle Latinx Book Club was temporarily put on hold. Over four years later, the small community formed around the love of books and members’ Latinx identity has been given the chance to thrive.

Michelle Enriquez, an elementary school teacher, first started the book club in January 2020, but due to the gravity of the pandemic and other priorities, her friend María Muñoz Contreras stepped up to organize it.

“Seattle is pretty famous for the ‘Seattle Freeze’ and when you add in being Latinx, trying to build comunidad, it can be really tough,” said Contreras. “I find that most of the people who come to book club like books, but it’s more about trying to find and connect with other Latinx folks in the Seattle area.”

In the past four years, the Seattle Latinx Book Club has read over 50 books spanning multiple genres, from science fiction to autobiography.

The group usually stays pretty intimate in size, which Contreras noted that they like. The invite is open to those who want to join, with further information available through their Instagram

Contreras plans out the book club reads for the whole year ahead, so that participants can see what books are on the schedule and plan accordingly. They said picking out the books is a lengthy process in which they consider group feedback and whether the books are accessible and engage in intersectional representation. 

“Latinidad can look like a lot of things… These authors are often touching on things that feel very intimate. We’re being seen in the books that we’re reading,” said Contreras. “So, when we’re talking about that, it’s really easy to see that we’re with people who are mirroring ourselves in a way, with similar experiences or similar familial backgrounds.”

All of the books chosen for 2024, such as “You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation” by Julissa Arce and “Solito” by Javier Zamora, are available through the Seattle Public Library system, which was done on purpose to ensure that some book club members can find a copy for free. 

During the monthly book club meetings, the group often starts off with introductions and ice-breakers before they dive into the book with a few guiding questions, which often spark related conversations about topics outside of the book.

Contreras said one of the biggest challenges they have faced was holding the book club during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though members of the group experienced “Zoom fatigue” and high-stress emotions, they tried to meet in person. However, Contreras said it was difficult to find places to meet that were BIPOC-owned and accommodated larger groups.

While the club is centered around books, Seattle Latinx Book Club’s slogan is “Creating comunidad one book at a time,” emphasizing the importance of community.

The group meets in different locations around Seattle. Contreras ensures that each business is comfortable with the group meeting there. Past locations include El Quetzal in Beacon Hill and Dubsea Coffee in West Seattle.

“Originally from El Salvador, but growing up in Colorado, I was in a very white space, and I felt like I had to hide my Latinidad,” said Sandra Benitez, “But I’ve been making a big effort to rediscover who I am, where I’m going, and how I want the world to see me.” “Hearing from everyone in the group has given me the courage to speak up for what I stand for in my own environments or workplace.”

An overarching goal for the group is to continue fostering these new connections outside of the organized book club meetings. Going forward, Contreras hopes to streamline the process for members to reach out to one another so that they can communicate together whenever they like without having to wait for the next book club meeting.

The Seattle Latinx Book Club is important for many reasons. It not only provides an opportunity to form an intentional community but also allows members to self-reflect on their culture and upbringing.

“I just think it’s a unique space in Seattle,” said Arlene Amaya. “You can’t often find places where you can have these kinds of conversations, so I feel lucky that we’ve found one.”

Cover Photo: Seattle Latinx Book Club participants, from the left, Sandra Benitez, organizer María Muñoz Contreras, and Arlene Amaya take a break during the May book club meeting at El Quetzal in Seattle on Saturday, May 19, 2024. Benitez and Amaya became friends after both moving to Seattle and the May meeting was their second time going to the book club. (Photo by Chloe Sarmiento)

Chloe Sarmiento

Chloe Sarmiento is a fourth-year Journalism and Public Interest Communication student at the University of Washington. Passionate about uplifting underrepresented voices, she hopes to use her journalism platform to serve and tell the story of marginalized communities through accurate and diligent storytelling.

Publisher’s Notes: Washington Latino News and a class in the Journalism and Public Interest Communication program at the University of Washington are partners in best serving the Hispanic and Latino communities.