Exterior of Re/Arte literary center in Boyle Heights. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas
Photos by Alberto Serna Jr. for Boyle Heights Beat.

Its humid inside Re/Arte, stuffy almost, on a recent hot Sunday afternoon in Boyle Heights. More than 15 people sit as a single fan circulates warm air through a space that is pushing its limits. The walls are lined with books about leftist ideals and psychology; Chicano poetry and non-fiction.

Chicana poet Briana Munoz reads from her work at Re/Arte literary center in Boyle Heights.

Although there is arguably a 10-degree difference compared to outside, the guests are listening intently as speakers shuffle to and from a microphone at the front of the space. It is a launch party for Chicana poet Briana Munoz’s latest collection of poems. A native of San Diego and current resident of Koreatown, Munoz said that she wanted to do a launch at Re/Arte because of what it means to community.

“It’s important for [Re/Arte] to exist to make poetry accessible especially in places like Boyle Heights where its predominantly people of color, indigenous groups and the Latino Community,” Munoz said.

The space, which is located on César E. Chávez Boulevard across from the Shakey’s Pizza and next to a shop that sells huaraches and cowboy boots, opened in late June and has since had several events, like Munoz’ book launch. It’s owned and operated by poet and publisher Viva Padilla, who founded the literary journal Dryland in South Los Angeles.

Padilla said Re/Arte is meant to be a place for the community to enjoy literature and “to celebrate writers and poetry and a place to basically gather minds, thinkers” who are mostly black and brown. Re/Arte also sells new and used books and vintage records on vinyl.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to have my own space,” she said. “I’ve been doing work in the literary scene as a publisher and as a poet for years now. I just decided that, hey, I’m tired of being at home during the pandemic, I want to get back into real life. And I miss being surrounded by books and writers and poets and artists. So, I decided to just create that space.”

Padilla, 34, said that the owner of the space on César Chávez Ave. knew her work in the literary scene and offered her the space to do what she wanted.

Shelves of used books at Re/Arte literary center in Boyle Heights.

“I had money, the money saved up… so she was like, ‘I want you in there,’ And I was like, Okay.” Padilla said she did not do it alone. She reached out to her friends with different experiences and backgrounds to help create Re/Arte.

“I was like, ‘Hey, can you guys like, be part of this?’ And everybody, everybody’s just kind of ‘we’re all in it together,’ so it’s not just me, it’s like, several of us that are putting in our specialties.”

Nikolai Garcia, who has known Padilla for several years and helped her with Dryland, MC’d the event.  The 40-year-old said that although the launch was not the first event at Re/Arte, he was very excited for what is to come and the day’s turnout.

Nikolai Garcia.

“It’s not the first event here but it’s one of the first big events,” Garcia said. “I’m very excited. I’m hoping we have more things like this coming in the future.”

Padilla says the opening of Re/Arte allows her to continue her mission of getting people published and creating spaces for community.

“My specialty is publishing people and community building; bringing people together, through poetry, writing, finding poets, I feel like it’s my job,” said Padilla. “I find the poet within people as corny as that sounds.”

With her passion for finding poets, Padilla has created Re/Arte to be a hub for poets and writers in the community. In the weeks since it has opened, Padilla has hosted a number of events including an open mic night (on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month), story time for kids, an art show and a film night, with more planned for the following weeks.

“I’m slowly organizing all the programming, so right now we have open mics several times a month, we have book launches going on, like, almost every weekend, we have art shows happening,” Padilla said. “I’m trying to add English classes, more writing workshops, some that I’m leading, some that my friends are leading.”

But her friends are not the only ones jumping in to make Re/Arte an open space. The community has also responded well.

“People have been coming in to volunteer for story time, and then someone else talked about having math tutors come in,” Padilla said. “And so the community has really, really been responding to me.”

Cesar Aguilar, 39, attended the event after seeing posts on Instagram and said he came because of what the space offers.

“I saw that the literature was good, like, my type of revolutionary literature, and it’s hard to find these places or books like that,” Aguilar said. “Good literature is empowerment for sure. Like it’s real casual for us to say that, but in reality, that’s the truth.”

It is this response that brought people to the sofas and chairs inside, sweating from the cruel Los Angeles heat, to listen to the words of poets as Sunday passed them by. Outside, oblivious to what was happening in Re/Arte, people walked by briefly glancing in while Padilla and her guests embraced a new but continuing chapter in Boyle Heights.

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Albert Serna Jr.

Albert Serna Jr. is a queer Chicano journalist from the San Gabriel Valley. He has a passion for news, politics, and investigative reporting. On his free time he reads about true crime and does drag.

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