“If you’re here, you’re here with intention”: Why this Seattleite opened a social justice library

Seattleites can get passionate about the issues that matter most to them. But sometimes people can feel like they don’t have the space to talk about certain issues — like housing, homelessness, police brutality and more — openly.

Edwin Lindo, a University of Washington law school professor and lifelong activist, wants to change that. Last Saturday, he opened Estelita’s Library in Beacon Hill. The small space is home to hundreds of books focusing on social justice issues. Edwin hopes the library will serve as a refuge and resource for locals wanting to talk about challenging topics.

“In this space, I think people know if you’re here, you’re here [with] intention,” he said.

Edwin is so dedicated to creating a space for conversation that Estelita’s doesn’t even have WiFi so people can stay engaged without getting distracted. In the future, Edwin said he hopes the library can host lectures, history lessons, poetry performances, and a book club.

We checked in with Edwin to learn more about the role he hopes his library can play in better connecting Seattleites.

How did you get inspired to create a social justice library?

I’m from San Francisco and there was this place called Radio Habana Social Club. It’s a Cuban hole-in-the-wall, eccentric gathering place. People are drinking wine and having political conversations about everything under the sun. I wanted to create that atmosphere of people engaging with each other.

Why was it important to you to create a space for these conversations?

I’m a law professor and I write on these issues. I get on the front lines for these issues and I wondered, “How do we find a way to decentralize knowledge?” I teach, but only so many people can be in my classes. All of my knowledge came from all of these [books]. And it shouldn’t be my knowledge alone.

Is there a specific book that’s made an impression on you?

Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. [The main character] becomes conscious of his presence on this earth through this journey. It hit me that we can’t get to solid conversations about political or social conditions until we have a solid understanding of our [personal] politics.

I think a lot of times, there’s a struggle in political organizing because we enter into similar spaces thinking we’re all on the same page without fully understanding what our politics are. So I always ask folks, “What are your politics?”

For anyone who’s curious to learn more about social justice issues, what books would you recommend they check out?

I would start with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, then Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. And then anything by Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, or bell hooks.

What does a successful conversation around a social justice issue look like to you?

It’s having the grace to say, “I’m not here to try to disprove you.” … I think there is a huge burden on folks of color, particularly women, queer, and trans folks of color to constantly have to verbalize and explain what their life is like so that people can try to understand the consequences of oppression.

I fully understand when someone is like, “I don’t want to talk about this with you.” I think others, like straight men of color, need to step up and say, “They [women, queer, and trans people of color] don’t have to explain it to you — but if they allow me to, I will because I want to make sure you understand what’s going on.”

I’m willing to sit down with someone who is “curious” for an hour or so. That may not be the most comfortable conversation for them, but [the hope is] to know that whatever I’m speaking to you, it’s out of a hope that you are going to develop from this conversation.

Estelita’s Library is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Want to learn more about the library? Check out Crosscut’s feature on it here.