Mil Mundos Books is the only shop east of Myrtle Avenue to offer books in both English and Spanish. Courtesy: Mil Mundos

For Becca Ramos, moving from Portland, Oregon to New York City in January 2020 was rough. The pandemic shutdown was a scary time to be away from home, so finding community was crucial. 

Googling for volunteer opportunities, she found Mil Mundos (in Spanish, “a thousand worlds”), a bilingual bookstore and community center in Bushwick.

“It was pretty quick and steadfast that I had found community within [Mil Mundos],” Ramos said. “It’s a very special place … People have found love, roommates, lifelong friendships.”

Mil Mundos did more than satiate Ramos’ community needs.

“It felt like something so perfect for me personally, as someone who was wanting to connect more with my Latinx heritage,” she said. Back in the 2000s and early 2010s, when she was growing up in Houston, Texas, Ramos knew few Puerto Ricans or other Afro Caribbeans. But Bushwick, with its large Puerto Rican and Dominican populations, was a different story. 

A haven in a changing neighborhood

The story of Mil Mundos began in 2018, when founder Maria Herron had a vision of a community hub that could help counter the effects of gentrification. New and unaffordable housing and businesses catering to newcomers were popping up in eastern Bushwick. 

Mil Mundos offers local students field trips where they can grab a free book from the shelves. Photo courtesy of Mil Mundos.

Herron noticed longtime Bushwickites, some of them non-English speakers, were being pushed aside. She wanted to create a space for them. 

“It’s so important to have spaces that cost you no money to be able to come and look for resources and teach yourself and just spend time,” Ramos said. “So many kids, myself included, had their spaces that [they] needed to be in after school because [they] didn’t have somewhere to go.” 

The bookstore opened in March of 2019. Mil Mundos Books would become the only shop east of Myrtle Avenue to offer books in both English and Spanish. The bookstore would also serve as a space to celebrate Black, Latino, and Indigenous cultures, an act of preservation in a changing neighborhood. 

Despite her roots in the city (Ramos’ grandmother was born and raised in Spanish Harlem, her mom grew up between New York and Puerto Rico, and her dad was born in Brooklyn), Ramos is cognizant that she’s also a newcomer. And her financial status makes her a gentrifier in this community, she says, something she takes to heart.

“It is so important for me, if I’m going to be a part of this neighborhood, to be giving back,” Ramos said. “I can’t just be a part of the problem — I need to intimately know what’s going on in my neighborhood and be a part of fixing it and not pushing people out.”

Serving the community as a collective

Ramos and other volunteers, most of them Latinas and Bushwick community members, operate Mil Mundos together as a sort of collective. They work biweekly shifts at the store, taking inventory and helping customers locate books by the likes of Bell Hooks, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison printed in English and Spanish. 

Serving as a space to celebrate Black, Latinx, and Indigenous cultures is an act of preservation in Mil Mundos’ changing neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Mil Mundos.

Newer authors like Alice Sparkly Kat of Postcolonial Astrology have been especially in demand lately, Ramos says. There’s also been a big uptick in people asking for books on Palestine (Mil Mundos has been pro-Palestine and a resource for people to educate themselves on the conflict, Ramos says). 

They also offer unique workshops, such as a class in Spanish called ethnobotany & sketching, about the traditional and cultural uses of various plants, while other classes delve into Dominican culture and history or simply focus on the Spanish language. Mil Mundos also offers local students field trips where they can grab a free book from the shelves. 

In October 2021, the bookstore launched a non-profit branch, Mil Mundos En Común (“A Thousand Worlds in Common”), to address long-standing community issues worsened by the pandemic. They focused on helping neighbors get access to the internet and to essentials like toiletries, diapers, and kitchen supplies. 

Partnering with a Bushwick mutual aid group, they’ve helped directly donate essential goods to over 1,400 families since the pandemic began. They’re working on providing English classes for free and services to help people look for work.

Going full circle with Mil Mundos

As the director of events at Mil Mundos Books, Ramos makes use of her skills as a supervising producer at iHeartMedia – her full-time job. When she’s not on shift every other Saturday, Ramos is organizing special events at Mil Mundos, including a recent author talk that featured the first book “baptism” the store had ever hosted: blessing the book by pouring Venezuelan rum over it. 

There’s been a big uptick in people asking for books on Palestine at Mil Mundos. Photo courtesy of Mil Mundos.

Meanwhile, private events offer another source of revenue besides book sales and Spanish language workshops. Keeping the lights on is a huge challenge, Ramos says. 

Her favorite part of volunteering is collaborating on social posts and planning events with her shift-mate, who is one of her best friends. Ramos says it’s another reminder of the kinds of connections Mil Mundos has made possible.

After producing others’ shows for so long, Ramos is working on a podcast of her own, about the Puerto Rican experience. She says it wouldn’t have been possible without all the time she spent in the Mil Mundos shop in Bushwick these past three years. 

“Meeting people that are Puerto Rican, reading these folks that are Puerto Rican, being part of [a collective] with other Puerto Ricans, … has become such a beautiful thing, that I’ve really been able to get to know this part of me that I felt like was always missing growing up,” Ramos said. “It’s been really healing.”

Mil Mundos Books

Visit Mil Mundos Books at 323 Linden Street in Brooklyn. 

Store hours: Monday – Sunday 12 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Call (347) 425-7077, though text is preferred. 

Email info@milmundosbooks.com

Follow on Instagram at milmundosnyc. 

Mil Mundos is seeking new volunteers. Learn more here

Check out more of our small business stories here.

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