that he acquired the bookstore in the late 1980s, and prior to
that, someone else had owned the store. But he had heard that
a short Spaniard owned it before the revolution—as if it were
an urban legend. He was referring to my father and that made
me really sentimental.
Did you purchase any books?
RR: I bought four books at the store and several more at the
book fair. Books are my passion. They are what define me.
When did you leave Cuba?
RR: I was 11 when we left, and then I came for a visit with my
mother in 1976. Forty years later I’m here with my daughter,
surrounded by my people: Cubans and book people. That is the
really cool thing about this.
Alyson, what was it like for you to see the bookstore your
AR: I was excited to see that it was still a bookstore. When we
realized it had been my grandfather’s bookstore I came to tears.
I grew up hearing stories about the bookstore and how it was
the place where people came together. It was very nostalgic.
Have you ever thought of going to Cuba to open a bookstore?
AR: Definitely. If I were to go to Cuba it would be to open a
bookstore. And as I heard at the conference, the digitization of
books is playing a growing role within my generation. I would
love to somehow bring that to Cuba.
Raquel, if the economic embargo were lifted tomorrow, what
would you do?
RR: The first thing I would do is buy books to develop curated
collections for public libraries throughout the U.S.
FROM HAVANA TO MIAMI:
THREE GENERATIONS OF BOOKSELLERS
By Leylha Ahuile
More than 40 American publishing professionals traveled to Cuba in February as part of the first U.S. pub- lishing mission to visit the Feria Internacional del Libro de La Habana (Havana International Book Fair), and
to participate in four days of dialogue with their counterparts
in the Cuban publishing industry.
Among those who made the trip were four Cuban-Americans,
including Raquel Roque, who was born in Cuba and raised in
Miami. Roque’s father, Jose Rábade, operated a bookstore—with
titles in Spanish and English—called Rábade Libros y Revistas
in Havana from 1949 to 1965. In 1965 the family moved to
Miami, and shortly after, Rábade opened Downtown Book
Center. The bookstore grew and became one of the premier
wholesalers and distributors of Spanish-language books in the
U.S. The retail location closed in 2011, but Roque runs the
wholesale and distribution arms of Downtown Book Center and
serves as a bookseller consultant. Among her clients is South
Florida’s Books & Books. She has been joined in the business by
her daughter, Alyson.
We spoke with Roque and Alyson while in Havana about
what this trip has meant.
How does it feel to be back in Cuba?
RR: Super nostalgic. I’m not a very sentimental person, but I
have been sentimental. I’m very proud of my dad and the fact
that he was a bookseller in Cuba. I’m also very proud that once
he got to Miami, the first thing he wanted to do was open a
bookstore. And I’m proud that I became a bookseller.
You mentioned that you had not been to Cuba in 40 years.
How do you see Cuba today?
RR: I see so much hope. I see so many talented young people,
and I’m afraid that they are leaving little by little. I want to see
them be able to work in their professions. These young people
have studied and studied so much and speak several languages,
and yet they are working as taxi drivers. I want them to work
in their fields and be hopeful for the future.
Were you able to find the location of your father’s bookstore?
RR: Yes. My daughter and I found it. It is still operated as an
independent bookstore, and we spoke to the owner. He told us
Raquel (l.) and Alyson Roque