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An Inspired Dream with Aurora Anaya-Cerda

An Inspired Dream with Aurora Anaya-Cerda

By Danielle Echols

As a company, we are committed to education in every aspect.  We believe the arts, in any capacity, can empower and uplift the soul.  So, when we encounter people like Aurora Anaya-Cerda, we have to share their story.  We all know the saying "knowledge is power."  Well, Aurora definitely took that to heart.  She was the founder of La Casa Azul Bookstore, an independent bookstore in New York.  Patrons could find every genre of literature, music, and fellowship with people from all over the city.  The store was so revered that in 2013, she was nominated and recognized as a 2013 Crowdfunding "Champion of Change" by the White House.  The store has since closed, but her commitment to education remains.

A native Angeleno, Aurora has returned to LA after living in New York for 11 years.  She has been a teacher, curator, cultural worker, and entrepreneur - and is currently a student at the USC Marshall School of Business.  She is passionate about art, education, literacy and the impact that social enterprises have towards a more just world.  Recently, she talked with Design Dance about social entrepreneurship and why she felt opening La Casa Azul Bookstore was so important.  See her story below.

Tell us a little of your backstory...

Books saved my life - they were my refuge, my escape, my safe space.    

At age 12, I read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and it was the first time I saw my reflection in a book: a young Latina, whose family and neighbors were so like the people I knew in my own life experiences.  The House on Mango Street was the first piece of culturally relevant literature I read, and it had a tremendous impact on me.  My journey as an educator, artist, and entrepreneur has been strongly influenced by Cisneros’ book.

When did you first recognize yourself as an entrepreneur?

I worked in education and the arts for 10 years before I considered becoming an entrepreneur. The idea for La Casa Azul Bookstore was born in 2006 when I signed up for a small business seminar.  I didn’t register for the seminar because I wanted to open a bookstore, I registered because I wanted to learn a new skill (entrepreneurship). That seminar changed the direction of my life.

For the next six years, I would lose track of time when reading, planning, strategizing and visualizing what the bookstore would be.  I felt like I had a purpose. I relied on those moments when it seemed that the goal was impossible to reach.  Finally, in 2012 I opened La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem with the support of 500+ funders that helped me raised $40,000 in 40 days.

La Casa Azul Bookstore reached incredible milestones in New York - not just as a bookstore, but as a gallery and cultural venue featuring writers, musicians, visual artists, and dancers.  We hosted 200 programs a year, sold books that reflect the voices of writers of color, transformed into a literary hub, a safe space and a platform for multiple audiences.

What was the inspiration for La Casa Azul Bookstore?

One of the reasons I decided to open La Casa Azul Bookstore was because Chicana/o literature was critical in my own education and identity.  Growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on, from cereal boxes to magazines and comics. When I discovered Chicana writers like Sandra Cisneros and Rudolfo Anaya, I connected to their stories and then began seeking out more books that reflected my identity and experience.  By then I was already in high school and I wished I had read about them earlier!

With La Casa Azul Bookstore I aimed to create a space for children of color to see their reflections, where diverse voices were celebrated and where neighbors could share resources and build community.

What were some of the challenges you faced when managing the bookstore?

Running the bookstore from 2012 to 2015 was the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life.  The physical and mental exhaustion was expected but NO ONE told me about the emotional toll of running a business.  Most days I felt that I was on the right path, that running the bookstore was exactly what I wanted to be doing… and there were days when fear and anxiety crept in.  I was experiencing impostor syndrome and I tried to “do it all” -- until I couldn’t.  With support from friends, bookstore staff and family, I learned to lean on others, to ask for help and to take care of my physical and mental health.

La Casa Azul Bookstore was in operation until 2015, when I decided to close the store to move back to California, attend graduate school and plan the next adventure. It was not an easy decision to make, and I miss the bookstore every day -  but I have learned to have more self-compassion and self-acceptance in the journey.  

How did it feel when you were recognized by the White House?

I received two emails from the White House but I ignored them because I thought it was junk mail -  until a friend told me she had nominated me as a “Champion of Change”.  I was one of 12 people recognized in June 2013 as Crowdfunding “Champions of Change.”  The event focused on entrepreneurs who exemplified the promise of crowdfunding to fuel the growth of startups, small businesses, and innovative projects across the Nation.

I celebrated the bookstore’s first anniversary on June 1st in New York and took a train to DC the next day.  Speaking at the White House was one of the highlights of my professional career and it was the perfect way to celebrate our first year in business.

What are some projects you are working on now?

I’m a student again!

I recently completed my first year at USC Marshall School of Business, in the MS Social Entrepreneurship program.  I have enjoyed learning about social entrepreneurship, creative placemaking and the intersection of the two.  I learn from every workshop/class/book constantly adding to my educational toolbox. 

How do you define social entrepreneurship and why do you think it’s important?

Every action has an impact and it’s a matter of being intentional on having the most positive impact possible on people and the environment.  To me, social entrepreneurship means taking other people and the planet into account when making all decisions in an organization.

Not only is it important, it’s absolutely necessary!  We can no longer ignore social and environmental issues, we need to demand change from companies and use our individual and collective power to fight against injustice - knowing that all of our actions impact our society and the world.   

What is the legacy you hope you are creating?

A story can be a window into another person’s experience, or a mirror that reflects your own.  The majority of the books that I read as a child were windows -- an opportunity to look into the life/world of other people, other cultures, other experiences. When I read “The House on Mango Street”, I was looking into a mirror -- seeing a reflection of my own life and world.

Simon Sinek said, “Passion comes from who you are”. I am passionate about creating spaces where children can hold mirrors, especially for to those who have only seen through windows.

With La Casa Azul Bookstore we planted seeds in the minds and hearts of children who were exposed to books and stories that served as reflections of their own stories.  In future years I hope those seeds flourish and inspire kids to follow their own passions.  

Aurora Anaya-Cerda will be speaking at our Acceptance Tour in LA on Monday, May 22nd.  For more information about Aurora, visit her links below.

LinkedIn: Aurora Anaya-Cerda

Articles: White House Archives , Do What You Love

 

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Samantha Broxton on Learning to Enjoy the Journey

 

 

Samantha Broxton on Learning to Enjoy the Journey

By Danielle Echols

Samantha Sophia Broxton is a blogger, photographer, storyteller, and self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur.  She shares an intimate portrait of family life in her candid blog Raising Self.   As a first generation American and the first college graduate in her Caribbean family, she spent many years trying to blend in.  She graduated from the University of South Florida with her “safe” finance degree, but was always drawn to narrative writing.  During her time in college, she had several business internships and eventually landed an amazing position with a banking leadership program.  Today she balances her time with a career in finance analytics, managing her blog, and raising her family.  Here is some of her story:

When did you recognize your interest in narrative?

Having immigrant parents, they’re very strict.  I couldn’t do anything except read books and watch a lot of movies.  There was a place near my house where you could get 10 old movies for $10 for 10 days, and I would watch and really just be in the narrative.  That’s really where I think my storyteller brain was honed- reading books about history and watching movies from every genre.

You describe yourself as a serial entrepreneur, what are some ventures that you’ve tried?

I had a first startup that was kind of like Yelp.  It didn’t really work for me because I look back now and I just didn’t have the resources I didn’t have the education.  They didn’t really have all the resources they have now to support minorities in tech and entrepreneurship.  I didn’t even know I was minority in tech, I just knew I had a good idea.  I also have a journal of other ideas that I’m always thinking “how I can make it happen?”  So, my serial entrepreneurship really comes in the form of really dreaming up ideas and trying to execute.  Even today, I’m always thinking “how can I make these things a reality?”  I also do photography and my blogs.  I think those things are a type of entrepreneurship as well because these are things that are yours and that you own.

Your blog, Raising Self is very candid, how do you decide what you will and will not share?

For me the key thing is always is it edifying? That means ten years from now, even if it makes me cringe a little bit…I want to be able to say, “this is where I was, this is what I meant.”  If it’s not edifying then I just don’t move forward with it, sometimes I’ll shelve it.  I just put something aside and say, “I think there is something there, but this might be too messy… but maybe there will be something there that I can return to.”

What made you decide to join Acceptance Tour?

People see success or they see failure and they just see a byproduct.  They want to know “how can I make a million dollars?  How can I change the world?”  I think with people, they don’t really understand the importance of hearing the journey, respecting the journey.  Respecting that at the end you may not know that you’re already on the path to changing the world.  I like the idea of having a conversation about understanding yourself, understanding what your true worth is, understanding what you really want and need to do to get yourself to the next step in your life.

Do you feel that your blog is a part of self-acceptance?

I think so.  I think what people don’t do enough of is seek personal revelation.  For me writing these stories, reveals certain things to myself.  It helps me to understand why I made certain decisions or why I felt a certain way.  It also allows me to reflect on things I did and gives me the opportunity accept or reject that (reaction) as appropriate and move forward.  It’s not a continuation of bad behavior and I also get to celebrate things that I did well and I need to continue in life.  It’s funny how writing does that for you.

What’s a little nugget of advice you would tell your younger self?  

If I could go back, I would tell myself to save a little bit more money. I would tell myself to love myself a little bit more.  I really think the things I’ve been through have helped me grow into who I am today, even my most painful moments.  I really love science-fiction, so there is this unique idea about the time paradox, if you attempt to change one thing, then nothing else changes, that in fact you traveling in time is a part of guaranteeing your future.  When I think about the time paradox, I have to consider would I change it if I could?  Maybe I wouldn’t have the kids I have or maybe wouldn't have stumbled into the conversations that I’ve stumbled into… but if I could  (I would) just maybe change the internal dialogue I had with myself through the journey and enjoy it more.

Samantha will be speaking at Acceptance Tour in Los Angeles on Monday, May 22nd.  You can learn more about her by clicking on the links below:

Website: www.RaisingSelf.com

Twitter: @RaisingSelf

Instagram: @raisingself

(This interview has been slightly modified from its original recording)

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