La Revo Books makes space for BIPOC writers

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2021 has been a remarkable year for the sister twosome behind La Revo, a Latinx BIPOC-focused pop-up bookstore. It all started when Valeria Cerda and her sister Barbara, who you might know as Barby the Book Fairy, sat down at their kitchen table. 

I just came over and brought my laptop and I’m like, ‘let’s just do this,’” said Valeria Cerda. “It started as a brain dump where we spilled everything we had in our heads. I remember Barbara was cleaning her kitchen at the same time and her kids were running around.”

At some point during this passionate brainstorm session, their father called with unfortunate news. Their grandmother passed away. The sisters decided to start La Revo books in honor of their grandmother’s spirit, even down to the name La Revo, which is short for la revolution.

When I interviewed the sisters, I was intrigued by the idea that both of them were constantly centered around books. Before this venture, Barbra collected 1,000 books for Southsidekids with Milwaukee’s free libraries. Barara said it’s revolutionary to learn about yourself and to be able to share the stories of where you came from.

“It’s such a treasure to be able to share culture and identity with each other,” said Barbara. “There aren’t any bookstores in Milwaukee that focus on or that specialize in Latin X literature. So through books, we’ve been able to bring that to Milwaukee and kind of fill in a space that we almost didn’t know that we needed.”

Valeria added that not only is it important to learn about your culture, it’s also political.

“I think books are really, and specifically our books, Brown people’s books, Black people’s books, indigenous books, they’re very political,” said Valeria. “One of the themes that we talk a lot about is like the sanctity of books and literature. It has been political from the start. How can we not do a book store?”

La Revo Book Recommendations

Recommendations from Barbara Cerda

Recommendations from Valeria Cerda

88Nine Staff Book Recommendations

Recommendations from Maddy Riordan

Recommendations from Lily Grant and Justin Barney

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Milwaukee’s Talking Book and Braille Library keeps making books accessible

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There are a ton of misconceptions about the visually impaired community, one of them being that blind people don’t read. The Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library confirms that’s a myth. Zarina Mohd Shah, the management librarian, said just like the National Services for the Blind and Print Disabled tagline, “that all may read.”

The library first opened its doors in 1961 and is celebrating its 60th anniversary in conjunction with blindness awareness month this October. The library provides reading materials for the blind community and visually impaired individuals with permanent or temporary disabilities.

“We have close to 7,000 patrons,” said Shah. “We serve the whole state of Wisconsin and nationwide.”

Not only does this library have books in braille, a form of written language for blind people, but it also offers talking books. These digital audiobooks are incredibly easy to access. You sign up on the library’s website, answer a few questions like your preferred genre, and then the library mails you six books to start with. Alongside books, patrons receive a digital playbook, a pair of headphones and you can even download the books with an adapter. All you have to do is register and they have you covered.

“It is one of the best free federal programs that are for people who are blind and visually impaired and who have physical disabilities,” said Shah.

Accessibility is one of the reasons why libraries are loved. To think that there are only 55 libraries nationwide that offer these services and Milwaukee has one of them means that regardless if you have visual or physical limitations, you can still seek adventure that comes from reading a book.

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BattleBox, Milwaukee’s nerd safe haven

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A “nerd safe haven.” That’s how Bryant Wilcox describes BattleBox, an all-in-one Milwaukee enterprise centered around geek culture. BattleBox has two components. The first is a buy-sell-trade video game, action figure and anime business. The second integration is the BattleBox Cafe and Lounge, 5431 W. Lisbon Ave., where like-minded folks can nerd out.

Wilcox and his family have always surrounded themselves with video games. “I was talking to my sister about this the other day,” said Wilcox. “We just always had video games at our house. I can’t take responsibility for that. Mario, like the original Mario Bros., was there. Frogger was there, Donkey Kong and stuff like that. Those games were in our house already.”

Opening up a business didn’t happen by accident. Not only were there games in the household, but Wilcox was also a collector. He bought his first action figure, Batman from the Tim Burton film, as a teenager. He then noticed on the back of the package that there was a Joker figure. From there his collection grew alongside a few comics. Wilcox said he didn’t have a lot of money growing up and decided to start trading his collection as means of passive income. 

“That probably was the moment or the catalyst for the actual business, because trading was huge for me as a kid,” said Wilcox. “I looked forward to the new school year. That was like the main thing to find the new kids with the Garbage Pail Kids. We had Garbage Pail Kids before a Pokémon.

Wilcox stressed that making BattleBox inclusive and a sanctuary for all folks was a main priority. The lounge is members-only, however becoming a member isn’t complicated; you just need to speak to Wilcox himself. To date, there are over 1400 members and that number is growing daily.

“The whole idea is to create that safe place for folks like us,” said Wilcox. “Not necessarily folks who look like us but who are into the same type of thing. We need a spot. Like all of these guys are coming through that are into Dragon Ball. We really don’t have a spot.”

Wilcox looks forward to expanding BattleBox in order to continue fostering an environment that’s welcoming to all regardless of race and gender. Just as long as you’re willing to get your game on. Follow BattleBox’s Instagram page for more information on its upcoming October schedule with events like karaoke and a superhero versus villain costume party.

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Ellas Café plans to become a safe space for LGBTQ+ and Latinx folks

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This is a love story centered around coffee.

“I was walking on my lunch break that day into Colectivo where Renee was working at the time and it was love at first sight,” said Sofia Esmeralda, co-owner of Ellas Cafe, when her partner, both romantically and in business, Renee Valdez interjected: “I felt like no one was around at the moment because I had a long line out the door and this day I was working the register and I usually don’t work late. That day I worked late.”

After Sofia held up the line and nervously ordered her coffee, they exchanged numbers. Over time they both spoke about their passions. Renee mentioned her love for coffee, having been a barista at Starbucks and then Colectivo with hopes of owning her own cafe one day. Sofia encouraged Renee to set their dreams into reality. Now three years later, their love of coffee has blossomed into a venture of their own, an LGBTQ+ Latinx pop-up cafe called Ellas, which means she/her in Spanish.

“Ellas came from women,” said Valdez. “Women are doing the majority of the things, not just in the coffee world, but around the world. They always seem to be just a shadow in the background. They come up with the ideas, they come up with the art, they come up with a lot of things to make this world run and we just don’t get enough credit.” 

The name is also in Spanish to signify their community, culture and Latinx women. Beyond honoring Latinx women through the name, Ellas’s coffee is sourced from a Latinx female farmer Liz Calderon with Magia Coffee. Supporting women in all steps of the process, from the coffee beans all the way to when you receive your cup of joe from Sofia and Renee. Ellas aims for the cafe to become a safe space for the queer community. Sofia recalls the first time their pop-up cafe was stationed outside of Milwaukee.

“Having our flag up was intimidating,” said Esmeralda. “It was also beautiful to see some of our gaybies find comfort and come get an iced coffee, chat with us for a while and feel like, okay, even though my community is predominantly one way and thinks one way and makes me feel bad for being the way that, it gets better. It’s okay, I can go to Ellas’s pop-ups and kick it with them and drink some iced coffee.”

Currently, the cafe has exclusively been only doing popup events. It will partner with Integrative Wellness every other Saturday this October for a morning yoga class.

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Culture is the mission behind this Milwaukee wellness center, opening soon

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It all starts with a space. A space where women can come together, build community and receive affordable luxurious wellness services. A wellness center with a mission is what Joanna Brooks envisioned when opening up Embody Yoga.

Now she is in the process of changing Embody Yoga to simply Embody with a wellness center opening early 2022 in Glendale.

“The wellness center is going to what I believe Black women and women in this city deserve,” said Brooks.

Not only will there be yoga classes, but Brooks also intends Embody to be the go-to spot for women, with additional services such as massage, skin treatments, Ayurveda and counseling. Another element is providing culture with community events. These events range from healing circles, sound baths and TV viewing parties like the latest season of “Insecure.”

“Women tend to put themselves last in all areas of their lives,” said Brooks. “We don’t really do ourselves a lot of favors when it comes to taking care of ourselves. For Black women, we always have to be strong and we have to be independent. As it relates to counseling within the African-American community and a lot of other communities of color, we don’t do counseling because we don’t share family business with those outside of the household.”

Photo credit: Embody

Another tenent of the mission is changing the narrative around self-care and making it affordable and accessible to all. Brooks said Embody isn’t seen as a place where one books an appointment and leaves; instead, she aims to create a place for community members to gather beyond receiving services.

“Whereas I focus on communities of color primarily, we’re talking about yoga teachers that serve the Deaf community, that serve the differently-abled community, that serve the LGBTQ+ community,” said Brooks. “We want to give them access to these beautiful spaces that we’re creating because we believe that people of color deserve that and that all communities deserve that.”

Embody will be launching a crowdfunding campaign early next month, in hope of bringing the mission to life. To be involved or stay updated with Embody check out its Instagram page.

Listen below for the long-form interview with Brooks to learn more about Embody’s mission to uplift women of color in wellness.

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Students are looking to art to tackle virtual anxiety

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We hear all the time that representation matters, but does it really if there aren’t a variety of voices in the writers’ room? Can representation matter if a story is told from a perspective that isn’t the writer’s own? First Stage launched its second short play series this month, Amplify, which began in the spring of 2021 to showcase plays created by BIPOC, centering on a young person’s point of view. The initiative aims to connect the theater community and tell stories about communities that might not be properly represented.

“It’s giving directors, actors and people of color an opportunity to share their voice, share their talents and to demonstrate their ability,” said Samantha D. Montgomery, artistic inclusion and community engagement director for First Stage.

The series kicks off with “How to Actually Graduate in a Virtual World,” a play by Nikkole Salter, directed by Samantha D. Montgomery and in collaboration with Milwaukee Black Theater Festival Youth Night with music by WebsterX.

“This play is about young people who are feeling like they are invincible and left out,” said Montgomery. “Not only because of their life experiences but because during the pandemic, they are not going to be able to celebrate their graduation. It’s also about being a young person living in Milwaukee.”

The play centers a high schooler’s perspective on the pandemic. Each character resembles a response to the pandemic. Jordan, played by Jonae Thomas, was more concerned with her grandmother’s health and was frustrated than her classmates when their focus was on missing their in-person graduation. Shannon, played by Abby Wallace, resembled optimism. Kenya, played by Christian Hughes, felt like he was left behind and had an overall negative reaction. Raynell, played by Nahjee Robinson, had a hustle mentality, using his free time to focus on passion projects like his music. he main character TT, played Maya O’Day Biddle, mentioned that although illogical, she felt as if she was being blamed for something in regard to the pandemic, that missing her graduation was tied to her lack of hard work, instead of a global health crisis.  Montgomery said that was a sentiment shared among students.

“You can feel like being left out, not being noticed or people don’t realize how important those milestones are to you,” said Montgomery. “A lot of young people are trying to find their journey and in that process, they have various struggles.”

Another character in the framework is Milwaukee. Although the play was written by Salter, who lives in New York City, however, Milwaukee was properly represented in the script and dialogue. In one scene where a Zoom call screen freezes, Kenya said, “This ain’t Menomonee Falls,” as a call out to underfunded neighborhoods.

“It’s about certain disadvantages that are within communities,” said Montgomery. “Everybody doesn’t have access to the same resources. So when he said, ‘This ain’t Menomonee Falls’ it means that they might have newer computers, but that’s also a stereotype in some sense.”

The next play in the Amplify series is “Step Kids,” a one-act musical about high school kids finding common ground during a dance competition audition. For more information on the BIPOC series, check out the First Stage website.

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We need to think about the future when celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

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Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The celebration starts mid-month to mark the independence of five Hispanic countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. This month celebrates Latinx Americans, their culture and their history.

Latinos are the second-largest and fastest-growing population in Wisconsin. I recently sat down with Dr. Sergio Gonzalez, a history and languages assistant professor at Marquette, to learn about Milwaukee’s Latinx communities.

The First Latino Milwaukeean | Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Library

“You can’t talk about what’s happening today without talking about a 100-year long history of migration from Latin America,” said Gonzalez. “The first large groups of Latinx Mexican descent people really began arriving in the city in the 1920s. They come here for the same reason a lot of immigrants come to the United States. They came looking for better opportunities for themselves and for their families.”

It was simple. The majority of the Latinx community settled in Walker’s Point because there was work there with booming industries, factories, and tanneries. Even today the South Side of Milwaukee still carries Latinx cultural significance.

Gonzalez wrote a book, “Mexicans in Wisconsin,” that traces the journey of Mexican immigrants making Wisconsin their home. Gonzalez said one of the reasons he wrote it was because nobody else was reporting these stories.

“I grew up in the city and we all would go to Old World Wisconsin,” said Gonzalez. “We would go to the Milwaukee Public Museum and the old streets of Milwaukee. I would look around and there’s all this immigrant history; I think to myself, ‘Where’s my family’s history?’ My family is originally from Mexico; I don’t see myself represented here. I think a major reason for this, it’s a political reason. There’s a reason that people don’t consider these populations that are still coming to this country today as being part of this larger narrative. They see them as newcomers.”

Gonzalez said many Latinx people who have come to Milwaukee still have trouble being identified as a Wisconsinite regardless of whether they made a home here.

“It’s a consistent problem,” he said. “They’ve been wanted for their labor, for the work that they can provide but their social standing in the state has always been very suspect. We can see in the last year with the pandemic; the question of who is essential and essential workers? Oftentimes those people who have fallen under the gun when it comes to working in really difficult conditions and not having any protections have been Latinx workers, often undocumented but not just undocumented. These are kind of persistent questions that we have today and it’s all very much connected to who we consider an immigrant, who we consider as part of our past and ultimately as part of our future.”

Gonzalez said it perfectly. It’s essential to continue asking those questions and hopefully one day we won’t need to.

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Hold on to your heads, here’s all you need to know about Milwaukee’s bobblehead museum

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On warm sunny days, I like to walk to work. I live in Walker’s Point and there is something about morning walks that makes you feel connected to your neighborhood. Bars that are meant to be full of life are abandoned. There are people waiting for the bus on their morning commute and when I walk to work, I always pass by a hidden gem, The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.

The museum has more than 7,000 bobbleheads on display, making it the world’s largest collection of bobbleheads. I was intrigued. How did this happen? How does someone become a collector and decide to turn that into a museum? I spoke to Phil Sklar, co-founder and he said the museum started from a simple passion for collecting.

“My dad got me into collecting baseball cards growing up, other sports cards and memorabilia,” said Sklar. “That sort of evolved to bobbleheads.”

In 2003, Sklar’s childhood friend was working for a minor league team called Rockford Riverhawks and received a bobblehead of their mascot Rocko the Riverhawk, which ultimately became the first of the museum’s collection. While attending the University of Milwaukee – Wisconsin, the duo decided to circulate sports games that specifically gave out bobbleheads and the collection started from local games.

“Before we knew it, it was out of control,” said Sklar. “We had more bobbleheads than we had room for.”

The museum goes beyond sports figures, from Avenger superheroes to the cast of “The Office.” My personal favorite finds were Carole Baskin and Bernie Sanders with his mittens and mask. Sklar said by 2013, they had roughly 3,000 bobbleheads from traveling and trading with other collectors. But they didn’t only collect, they also started to make their own heads, the first being Michael Poll, a Milwaukee-born Special Olympics athlete for Team Wisconsin.

“We had no idea how that process worked but we learned a lot,” said Sklar. “It also helped us realize that there was a need in the market. We came up with a long list of names and started making bobbleheads.”

A museum like this is a blast from the past, you might come across figures that were part of pop culture in the previous years, evoking a nostalgic feeling. If anything has been turned into a bobblehead, they have it. If you’re stopping by this hidden gem, keep an eye out for the unexpected and who knows maybe in the future you might be part of the growing collection.

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If you’re at Summerfest, you can help create a Milwaukee song

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Have you ever wanted to make a song but didn’t have the proper equipment or didn’t know where to start? Well, if you’re headed to Summerfest, this is your opportunity. The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music is bringing a first of its kind mobile music lab, The MusiCreation Station, to Summerfest and they are asking people to help them in the creation of a Milwaukee song.

The station looks like a recording studio on wheels. Outside of the recording system, they have an electric drum kit, acoustic percussion instrument, bass guitar, electric guitar as well as vocal microphones. The goal of the music lab is to create a Milwaukee song. They are using a one-bed track, meaning a single stream of recorded sound, with the idea that anyone can add elements they prefer. At the end of the festival, Mike Standal, from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, starts the editing process.

“What we are going to end up with probably won’t be very similar to what we start with,” said Standal. “The last time I did this, hundreds of people participated, and what they did influenced my production choices.”

Even if you aren’t musically inclined, Standal insists that anything can be music, even if it’s just clapping your hands.

“There’s the trepidation of trying something new, I understand that and there is something about music where you are putting a little bit of yourself out there,” said Standal. “That can be a little intimidating at times, so at the conservatory, we are conscious of that. Whatever we do, we want it to be a safe space for expression.”

If you’re going to Summerfest and would like to participate in wondrous worlds of music-making, stop by the music creation station for the possibility of being part of a Milwaukee song.

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Love, Milwaukee plans to release a six-pack inspired by our city’s diversity

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There’s a popular saying that beer is what made Milwaukee famous. It makes sense since our city is nationally recognized as “Brew City” for its brewing heritage for over two centuries, including Miller Brewing Company and Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. Now a community organization called Love, Milwaukee is using that recognition to connect both local breweries and community groups for an upcoming cross-cultural collaboration on Friday, Oct. 1. The event is free and open to the public, with the goal of celebrating the launch of a six-pack that represents Milwaukee.

Here’s how this happened. All throughout the summer, Love, Milwaukee hosted a series of events with each team of a brewing company and community organization. For example, the organization ElevAsian and Gathering Place Brewing Company hosted an event where they showcased an Asian-inspired beer and locals tasted flavors with a hint of sake or one infused with mango and basil and gave their feedback. This month, each brewing company is set to create its final product for October. Adam Gabornitz from Love, Milwaukee said the event is meant to be a celebration.

“We want people to come and just be together and have a good time,” said Gabornitz. “It’s going to be a combination of having music, we are obviously are going to have beer there and most importantly we are going to have all the different types of people that have been participating with this representing the different parts of our city.”

According to the 2020 census, Milwaukee has a population of 600,000 people, with 44.4% white, 38.7% Black and 19% Latino. Milwaukee also houses a large Hmong population. Gabornitz said because of the city’s diversity, Milwaukee deserves to be uplifted.

“I love Milwaukee, I think it’s an incredible city and like all cities, we have our challenges,” said Gabornitz. “I am really over with reading the stories of Milwaukee being negative. What I want to do is lead with things that are so incredible about the city.”

The seven participating breweries include MobCraft Beer, 1840 Brewing, Component Brewing, Gathering Place Brewing Company, Company Brewing, Soul Brew Kombucha and New Barons Brewing Cooperative. The brewing companies are parting with several community organizations including Barley’s Angels, Girls Pint Out, Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee, MKE Black, ElevAsian, BU Social, Collective Flow and the LGBT Community Center.

The celebration will be hosted around the New Baron’s space from approximately 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. More information about the Oct. 1 event detail can be found on the Love, Milwaukee’s Facebook page

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