Adiós a lo mejor: The Closing of Tres Américas Books

Marc Zimmerman Publicado 2016-03-07 08:59:19

Humberto Gamboa en Tres Américas Books. Photo: Antonio Zavala


"The road to success in the Hispanic world is paved with our Spanish-language books. Immerse yourself in the culture of the Americas."


1. La Décima Musa, Casa Aztlán, Nuevo León (at least for a while) and now Tres Américas — ¡Ay ay ay!

The other day, I posted the following note on FACEBOOK about the imminent demise of the Tres Américas Bookstore. Now, with the close so much upon us, I have decided to leave aside for a time my ongoing Chicago Chicano Writing series in El BeiSMan to put together some materials in honor of Humbero Gamboa and Carlos Cabrera for their great against-the-odds quixotic attempt to enrich their lives by enriching ours. We hope something may be done so that Humberto at least can find a way to continue his great adventure in our community. In this homage to the store, I will include a version of my original letters and some responses from Facebook and email readers, as well as some materials and urls that will lead to a richer appreciation of what we have lost and what we may have to do to honor the spirit which fueled efforts at Tres Américas Books.


2. My Original Note (slightly modified)

Here in Puerto Rico, I’ve just heard confirmed what has been circulating as a rumor — that Humberto Gamboa of Librería Tres Américas has not been well, and that he and partner Carlos Cabrera have decided they have no choice but to throw in the towel and close the store. I’m sure that many of my Chicago area Facebook friends, El BeiSMan readers know the store and have had dealings with it over the years. I can only express my frustration at the loss of a major center of Latino culture in our city. Can we remember when there was no NMMA or no Latino Film Festival? How many of us remember the early golden years of the store, the journal Tres Américas, the stories of Alejandro Ferrer, the participation of Mario Andino, Colón, my dear friend Aaron Kerlow and so many others? The support and participation of John Barry and Susan Cavallo? The meetings with Carlos Monsiváis, Elena Poniatowska, and Rosario Ferré with other Latin American writers and filmmakers? Even the wall art by Nicolás de Jesús and others? And what about Humberto’s book reviews in ¡Éxito! and elsewhere? And when you needed to know about a Latin American book or author, who could tell you more than Humberto? A true librero, he actually read most of the books in his store and could give you the most insightful critique — even if meant not selling the book! Over the years too many of us — bought on line with Amazon; the center of the city’s Latino culture rooted even deeper south and east of the store. When was the last time you visited, bought a book, called up Humberto to see what was new? How many Spanish professors bucked their campus bookstore’s policies to order and convinced their students to buy their books at Tres Américas? How many schools ordered their books through Tres Américas, when so many had virtually unbreakable contracts elsewhere? And what happened to book sales with the decline of bilingual ed? Times changed, the city shifted, the internet took over; and now, in a matter of days, Tres Américas will close.

What if anything can be done?

1. Clearly if you have something to say about the store or Humberto or Carlos, why not say it? Write to or call (773) 481-9090

2. If you want, send it to me and I’ll try to compile your comments short or long for my fb page and/or El BeiSMan?

3. Stop by the store and pay respects, maybe buy something.

4. Urge them to have a final day in early march, and take the trip, buy some books on sale.

5. And yes, talk to them about the future — is there a way to form an electronic book store or have a small outlet?

6. What ideas might you have in mind for the future?


3. Responses to My Note

Hi Marc, It’s Laura Paz. Although I have not gone very often to the store, of course I have always been very pleased that such a store exists. The main thing seems to me that the owners should offer it to someone else to buy and continue. It is such a waste of their energies not to do so. The same situation with Décima Musa, they just closed it! Se if you and others can find someone who is interested in continuing it. There must be some one in Chicago who wishes to do so. That’s good of you to take the initiative to raise this issue.


Response to Laura:

Dear Laura, thanks so much for responding — the only one so far, to my email, though a few responded on FB. I really appreciate it. I’ll pass your suggestion on to Humberto, but I think his situation (including health) might be too far gone for action. There’s little I can do myself especially as long as I’m in P.R. and I think if he survives as a librero he’d have to have a computer-based storeroom with maybe a modest outlet for quality and school related books in Pilsen... M.

Diana Solis Many memories indeed! I like the idea of having a small outlet in Pilsen.

Monica Stella Cruz Qué pena, Marc. Cuando cierran una librería es como si un amigo se nos fuera.

Anthony Ramos . I do hope all goes well with Carlos and his partner. I wish I had the pleasure of knowing them.

Stanislaw Jaroszek · Estoy triste por los dueños y triste por los lectores. Algo se muere cuando se cierra la librería.

Enrique Murillo Muchas gracias, Marc Zimmerman, acabo de hablar por teléfono con Humberto y de ordenar un par de libros de Fernando del Paso porque ni Nueva York cuenta con una librería como esta. Le envío un abrazo. 

Marc Zimmerman Gracias Enrique, espero que otros compren los libros, y espero que aprecien el valor incalculable que ha tenido Tres Américas!

Xorxe Hernandez Hace veintitantos años llegué a esta ciudad y, en mi búsqueda por algo parecido a Monterrey, encontré varios grupos interesados en la cultura latinoamericana. Había de sal, de chile y de manteca, y en esa tamalada hallé la Librería Tres Américas, donde se reunía una tertulia que degustaba la literatura latinoamericana; entre ellos, Humberto Gamboa, Susana Cavallo, Alfonso Díaz, Alejandro Ferrer, varios más y… un gringo altote, de mostacho zapatista y acento inconfundible: John Barry.




From: Leonard Ramirez

Marc, your idea of forming a small outlet in Pilsen is, I think, a good one. I think there is a community there that can support the store, especially if it has a place for readings and socials. I also think they should expand their selection to cover Chicano literature. I think that would be a draw. It’s been a while since I’ve visited the store but I know their sole focus has been on books in Spanish, which is great. But a place that encompasses a selection Latino/Chicano writers would broaden the appeal. Writing circles, discussions and events would also help to draw people to the store.



Thanx much Leonard. You, Diana Solis and Laura Paz have been among the few to respond to my message and I’m quite grateful. Humberto’s made a great effort and now is bad straits. He may not be able to carry on, but maybe Diana and those at the Pilsen Outpost can take up his effort there, maybe with his involvement or help — he knows so much. He always did have some Chicano or Latino lit, and maybe this could expand, returning to the old days of meetings, readings, etc. that was so much part of Tres Américas in the old days. Hopefully some good will come so that Tres Américas doesn’t just disappear. Best, M


From Beatriz Ledezma:

Marc, Thanks for letting us know about this SAD news!... As I read your email, so many many memories came to my mind!... Those years were the firsts for me in Chicago. I will stop by and hope they are open still...??


And a final word from Humberto’s friend, Eduardo “Lito” Baraza:

Eduardo Barraza Es muy lamentable el cierre de una institución que fue parte muy importante en la cultura hispana o latina. Lugar de encuentro de muchos amantes de la literatura. Lugar por donde pasaron figuras de la literatura. Podemos enumerar muchos encuentros. Siento tristeza por esto. Un abrazo... Lito Barraza.


4. Two additional comments from past encounters

Emily Suzanne This is an amazing store. The owner was incredibly helpful and very willing to work with me so I could afford everything I wanted. Since I wanted pretty much the whole store. Highly recommended!


Another recent customer:

This is a great option for Spanish book readers. You may miss it and not even know it, since the store’s sign is rather small. It has a great selection of Spanish books ranging for children to adults, historical to comical, and drama to poetry. You can find books by famous Latino writers such as Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz and Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz. The store owner is extremely helpful and is always ready to help you.


5. Some websites to look at:

Store Brochure  

Outside the Store 

Inside the store

Article by The Chicago Tribune


Marc Zimmerman. Emeritus, Latino and Latin American Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago, director Global CASA/LACASA Chicago Books. Commentator and contributor to El BeiSMan.


Hablamos Español: We specialize in making Spanish-language books accessible to schools, libraries, individuals and institutions anywhere in the United States and also in professional reference books.

4336 N. Pulaski Road.  Chicago, IL 60641.  773.481.9090 
10:00am - 6:00pm Monday through Friday
10:00am - 5:00pm Saturday 


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