Embracing Diversity Through a Larchmont Bookstore

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The store aims to champion cultural differences in one of Westchester’s whitest communities.

A new children’s bookstore in Larchmont offers multilingual books and interactive events aimed at embracing diversity in a predominantly white New York village.

Inside the warm downtown storefront, La Vie Est Belle Librairie offers books in at least seven languages.

Cecilia, 8, would know. She quickly scoured the shelves of the Larchmont bookstore collection, reading much of it with her mother, Evanice Pineda-Delgado, who opened the business — her first — this fall.

French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese, “and English, of course! said Cecile.

“I had Hebrew, but now I have no books after Hanukkah,” Pineda-Delgado added. The store also had documents in Arabic.

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“I want this to be a place where I can raise a diverse community,” said Pineda-Delgado, a Bronx native who identifies as Indigenous Ecuadorian. Its goal is to “elicit empathy through language”.

Pineda-Delgado drew on her teaching background to open the bookstore in September as she prepares to complete her doctoral dissertation in urban education at the City University of New York. Cecilia attends the French school nearby. Pineda-Delgado also has another 4-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy.

The store seeks to celebrate different cultures in one of Westchester’s whitest communities. While the Bronx neighborhood of Parkchester in which Pineda-Delgado grew up and lives is predominantly black or Latino, Larchmont is about 80% white, according to census data.

The books — which Pineda-Delgado’s family often previews ahead of time — aim to expand the community’s worldview.

“I handle them with love,” she said. “What do I want my children to learn, and what valuable lessons are there?”

She named the store, La Vie Est Belle, in French, after one of her favorite films, “La Vita e Bella”, a 1997 Italian film about a Jewish Italian bookseller who protects her son from the ‘Holocaust by telling stories.

Pineda-Delgado designed the shelves on either side of the space. At the entrance, she placed Native American children’s books in front. She highlighted many on social media for Indigenous Peoples Day, including books about the indigenous peoples of Canada, the United States, Mexico and Ecuador.

A small table for children sits in the middle of the store. Towards the back, Cecilia’s former performance hall takes up a large corner of the bookstore.

Most books are also recycled. Pineda-Delgado donates a book to Bronx Bound Books, a borough bookmobile, for every sale at La Vie Est Belle.

Dr. Aicha Alaoui takes her son, Dean, Cecilia’s classmate and best friend, to the store to buy some of her favorite French series, like Emmanuel Guibert’s “Ariol.”

Alaoui grew up in her mother’s bookstore in Morocco, which she has run for more than 40 years. She is happy that her children can do the same.

“Online has taken over,” she said. “It’s nice to have a place to leaf through a book.”

La Vie Est Belle has also been able to organize events that parents say set it apart from other bookstores, or even the local library.

It has made a difference for Farah Haggag’s family since they moved from Cairo, Egypt to Rye in Westchester in February 2020 just before the closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the fall, Haggag placed her son, Nourildin, 7, in La Vie Est Belle’s STEAM yoga camp. Instead of the usual acronym for “science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics”, Pineda-Delgado, who taught chemistry, changed it to “science, technology, empathy, art and music”. It made a difference for Nourildin, who prefers reading comics, Haggag added.

“They try to leverage different resources,” she said of La Vie Est Belle, pointing to yoga camp and readings from local authors. “The concept at the end is always to support different people, bring in different people, and expand the network.”

For Christmas, Katharina Daub gave her 4-year-old son Maxi stuffed animals from her favorite book, “Elephant and Piggie”, by Mo Willems, which he reads in French. She appreciated having books for her son close to La Vie Est Belle.

“It fits the scene perfectly,” said Daub, who also speaks with Maxi in German, which she grew up speaking. “I love walking down the street and hearing different languages ​​spoken.”

Pineda-Delgado envisions La Vie Est Belle as a place for learning about cultures through multicultural language and literature. In an email, she called it “a rainbow connection.”

“I feel like we’re limiting if we’re not inclusive,” Pineda-Delgado said.

Eduardo Cuevas covers diversity, equity and inclusion in Westchester and Rockland counties. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @eduardomcuevas.

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