A cultural bridge between the U.S and Latin America
In 2014, two Spanish engineers founded The Wild Detectives, an independent bookstore in Dallas that has become a cultural anchor in the city
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At a dinner party between engineers it is unusual for the conversation to revolve around books, so it was easy for Javier García del Moral and Paco Vique, two Spanish civil engineers with a love of literature, to become friends when they were both expatriates in Dublin.
A few years later, when the company moved them to Dallas, Texas — at the time an important hub for Spanish companies in the transportation infrastructure sector — the two friends decided to create a business where they could satisfy their common passion for the world of literature and books. After giving the matter some thought, in February 2014 they opened in The Wild Detectives in Dallas, (Los detectives salvajes, in honor of the well-known novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño), a bookstore-bar-concert hall that today has not only become a center for the cultural life of the Texan city, but also a “bridge” between the U.S. and Latin America.
“More than a bookstore, what we wanted to set up was a meeting place, a space to share,” García del Moral explained in a recent interview with AL DIA News in Barcelona, a city he often visits, as his wife lives there.
Going back to the beginnings of the business, García del Moral recalls that the most difficult thing was to find a place that fit what they needed. One of the requirements for opening a business in Dallas is that it must have a certain number of parking spaces, and in Oak Cliff, a historic neighborhood with houses from the 1930s, amid gentrification, it was difficult to find such large spaces. But they succeeded, “and from the very first moment, the city received us very well. People immediately appeared proposing events and concerts,” recalls García del Moral.
His partner and him personally took care of the selection of book titles for sale — there are currently close to 1,000, mostly English translations, although they also have a small section of books in Spanish — and the first cultural events, from book presentations to concerts and plays, until the program became so extensive that it became complicated to combine their work as engineers with the management of the bookstore.
“We had to think a thousand times about how to organize the staff to make it sustainable,” recalls García del Moral.
Despite being from Spain and sharing a great fondness for Spanish-American literature, the founders of The Wild Detectives never wanted to position themselves as a “Latino” or “Hispanic” bookstore, but rather focused on the idea of being a meeting point, “a place with several faces: books, music, cocktails, gastronomy, dancing...” open to all kinds of audiences.
“It’s true that speaking Spanish was an advantage from the beginning,” acknowledges García del Moral, who now devotes himself full time to the bookstore. “We know that today in the U.S. the focus is on Latin America, at least in a city like Dallas,” he added.
From Querétaro to Dallas
During the early years, García del Moral traveled regularly to Latin America, especially Mexico, and took advantage of work trips to attend festivals and literature fairs, establish contact with Latin American publishers and authors. That’s how in 2018, the possibility came up of organizing in his Dallas bookstore an “extension” of the well-known Hay Festival in Querétaro, coinciding with the publication in English of the first anthology of texts from Bogotá 39, the list of authors from the south of the continent under 40 years of age promoted by the Hay Festival.
“The truth is that the event went very well, and between that year and the next we had guests of the stature of Jon Lee Anderson, Ben Fountain, Yásnaya Aguilar, Elvira Liceaga, Emiliano Monge or Cristina Rivera-Garza,” explains the entrepreneur, naming several big names in the U.S. and Mexico. Then came the pandemic, which forced them to take the Hay Festival Forum Dallas to the online format and to slow down the pace of activities. For the 2022 edition, which took place on Sept. 3 and 4, The Wild Detectives, in collaboration with several Texas universities, carried out its most ambitious edition, with nine guest authors from six different countries.
“One of the things I like most about Hay Festival is that it flees from the lectures and conferences format, conversations and debates on different topics are generated, a very nice atmosphere is created, very close,” said García del Moral, recalling some of this year’s guests, among them Peruvian writer Jeremías Gamboa, Cuban journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez and Mexican-American journalist Alma Guillermoprieto.
“We see ourselves as a cultural bridge between the U.S. and Latin America,” says the entrepreneur in reference to the bookstore’s role in Dallas, a city with a 40% Hispanic population. However, García del Moral is aware that the customer profile of his bookstore is not the undocumented or low-income Latino immigrant struggling to achieve the American dream. Nor was that his starting point.
Spanish, an aspiration
“My salary as an expatriate engineer put me in a privileged position,” Garcia del Moral admits, recalling that Dallas is a city where the average household income is below the national average.
As for the anti-immigration policies promoted by the Trump administration and the Republicans in recent years, “it is true that they have done a lot of damage, but Trump does not represent the cities of the United States,” he comments. In addition, he said he's observed that Spanish has become a more international language in Dallas.
“Americans want to learn it. It has become aspirational,” he adds.
It is true that speaking Spanish was an advantage
As a bookstore owner, he has also been unaffected by the recent censorship of books on sexuality and racism pushed in some Republican-controlled school districts in the state of Texas.
“This cultural indoctrination is troubling, but it mostly affects rural Texas,” he says.
For him, what is evident is that “Texas has realized that it is only going to preserve if it integrates Latin America.”
Beyond being a bridge between two cultures, the bookstore has another very clear objective: to widen the reading fringe, that is, to get someone who never reads to buy a book.
“That small percentage of readers who buy books is already guaranteed, it is the backbone of any bookstore. But then there is someone who comes in to have a cocktail, see a play, participate in a salsa or cumbia session and, oh, they see that there are also books and end up buying one,” he concludes.