We sat down with our very own Jhoanna Belfer of Bel Canto Books in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, so grab a
cup of tea and read on to get to know her and the books you love a little bit better!
Tell us a little bit about your vision and what you offer:
I started Bel Canto Books in 2018 as a traveling pop-up book club that moved in late 2019 to this beautiful brick-and-mortar space at The Hangout. After working more than twenty years in the corporate world, I was inspired to find a way to reconnect to my lifelong love of reading and help create a thriving community of book lovers here in Long Beach. My vision for the bookstore is of a welcoming place that reflects our diverse experiences and highlights work by historically marginalized authors and artists.
What inspires you the most when working?
I love hearing customers gasp, "Oh wow, books!" when they first discover our bookstore space inside The Hangout or seeing families gathered around a picture book that catches their eyes. I choose every book, every gift item, on our shelves, so it's very meaningful to me when I see folks connecting with the books and inviting their family and friends to come look.
Tell us your process for choosing books
Every month, we feature books based on a theme which usually follows the American Library Association's bookish celebrations. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (also known as AAPI or API Heritage Month), so our shelves are brimming with books by writers of the Asian diaspora - from novels to cookbooks, children's books for babies up to young adults, graphic novels and sci-fi/fantasy, memoirs, and more! I'm an avid bullet journaler and art lover, so we also carry a range of beautiful journals, art books, writing supplies, and bookish gifts.
Name one song or band that embodies Bel Canto Books:
I grew up listening to 1970s folk and rock music, so I love seeing the morning light hit the bookshelves and playing "Here Comes the Sun" by The Beatles in my head.
Tell us something about Bel Canto Books we might not know about?
Our very first pop-up event was just down the street from The Hangout, at Casa De Luxe, for Fourth Fridays back in early 2018.
What do we have to look forward to when it comes to your business?
We were just awarded a $5K grant from the National ACE Foundation to support our AAPI literary events, like the Festival of AAPI Books (FAB) Long Beach on Saturday 5/21, so we're excited to introduce even more authors of diverse backgrounds to our community in Long Beach and beyond.
Is there anything else you want to add?
As a Filipina-owned business, we are excited and honored to showcase the beauty, resilience, and joy of the AAPI community through our book curation, author events, and community work. Growing up, I rarely saw positive images of Asian Americans in the media or in the books I had access to, so I feel a true responsibility to show that our stories matter. I hope readers of all backgrounds will take time this month, and going forward, to support the AAPI community and stand up against anti-Asian violence and discrimination.