In November 2021, Tân Khánh Cao and Josiah Luis Alderete cofounded Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore and Gallery in Calle 24, San Francisco’s Latino cultural district. They specialize in radical literature, poetry, and Spanish-language titles, embodying the Mission District’s storied revolutionary spirit.

Before opening their store in the former location of Alley Cat Books, Cao and Alderete were booksellers at San Francisco’s iconic City Lights Books. Cao, a visual and performance artist, also spent four years with worker-owned Modern Times Bookstore Collective in San Francisco, which closed in 2016. Alderete, who helped coordinate events at City Lights, writes poetry that examines the tensions between Spanish and English: “I mean, be honest, the language of America is Spanglish,” he says.

In that polyglot spirit, Medicine for Nightmares amplifies underrepresented voices. “The majority of books we sell are by people of color,” Cao says. “We carry frontlist things, but backlist is as important for us and featured as prominently.” Store visitors can browse Mexican zines, Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, and Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return (to be reprinted by Picador in October). Cao and Alderete handsell Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Abolition Geography and Marc James Léger and David Tomas’s anthology Zapantera Negra: An Artistic Encounter Between Black Panthers and Zapatistas.

In addition to curating shelves, Cao and Alderete host community events and music, and they exhibit a new artist every few weeks. This June, they’ll team up with San Francisco State University’s Poetry Center and the Flor Y Canto Literary Festival to host a Mexican poetry night.

Chris Carosi, sales manager for Bay Area publisher Heyday, calls Medicine for Nightmares “the locus of anti-colonial energy San Francisco desperately needs.” Carosi says Cao and Alderete “carry the true spirit of what Lawrence Ferlinghetti innovated: the bookstore as community center and literary meeting place.”

“Valencia Street was home to five independent bookstores when I was growing up here,” Alderete says. He and Cao established Medicine for Nightmares “to be a small part of continuing that legacy.”