Home Authors Posts by Muriel Vega

Muriel Vega


The Local is 4ever

Ode to the Local Atlanta
I love the Local’s smoked wings almost as much as I love the guy I met there (and later married).

Photograph by Martha Williams

When I started going to the Local, there was no Ponce City Market up the street, the BeltLine’s Eastside trail had not yet been blazed, and the nearby Kroger was still nicknamed for the violent crimes in its parking lot. All of which is to stay that, back then, this particular stretch of Ponce de Leon Avenue was a much more likely place to find a no-frills, unassuming bar—a bar where you could nab a patio table on a perfect fall night and order an $8 pitcher of PBR along with a $3 hot dog. Sometimes, you don’t want small batch or artisan. You just want good service and affordable drinks and tater tots.

Starting from the time I was a junior in college, my friends and I would gather for the Local’s trivia night on Wednesday or karaoke night on Monday. The world at large, the neighborhoods flanking Ponce, and my personal circumstances have changed drastically in the ensuing years. (I have a box of strips from the bar’s former photobooth of friends who remain in my life and others who don’t.) But the Local has not.

It was during one of those trivia nights that I met my now husband, a fellow regular. A few years later on the front patio, he asked me to move in with him. But that’s not my only ensuing love affair originating at 758 Ponce. The other is the one I have with the Local’s smoked wings. While the price for a basket of 10 has gone up slightly over the years, it’s still the best $12 I can spend when I need sustenance with a dose of nostalgia. Each of those wings arrives steaming hot with perfectly crispy skin, the whiff of smoke hitting you before you’re even able to take that first bite into juicy flesh. There are seven sauces on offer, but I’m a staunch devotee of the house buffalo.

These days, I’m more likely to be digging into my wings at 6 p.m. rather than 9 p.m. or later, as I did in years past. (The kitchen stays open until 11 p.m. or midnight; the bar, a few hours later.) There are fewer and fewer familiar faces (many obscured by masks). But the Local feels familiar all the same. And I cross my fingers that gentrification continues to look the other way. I desperately need this love story to continue for years to come.

This article appears in our November 2020 issue.

How to volunteer on Election Day in metro Atlanta

Where to volunteer on Election Day in Atlanta
Voters during the June 9 primary

Photograph by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

More than one million Georgia residents have requested absentee ballots for the upcoming general election, and more than 1.5 million have already voted early in person. With local companies like Mailchimp and SalesLoft giving their employees election day off, and so many Georgians voting early or by mail, many are looking to use their extra time on November 3 to help others stay in line and exercise their right to vote.

Here are a few nonpartisan opportunities for staying busy on Election Day and helping those waiting in line to vote across metro Atlanta.

Become a poll worker (in Gwinnett County)
As many traditional poll workers are older, and therefore in the high-risk group for COVID-19, many were concerned that we might face a shortage of poll workers this year. But counties like Fulton, DeKalb, and Cobb were overwhelmed with thousands of applications, and the spots quickly filled up. Gwinnett County, however, is still looking for poll workers, as long as you live within the county lines. You need to be at least 16 and a U.S. citizen, and it is paid.

Hand out snacks and water
During the June primary, as many voters stood in hours-long lines under the hot Atlanta sun at polling places, a few individuals mobilized to provide water and snacks to those in line for several hours, like the group #ProtestPizzaATL. Local nonprofit Feed the Revolution took sign-ups on Instagram, provided a pick-up location, and the volunteer could pick their snack loot to give away at a designated polling place.

For November 3, others are joining the food movement. Sign up to be part of the snack brigade with the Georgia 55 Project, founded by the four women behind #ProtestPizzaATL, and help with “line-warming,” the act of feeding, hydrating, and providing support to voters waiting in line to vote, according to their form. They’re partnering with over 30 local restaurants and food partners for their efforts, especially focusing on providing economic support to Black- and minority-owned businesses. You can sign up to organize supplies, drive supplies to specific hubs, or distribute supplies at a polling place to those waiting in line.

Podcaster and journalist King Williams has raised over $4,000 (and counting) to bring “Pizza to the Polls” across metro Atlanta, along with Georgia 55. The money raised will go to food, drinks, hand sanitizers, masks, gloves, flashlights, and portable chargers. He’s still recruiting volunteers to help out on the day of the election. You can sign up by sending him a message on Instagram.

Monitor at polling places
A poll monitor acts as a nonpartisan aid to ensure everyone gets a fair chance to cast their vote. You talk to voters in line as issues arise or if they need an interpreter. The Latino Community Fund is looking for bilingual Spanish speakers to be poll monitors in DeKalb, Gwinnett, Hall, and Cobb Counties. It is a paid opportunity at $20 an hour, and you can sign up for shifts here.

If you’re not bilingual, you can still sign up to be a volunteer poll monitor through legal nonprofit Advancing Justice Atlanta. Online training is scheduled on Thursdays and Saturdays. Masks, gloves, and signs are provided per shift, and if you sign up for two or more shifts, you’ll get paid $15 an hour.

Drive voters to the polls
The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) is sending out 15-passenger vans as part of their Roll-to-the-Polls campaign across nine counties in metro Atlanta. Voters can request a free ride via their site or by calling 1-888-495-6222.

You can volunteer to drive one of those vans by signing up here. The vans will be fully stocked with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes to protect voters and drivers.

Have an IT background? Become a Field Service Technician
Unfortunately, Georgia voters are very familiar with technical issues at their polling places—broken machines, interrupted Wi-Fi, etc. Several metro Atlanta counties are looking for Election Day field service technicians (via the Metro Atlanta Chamber) to alleviate that during election day.

Put your IT background to work during a half-day training to learn the setup and operation of polling place voting equipment. You need experience using tables, computers, printers, and scanners. Then, you’ll attend your 15-hour shift on Election Day to support poll workers at your designated location. Total compensation for this position is $400.

Providing food is part of the mission for South Bend Commons, from protests to COVID-19

The South Bend Commons
South Bend Commons collected water, crackers, protein bars, and first aid kits for protestors.

Photograph courtesy of South Bend Commons

After posting a daily list of needs on Instagram Stories starting in early June, the South Bend Commons collected snacks, water packs, and masks for the protestors in downtown Atlanta marching and demonstrating against police brutality. The organization’s truck would pull up to a protest area, filled with donations from locals, and distribute the items to more than 2,000 people.

“The South Bend Commons was really founded for moments like these,” say Sean Wolters and Juliet Jordan, two members of the South Atlanta community-led organization. “Our collective was founded with the idea that building and fighting go hand-in-hand.”

Located in Lakewood Heights, the South Bend Commons opened in 2018 as a neighborhood resource. “[We are] dedicated to urban experiments in autonomy, resilience, and community. We mean to learn with those around us, recognizing we come from different backgrounds and demographics, and working toward a common way of life across those backgrounds,” they say.

The South Bend Commons
The South Bend Commons in Lakewood Heights

Photograph courtesy of South Bend Commons

As an organization, South bend provides a weekly grocery program, a collective dinner, a library, martial arts classes, and various cultural events (such as poetry readings) as a way to support the surrounding community. Distributing food to those who need it is a major part of their identity—and not just in times of crisis.

“Each Friday, anyone can come by and pick a box of groceries for free,” Wolters and Jordan say. “Lakewood Heights is a food desert and low-income, so it’s vital to provide fresh produce for no cost in the area.”

They say an average of 50 people come every Friday to pick up free groceries.

When COVID-19 began to spread, and Atlanta started going on lockdown in March, the South Bend Commons partnered with COVID-19 relief initiative Food4Life, as they had to suspend their in-person free grocery pick up. Food4Life works with volunteers to deliver donated bulk food to self-isolating families that may have lost their income, are sick, or live in a food desert.

“Anyone can sign up on the Food4Life site to receive a box of food, and so far, over 3,000 boxes have been delivered throughout metro Atlanta,” Wolters and Jordan explain.

You can also peruse their library catalog online and borrow books on philosophy, politics, poetry, and more, safely, thanks to new COVID-19 procedures.

When protests against police brutality and racism, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, started in Atlanta on May 30, South Bend pivoted once again to also work as a resource hub for locals involved in the protests. They started collecting water, food, first-aid supplies, PPE, umbrellas, and more items via social media. Atlanta residents from all over dropped off provisions that South Bend would deliver them downtown.

“Black people and youth of all ethnicities are taking risks to challenge the status quo,” Wolters and Jordan say. “Right now, people are putting a lot on the line when they go out to demonstrate, with curfews, hundreds of National Guardsmen, and police using all kinds of “less-lethal” weapons against crowds. Not to even mention COVID-19.”

The organization also provides yoga classes, herbal therapy, and mental health resources to those affected by current events.

Buford Highway’s psychedelic snack aisles offer a global tour of the munchies


To hold you over between BuHi restaurant meals, head to the snack aisles of the Buford Highway Farmers Market for an around-the-world tour of munchies, including visits to Mexico and South Korea, the Philippines and China, El Salvador and Russia. Our favorite of the bunch: GGE Wheat Crackers, which are like tiny cylinders of dry, prepackaged ramen noodles. The oddest: the Ukrainian, crouton-like bread snacks with an intensely smoky sausage flavor that will take you back to summer camp. The cutest: milk-chocolate mushroom caps with cookie stems from Lithuania. Not feeling any of those? We’ve got every other possible craving covered below.

Photography by Wedig + Laxton


Napolitanke bag and content spilled out

Lemon-orange wafers (Croatia)

Funny Mushrooms bag and content spilled out

Funny Mushrooms
Milk chocolate cookies (Lithuania)

Nonstop bag and content spilled out

Non Stop
Dark chocolate candies (Norway)

Marmalade bag and content spilled out

“Funny little animals”gummies (Russia)

Flint bag and content spilled out

Sausage-flavored bread snacks (Ukraine)

Hafco bag and content spilled out

Dutch licorice (Holland)

Central America/Mexico

Manitas bag and content spilled out

Cheese puffs with salsa (El Salvador)

Alboroto bag and content spilled out

Caramel corn (El Salvador)

Zambos bag and content spilled out

Ceviche-flavored plantain chips (Honduras)

Duvalin bag and content spilled out

Hazelnut-vanilla candy creams (Mexico)

Pulparindo bag and content spilled out

Spicy tamarind-pulp candy (Mexico)


Lays bag and content spilled out

Mexican tomato chicken flavor (China)

Pocky bag and content spilled out

Matcha biscuit sticks (Japan)

Wang Korepab bag and content spilled out

Wang Korepab
Beef- and chicken-flavored seaweed crackers (Korea)

Otap bag and content spilled out

Purple-yam sugar biscuits (Philippines)

Six Fortune bag and content spilled out

Six Fortune
Lobster-flavored chips (Taiwan)

GGE bag and content spilled out

Wheat crackers (Taiwan)

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Giving Kitchen

Giving Kitchen cofounder Jen Hidinger-Kendrick and executive director Bryan Schroeder

Photograph by Ben Getz

The origin story of nonprofit Giving Kitchen, which supports food service workers in times of crisis, has captured the hearts of Atlanta and beyond since its inception in 2013: Atlanta chef Ryan Hidinger and his wife, Jen, hosted a 10-person supper club called Staplehouse to narrow down the ideas behind their dream restaurant. As the concept gained steam, Ryan was diagnosed with late-stage gallbladder cancer in 2012 and passed in 2014.

Despite having insurance, the Hidingers quickly became overwhelmed by medical bills. But just as overwhelming was the support the couple received from the Atlanta restaurant community, who banded together to host a benefit—Team Hidi—that ultimately raised $275,000 for the Hidinger family. “People were coming together to make a change and build purpose for one individual. It changed the course of what we now see as Giving Kitchen,” cofounder Jen Hidinger-Kendrick says. Team Hidi is now in its eighth year and broke records by raising $865,000 this February.

Since its founding, Giving Kitchen has been dedicated to providing emergency assistance to food service workers through referrals and financial assistance—and captured the second runner-up GIVE Atlanta Challenge spot at $94,127 in 2018. Many of these workers are underinsured and are unable to miss days of work. The nonprofit provides support to food service workers facing illness, accident, natural disaster, or a death in the family. To date, Giving Kitchen has provided $2.7 million in grants to nearly 1,700 recipients. Their Stability Network also connects workers with social services for needed resources.

Now, the nonprofit has big plans to expand its footprint across Georgia and become a statewide agency. Their focus is to continue to expand awareness about their efforts beyond the metro Atlanta area and help workers in other Georgia cities experiencing hardship. “Our best storytellers are the distributor networks that depend on restaurants for business,” Executive Director Bryan Schroeder says.

In 2019, Giving Kitchen was awarded the James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year for its wide-ranging efforts. “Our promise to our food service community is stability,” Hidinger-Kendrick says.

Nonprofit Spotlight: The Empty Stocking Fund


The Empty Stocking Fund has been an Atlanta institution since 1927, after a group of employees from the Atlanta Georgian founded it during the Great Depression. The nonprofit allows parents to “shop” for their children and select gifts from the organization’s toy store every December, when Santa’s Village goes up, and more than 2,500 volunteers help distribute thousands of items including toys, books, socks, and educational items. Last year, the Empty Stocking Fund took second place in the 2018 GIVE Atlanta Challenge with a total $98,103 raised.

During its annual three-week run in December, the toy store serves an average of 2,000 kids a day and around 50,000 total. “When I first saw Santa’s Village with the massive crowds and heard their stories, I fell in love with the organization,” says Executive Director Manda Hunt, who first became a volunteer in 2005; five years later, she assumed her current role. “I’ve always been charity-minded and feel a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when helping others. I love giving parents the joy of providing for their children, which I think is so empowering and important.”

This summer, the Empty Stocking Fund expanded its giving by taking over the Kids in Need program from the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The program runs a similar model in which teachers at low-income Atlanta public schools are provided with classroom and art supplies. For the 2019–2020 school year, the Empty Stocking Fund prepared more than 6,000 backpacks with supplies for children at Atlanta Public Schools; the program will expand to DeKalb County and nine other metro Atlanta counties next year. The Empty Stocking Fund also partnered with another GIVE Atlanta Challenge runner-up, Giving Kitchen, to provide 60 backpacks for the children of food service workers.

Hunt sees this as an opportunity to merge the city’s many school supply drives into one hub and increase their impact on the community. By 2021, they expect to serve more than 200,000 children.

Elsewhere, their own Empty Stocking Fund team, currently incubating at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, has grown to four employees this year and is continuing to expand: “We’re hoping the Empty Stocking Fund becomes the go-to resource for other organizations doing similar campaigns for children. We’re working on bringing bigger partnerships for the full school year to support large initiatives like this,” Hunt says.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Furkids

Furkids receives help from a variety of people, including Dr. Erika Elmore.

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

Nonprofit Furkids took first place in the GIVE Atlanta Challenge for the second year in a row, raising $121,822 for a total of $141,572 with the magazine’s contribution. “Following GIVE Atlanta 2017, we’ve had a 41 percent increase in the number of lives we’ve saved this year over the same period last year,” founder Samantha Shelton says.

Furkids was born out of a need for adoption and no-kill shelter options in the metro Atlanta area after Shelton came across a cat family outside her home in 2001. She started volunteering at a PetSmart in 2002 and organizing adoptions out of the Perimeter store. With more than 1,000 active volunteers and nearly 40,000 animals rescued, Furkids has become Georgia’s largest no-kill shelter and rescue.

Over the past year, Shelton has been working tirelessly on their new nine-acre headquarters in Cumming, which opened in August. It will eventually house both cat and dog shelters and a veterinarian clinic open to the public under its 2,000-square-foot space, which also has an adoption center, vaccine clinics, and microchip and low-cost spay/neuter services.

Beyond brick-and-mortar expansions, Furkids is also actively working to expand some of its programs, including Furkids Furtales, where students under 16 read to—and socialize with—cats at the shelter. Shelton recently partnered with Gwinnett County Public Library for children to volunteer. “This is a special way to accomplish their reading goals for the summer, our goals for interaction with our animals, and of course, adoptions,” she says.

Coby Smith and Carter Anthony participating in Furtales.

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

Elsewhere, the nonprofit is looking to grow its out-of-state animal transport program, which began after Furkids sent 35 cats to no-kill shelters in various northern states following Hurricane Irma in 2017. “We have saved more lives through our out-of-state transport program than we would’ve been able to do locally through our nonprofit. It’s the biggest life-saving bang for your buck,” Shelton says. Since then, this effort has expanded to 12 states, and more than 2,000 animals have been moved and adopted.

Despite this growth, Shelton knows there’s more work to do. “Georgia is not where it needs to be yet, and I’m motivated to do better every day to figure out how we can save more lives,” she says. “There are animals in these shelters waiting for us to help them.”

Jekyll Island’s turtle hospital drove its 90 patients to Atlanta to keep them safe from Hurricane Dorian

Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island
Turtles from Jekyll Island’s Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a rehab facility for sick and injured creatures, had to be transported to Atlanta as Hurricane Dorian neared the United States.

Photograph courtesy of Georgia Sea Turtle Center

As Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas on September 1, causing extreme destruction that left several dead and missing and at least 70,000 homeless, those living along the Georgia coast anxiously kept a close eye on where the then-category 5 hurricane would head next.

After Governor Brian Kemp issued mandatory evacuations along the Georgia coast that Sunday, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island went on alert. Founded in 2007, the center dedicates itself to the care, rehabilitation, and study of sea turtles and protection of their environment. It’s the only center of its kind in the state, and with the storm looming, the injured and sick turtles housed there needed to be evacuated.

The team first released seven patients that were ready to return to the wild after months of rehabilitation. Terry Norton, director of the center, says that it is often in the best interest of the animals to release them ahead of storms, as long as they’re ready.

“Studies have been done to look at how turtles respond in weather events, and they know what to do. The ones we felt were ready would be a lot more comfortable in their natural habitat than driving up to Atlanta in a tub,” Norton says.

Three vans loaded the other 90 turtle patients, including four loggerhead sea turtles, for the evacuation caravan from Jekyll Island to Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium.

Grabbing each turtle from its tank, the team loaded them into plastic tubs—similar to the ones that house your holiday decorations—full of towels and padding. The turtles are able to spend several hours outside the water, Norton says.

The team arrived at the aquarium on September 2 and set up a mobile turtle hospital on-site, where the aquarium staff was ready to lend a hand in caring for the creatures.

“They had room for us to set up shop and use some of the bigger tanks for the sea turtles. We had access to all of the saltwater and freshwater we needed,” Norton says. “Their staff worked with our staff to care for the animals.”

On any given day, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center looks after animals brought in with skull or jaw fractures, buoyancy issues, flipper trauma, and other ailments. Boat strikes account for 20 percent of the cases they see. Fish hooks injuries and Fibropapillomatosis, tumors caused by the herpes virus, are some of the other issues they see. One of the seven turtles released before the evacuation, named Manicotti, was among those riddled with tumors, but he responded well to a series of surgeries and was able to return to the wild.

As of this past weekend, the staff has returned to Jekyll Island. They will clean the tanks and ready up the center for the return of the turtles. Fortunately, the Center suffered minimal damage after the passing of Dorian and will be open to the public again soon. While the center is primarily a turtle hospital, it has an exhibition gallery to teach the public about the turtles and their habitat, and also allows visitors to see some of the turtles in rehab.

“We use the individual turtles that are patients to engage visitors and let them know about the bigger picture issues [in their environment],” Norton says.

A few turtles came home to Jekyll Island with the staff, with the rest to follow in the coming weeks.

The team feels positive about the community of wild turtles in the area too. The nests hatched earlier this year, so they’re hoping few were impacted by the storm. “It was a great year for sea turtle nesting on the Georgia coast,” Norton says.

Make way for Pippa, the rescue schnoodle capturing hearts while biking the BeltLine


Pippa schnoodle

Super playful and cuddly is how Todd Steigerwalt describes his Schnoodle dog—a breed mix of a schnauzer and a poodle—Pippa. You may have seen her speed past you on the Atlanta BeltLine while riding on Steigerwalt’s back.

The unlikely cycling team came together in June 2017. Steigerwalt and his wife, Christen, were looking for the perfect canine companion.

“We live in a townhouse in Midtown. I wanted a dog I could bike ride with; it seemed like a fun idea. Her parents, who are both cyclists, suggested a dog around 10 pounds,” says Steigerwalt.

After a long search for a hypoallergenic dog on Petfinder, they found one, but it fell through. “We were really sad, but then we found Pip. Someone had actually claimed her already, but then we got a note back that they’d said she was too small,” he says.

Pippa schnoodle Pippa schnoodle

The rugged 10-pound pup, as Steigerwalt described her, was about two hours away from Atlanta at the Humane Society of the Southeast in Newnan. At the time, she was between two and three years old.

Shortly after she arrived at her Midtown home, Steigerwalt put her in a messenger bag that he had. “I was like, all right Pip, this is going to be your life,” he recalls. “She didn’t complain or squirm—we just walked around the house.”

Within a month, the duo was traveling the Atlanta streets. A lifelong cyclist and triathlete, Steigerwalt purchased a small chest harness from an online retailer and took her on her first ride: a four-mile trek along the BeltLine Eastside Trail from Midtown to Krog Street Market.

“We started riding together and sticking to the park, the BeltLine, and the bike path. If I’m going downhill at 30-35 miles per hour, her paws are just flying in the wind,” he says. “She starts pedaling [in the air], and if you touch her, she gets really upset. She feels like she’s helping.”

Pippa schnoodle Pippa schnoodle Pippa schnoodle

The chest harness worked for a while, but Steigerwalt started having shoulder issues—aggravated from his road-bike racing days. That’s how his current backpack setup came to be—Pippa perches upon his shoulder “like a parrot” through a K9 Sports Sac bag. Now, they ride together up to three times a week.

Pippa’s Instagram profile, a collection of her rides around the city, went from a few hundred followers to nearly 4,000 followers today following a Bicycling magazine feature.

Pippa’s adorable gear—wearing extra small goggles while inside the backpack—started capturing the hearts of people in Atlanta and beyond. He gave her treats to introduce her to the protective goggles and build trust.

“She understands now that wearing the goggles is a requirement for bike riding. But she won’t wear them any other time,” Steigerwalt says. “She gets frustrated from time to time, so I’ll stop and give her some face rubs, then put them back on.”

Pippa has sponsorships with several companies—dog goggles company Rex Specs even named their hot pink goggles after her.

Steigerwalt says he’s often asked if he has to make Pippa go on a bike ride, but he says that when he asks her to go on a ride, she gets really excited. “She runs over to me, and if I get out the goggles or the backpack, she knows what’s going on. She loves it.”

“Everybody says they love following her Instagram stories daily. That’s why I really do it. And she gets a lot of fun adventures out of it,” says Steigerwalt.

For Latin American immigrants in Roswell, BiblioCactus bookstore is a connection to home

Bibliocactus Latin American Venezuelan bookstore Roswell Georgia
Carlos Carrasquero and his son

Photograph by Muriel Vega

(Este artículo fue escrito en inglés y español. Lea la versión en español aquí.)

Roswell’s second largest population is those of Hispanic descent, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Venezuelan Carlos Carrasquero, an insurance agent by trade, is one of them. He moved to the metro Atlanta area in 2003 and while he’s always been an avid reader, he had a hard time finding books in Spanish for him and his family to read.

“I take my kids to the public library to check out books, in Spanish if we can, but the variety and availability isn’t great,” he says in Spanish.

Carrasquero dreamed of owning his own bookstore, and in May, he opened BiblioCactus Librería in a strip mall on Grimes Bridge Road in Roswell. A small neon green cactus welcomes you at the window, and the bookshelves lining the walls carry more than 8,000 Venezuelan and Latin American books, ranging from hard-to-find local authors to translated American bestsellers. The books come in the typical categories: fiction, self-help, technology, poetry, politics, religion, and more.

Bibliocactus Latin American Venezuelan bookstore Roswell Georgia
Rows of books at Bibliocactus

Photograph by Muriel Vega

Currently, BiblioCactus operates as a membership book club rather than a traditional bookstore. Members pay $20 a year and can check out up to two books at a time. It already has nearly 40 members, all of whom found the shop through word of mouth. While it doesn’t formally operate as a bookstore, members and visitors can also buy books off the shelves for less than $10 per book.

The idea for BiblioCactus came from a book Carrasquero read, written by a Cuban author. “A character in the book buys used books in Havana and sends them to collectors all over,” he explains. “And in Venezuela, the political situation was and continues to be dire. I started contacting friends in and around Caracas to find out how much it was to acquire used books from local authors and provide [the finders] with a small income.”

“At first, I had a group of seven to eight people helping me source books in Venezuela, but it quickly dwindled as people were leaving the country,” he says. “People are distracting themselves with books due to the food and job crisis.”

A mother and daughter ended up helping him. They established a process where the duo would add their finds to a spreadsheet and Carrasquero would buy the books in bulk from them. The funds helped the Venezuelan family stay afloat while they remained in the country, he says.

Bibliocactus Latin American Venezuelan bookstore Roswell GeorgiaWhile most major U.S. retailers normally stock the classics translated into Spanish, along with translated U.S. bestsellers, books by emerging Latin American authors are hard to find here. Many aren’t distributed to the U.S., and immigrants—myself included—can go decades without seeing favorite titles on a shelf. It can feel isolating when accessing your favorite authors means spending hours on the internet bidding on overpriced copies, or in my case, reminding my aunt (who lives in Panama) to go to the bookstore, buy a copy, and mail it to Atlanta. It’s an exhausting process.

“We’ve had Venezuelans come by and see authors that they haven’t seen in a long time. They’re very local. That’s why we have a Venezuelan-focused area,” says Carrasquero. “But we’ve had people from Spain, Colombia, and all over come to visit or donate books. Some go straight to a certain section and ask if we have a particular author.”

Carrasquero’s passion for these books is clear as he talks about the gems he’s received that now rest on bookshelves found on Craigslist and at Goodwill. As he walks around, he quickly mumbles that a book is in the wrong place and swiftly moves it to its proper home. He says that categorizing the books has actually helped him to discover new favorite authors.

BiblioCactus has become a family affair, too, as his three kids spend hours opening boxes and alphabetizing books across genres. “I’m doing this because I love to read and want to help others start reading. Hearing that they want to keep the books because they love them is my objective,” he says.

BiblioCactus has a monthly Saturday open house where Carrasquero and his family invite the Atlanta Hispanic community to stop by and purchase a membership. Their first one was earlier in June.

“Eventually, I would like to move to a separate brick and mortar bookstore, add new releases, and keep the club,” Carrasquero says. “Right now, I’m concentrating on building a community and spreading awareness about this resource.”

For me, walking into this DIY library and spotting the names of authors that I hadn’t seen since I was younger was a nostalgic experience. Particularly in the current political climate, finding a tiny slice of your heritage on a bookshelf can make you feel seen and heard. It’s like returning to the neighborhood you grew up in after a long time away, or tasting your favorite homemade dish—the one that only your mom can cook properly. They’re the things that make you  . . . you. 1255 Grimes Bridge Road, Roswell, 770-809-4765

Follow Us