(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.
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.
While 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