Spanish-language library takes root in metro Atlanta

The Venezuelan immigrant behind Bibliocactus, a library and reading club, describes it as a place of connection and nostalgia.

As an immigrant father intent on passing on command of Spanish to his children – and as a lifelong, avid reader – Carlos Carrasquero was dismayed by the lack of Spanish-language offerings in metro Atlanta libraries and bookstores.

So, he did something about it.

In 2017, the Venezuelan native and his family started Bibliocactus, a Spanish-language book collection and reading club that aims to connect Latin American exiles with the literature of their homelands. Members, of which there are roughly 150, pay $20 per year to have access to more than 8,500 books, all in Spanish.

“Our idea was to really promote those cultural connections and the Spanish language within the Latin American immigrant community,” said Carrasquero.

The books have a unique origin.

Carrasquero explained that, in the years since he left Venezuela in 2003, deteriorating conditions there sparked a growing exodus of his countrymen and women. As more people left to try their luck elsewhere, they left behind their personal libraries. Carrasquero entrusted a network of friends and acquaintances to purchase those used books and ship them to Atlanta.

The repurposing of books that would otherwise have been abandoned has imbued Bibliocactus with a sense of nostalgia.

When Carrasquero received and went through the shipments of books, he would find as he flipped through the pages all sorts of personal items. There were lottery tickets, scraps of handwritten letters, photos – all of which are now gathered in what Carrasquero dubs “la caja de los recuerdos,” or the box of souvenirs.

“I never had the guts to throw that stuff away,” he said. “You see those belongings and you wonder about their owners, and where they are now. There’s a connection that exists because we both held the same book in our hands … There’s a lot of feelings there. There’s a lot of nostalgia.”

As for the books, they are displayed on shelves sourced from Goodwill and Craigslist, in a space adjacent to Carrasquero’s office (his day job is in the insurance industry). They are organized by genre, and feature several works from Latin America’s most notable authors, from Isabel Allende to Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez.

Credit: Courtesy of Bibliocactus

Credit: Courtesy of Bibliocactus

The output of Venezuelan writers such as Arturo Uslar Pietri and Leonardo Padrón are grouped in a Venezuela-specific section called venezolanidad.

The diverse origins of the authors featured in Bibliocactus mean that almost any Latin American immigrant could stumble upon something that would take him or her back to the country and culture they left behind.

“This functions like a travel agency of sorts,” Carrasquero said.

Aside from housing thousands of books, Bibliocactus also regularly hosts collection drives in support of aid efforts in Venezuela, a country still gripped by searing humanitarian crises.

Carrasquero hopes to one day expand into a standalone brick-and-mortar location, with enough space to welcome authors for book signing events and hold more cultural programming.

“It was always my dream to have a bookstore,” he said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Report for America are partnering to add more journalists to cover topics important to our community. Please help us fund this important work at ajc.com/give