UNC Asheville senior Rogelio Gomez Zacarias has been named a recipient of the Community Impact Student Award from North Carolina Campus Compact. The award recognizes one student leader at each member school who demonstrates a deep commitment to community involvement and the ability to inspire peers.
Gomez Zacarias is a Spanish-language and literature major with K-12 teacher licensure. He has worked collaboratively with numerous community partners, including local businesses, nonprofit organizations, and grassroots organizations, to create and establish bibliotequitas (Little Free Libraries) in Latinx neighborhoods around Asheville.
Gomez Zacarias coordinated with local teachers, university professors and students to secure book donations in both English and Spanish, and he consulted and coordinated with local schools and community organizations to identify appropriate community spaces to establish the bibliotequitas.
“We want it to be a beautiful thing that means something to the community,” Gomez Zacarias said in an interview earlier this year. “We wanted to just plant little seeds, a little idea, that Spanish is important, our culture is important, and the community responded really well to it. We cared for it, we took a lot of time to set this stuff up...and we’re seeing it grow even to this day.”
Gomez Zacarias organized a donation drive for books, art and movies in Spanish, as well as fundraised for the materials to build the bibliotequitas. He also developed a tracking system for how books come and go from the bibliotequitas to anticipate the appropriate timing of rotating and replacing books for sustainability of the project.
“We’ve curated different topics,” Gomez Zacarias said, “ranging from indigenous stories, indigenous perspectives of Latin America, books that are in Spanish — that can be horror, books for toddlers, learning how to read, learning how to write, and we have some grammar books, also. We have a lot of mystery books, and some cookbooks pertaining to health and wellness.”
For the actual construction of the bibliotequitas, Gomez Zacarias partnered with high school wood shop teachers to design and build the structures.
“We wanted the students to feel like they put some part of themselves into this,” he said.
Students also decorated and painted the libraries.
Gomez Zacarias hopes the students’ involvement in building the structures will ignite their interest in the contents of the bibliotequitas, as well.
“We just wanted to bring something to the community that promotes our language, our culture, our roots,” Gomez Zacarias said. “It would be a safe space for expression, for bilingualism, for any sort of culture that isn’t just the mainstream Americanized way and contemporary English. There are other stories that need to be talked about, and need to be shared, so that stuff doesn’t get lost.”
For more information about North Carolina Campus Compact, visit https://www.nccampuscompact.org/.