Puppets, Puppets, Everywhere!! (The Pura Belpré Episode with Jade Catta-Preta)

Subscribe to Lemonada Premium for Bonus Content

On this episode, we are joined by the hilarious standup comedian, TV writer, and actress Jade Catta-Preta! And today, I’m going to tell her the story of one of New York City’s most overlooked legends: Pura Belpré – the FIRST! Latina librarian at the New York Public Library, and possibly the first Puerto Rican librarian in the United States. And ALSO the FIRST! Puerto Rican to author a book published in English, and the FIRST! author to publish a children’s book in Spanish with a mainstream U.S. publisher.

Next time on FIRST! – make sure to catch me and Martin Urbano as we talk about Desi Arnaz and how he became the FIRST! Hispanic man to play a lead role in a network television sitcom.



Jade Catta Preta, Kareem Rahma, Stephanie Wittels Wachs

Kareem Rahma  00:00

Are you ready for hee, hee, ha, ha’s?

Jade Catta Preta  00:38

Oh my god, I’m ready for the […]

Kareem Rahma  00:48

You did the classic non-improv you’re like I’m actually not let me change this to and then she saw a dragon. And then there was a dragon in the office. I’m from Minnesota.

Jade Catta Preta  01:05

Are you really? But you’re so Brown. What’s your background?

Kareem Rahma  01:09

I just got really tan when I was in LA. No, actually, before I came to LA I was just White and blonde.

Jade Catta Preta  01:16

Oh, wow. You’ve really changed you look like a dirty Italian dude from New York now.

Kareem Rahma  01:21

Dirty Italian is probably a slur at this point. Oh, you mean like sexy Italian.

Jade Catta Preta  01:26

Yeah, like you know, like a daddy.

Kareem Rahma  01:41

Okay, so to start, I’m going to show you a picture. And you have to tell me if you know who this is. Are you ready?

Jade Catta Preta  01:50

I don’t know why she feels familiar. But I don’t know who that is.

Kareem Rahma  01:54

You don’t have to feel ashamed at all. She’s not a household name.

Jade Catta Preta  01:57

She like reminds me a lot of my grandma. The way she dresses I was like, wait, is this a picture of grandma I’ve never seen I mean; I just feel like there’s some kind of children’s thing involved just because of the puppets. Otherwise it’s weird. Yeah. So maybe she was doing some kind of storytelling that was like she was like a […].

Jade Catta Preta  02:22

[…] She’s like the hot Mr. Rogers.

Jade Catta Preta  02:35

Yes, exactly. And that’s who I grew up with and explained so much.

Kareem Rahma  02:39

So you probably came here and you were like, why is this old as man wearing a cardigan.

Jade Catta Preta  02:43

Like, who’s this guy with an afro painting? Get me a hot blonde, Germanic Brazilian woman in here now.

Kareem Rahma  02:51

That’s so sick. Okay, so this person, is named Pura Belpre. I’m gonna tell you all about her.  What’s up, y’all. I’m Kareem Rahma and welcome to FIRST. A funny show about spectacular people who had a serious impact on society and culture because they were first. Today I’m sitting with comedian and actress Jade Catta Preta. And I’m going to tell her the story of one of New York City’s most overlooked figures. Pura Belpre. So Pura Belpre is the first Puerto Rican and first Latina librarian to work at the New York Public Library. So I’m gonna tell you the whole life story. Sesame Street came out in 1969. And the country was like, Whoa, puppets, education. My kids are gonna love this. But 50 years before Elmo and Big Bird, there was Perez and Martina, two puppets handcrafted by the legendary Puerto Rican librarian, Pura Belpre. She used these puppets to tell Puerto Rican folklore to kids in English and Spanish. When Pierre arrived in New York City, Spanish speaking kids didn’t even bother showing up to the library. Why would they? None of the staff spoke Spanish, and all the books were in English. But when Pura instituted bilingual story time local kids were like, oh my gosh, tell your friends at school. There’s gonna be a Spanish lady telling a story.

Jade Catta Preta  04:42

They will be like pedal pedal pedal. I just wanted to be more accurate. I like I was going to continue keep going.

Kareem Rahma  04:53

[…] Damn, bilingual Jade, bilingual Pura. This is sick. I didn’t know that we were gonna have this.

Jade Catta Preta  05:09

I feel like you should have some words. Nothing.

Kareem Rahma  05:11

Yeah, have some words.

Jade Catta Preta  05:13

Maybe Arabic or is that more Lebanese?

Kareem Rahma  05:15

They’re the same. Merci. Can I get back to the story?

Jade Catta Preta  05:24

This is actually only for bilingual people to listen to.

Kareem Rahma  05:30

This is the first bilingual episode of FIRST, let’s get back into the story. During her 45 year run at the New York Public Library, Pura cemented a tradition of oral storytelling with puppets that survives till this day. Where are they now? They’re still being used actually. I don’t want to jump ahead.

Jade Catta Preta  05:52

The hands that happened inside those moments. Okay, let’s just keep going. I’m sorry. This is taking us back.

Kareem Rahma  05:58

Are you grossed out by all the hands or like?

Jade Catta Preta  06:00

I’m excited about all the things that have been inside them. Just that,

Kareem Rahma  06:06

Well, the New York Public Library, there’s a high chance that somebody has probably fuck them.  […] I forgot that the puppets also spoke Spanish,  and think they was American puppets but they’re not. Back to the story. Pura’s story is typically defined by her being the first Latina librarian, the New York Public Library, and possibly the first Puerto Rican library in the US, but Pura was also the first Puerto Rican to author a book published in English, and the first author to publish a children’s book in Spanish with a mainstream US publisher. So she’s got fuckin, she’s racking. She’s like, oh, I’m first in four different categories.

Jade Catta Preta  07:06

Literally. And I don’t think anybody had books right for kids in America to buy they had to like get them sent over. Like two years. Two years later, a book would come in. They’re like my kid’s 10 now, they don’t need this.

Kareem Rahma  07:19

And yeah, where did they come from those like you can’t buy them on the internet. Because I don’t think the internet existed.

Jade Catta Preta  07:24

In what year was this? When did she arrive?

Kareem Rahma  07:26

I’m giving the texture. This is the introduction. Now, the story of Pura Teresa Belpre begins at the turn of the century. She was born in Sidra, Puerto Rico, one of the smallest towns in Ireland with a population of about 7000 that she was the baby of the family, the youngest of three daughters. Nobody knows for sure exactly when she was born. She’d use different birthdays on official documents. It’s either February 2nd, 1899, or December 2nd, 1901, or February 2, 1903.

Jade Catta Preta  08:14

Oh my god, women were already lying about their age on their dating profiles back then?

Kareem Rahma  08:19

Puerto Rico had just been invaded by the United States in 1898 during the Spanish American War and was under US occupation. Over the next few decades, like Puerto Rico would change rapidly switching from the peso to the US dollar being granted full US citizenship in 1917. And having their status changed to a commonwealth of the United States, Commonwealth. I still don’t know what that means. I’m 36 years old. I should know the Commonwealth.

Jade Catta Preta  08:43

It just means there’s a bunch of like, fast food restaurants there now like basically feels like America, like just dumped all their shit there. But they don’t get to any guy like have any choice of the votes. It’s so depressing. I went there. And it’s like, you were like in the luminescent river and then you were like, in the Amazon and then there’s like Chick fil A, I think McDonald’s. Burger King.

Kareem Rahma  09:04

Thank God for Chick fil A.

Jade Catta Preta  09:14

My mom likes it. My mom has all the sauces like in a marble bowl on the kitchen table. Yeah, she’s like, it’s delicious. And like, you know, it’s fast food she’s like, but it’s delicious.

Kareem Rahma  09:26

So, Pura’s family was solidly middle class, but they lacked a steady income. Her father Felipe was a building contractor, and the family would move across the island several times. As he looked for steady work. Her mother Carlota died when Pura was only eight years old. Without her mother pure described your childhoods as being a pastoral existence. She’d wander off on her own into nature, something she later credited for adding freshness and richness to the folklore she told children.

Jade Catta Preta  09:56

You mean That’s when she started talking to imaginary friends? Last one because your mom was dead and she was like, I’m sad. I mean, hello. That’s the background story/

Kareem Rahma  10:09

It’s the superhero origin story. I was like mom dies, and then you go out you take a walk with the baby sister. The winds blowing and you hear a voice. And it’s like, it’s me.

Jade Catta Preta  10:24

Like finding a friend. Wow. It is beautiful. Because, in a way, like, she’s stuck in this childlike state, right? Because whenever we have really traumatic things that happen to us, we kind of like stay there. We get stuck. And she kind of she did stuff with kids when in fact, when she was eight years old, she lost her mom.

Kareem Rahma  10:43

That’s a great like observation that I did not actually observe

Jade Catta Preta  10:49

The origin story like luckily, Leonardo DiCaprio. Why do you think he only fuck 20 year old’s, because that’s when he peaked. He’s stuck there. That’s when he was the most famous so that’s like, he’s reliving that moment. For the rest of his life until he wants to stop which is probably gonna be never, it’s almost like a Stockholm Syndrome thing. For me, I tried to relive my first set. And I think what with trauma, it works in that same way it activates this place where you’re really comfortable because you felt like such intense feelings in that moment.

Kareem Rahma  11:17

Quick question. Are you genius?

Jade Catta Preta  11:19

Oh my god. Yes.

Kareem Rahma  11:23

So Pura also grew extremely close with her grandmother as a little girl. She sat on a small stool in the kitchen and listened as her grandmother told her stories her grandmother heard when she too was a little girl. One story would stay with Pura forever and pure his words. The first song that I heard from my grandmother’s lips, was […] Cucaracha means cockroach right […] means like mouse little mouse. So Perez and Martina is a cockroach and a mouse. And I believe they become friends or fall in love. We’ll see later on in this episode. So that story is stuck with her forever. So keep that in mind. As I tell you the story, Perez and Martina. Pura graduated high school in 1899. Instead of getting married right away, which was typical for the time, she was like, you know what? I want a career. So her oldest sister Elisa worked as a teacher. So Pure was like, you know, I’ll be a teacher too, and enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico to continue her studies.

Jade Catta Preta  12:30

We also go into school in 1990. And like, what is that like?

Kareem Rahma  12:34

There’s no such thing as math back then. There’s no such thing as reading, writing.

Jade Catta Preta  12:38

In Puerto Rico. They’re just like, this is how you dance. Is the University of Puerto Rico still there?

Kareem Rahma  12:57

I don’t know. We’ll have to Google it.

Jade Catta Preta  12:59

Leave it in comments. You guys. Thanks so much sick winning math. Come around and leave it in the comments.

Kareem Rahma  13:05

Let’s get back to the story. So her two sisters took a trip to New York City together. Louisa liked it so much that she just straight up stayed. And Alisa came home to Puerto Rico alone. But not even a year later, a man she met in NYC asked Alisa to marry him. And she said yes. So in July 20 1920, Pura took a break from school, boarded the steamship Philadelphia and made the six day journey to New York City. To attend her sister’s wedding, she was 18 or 19 years old at the time. And she’s like, damn, this fits tight, right? It wasn’t just the people or the size of the city, Pura love the architecture, the trams, the lights, the energy. She caught that bug just like her sister, Louisa. And after the wedding period, decided she put school on pause, and we’ll just stay in New York and see if she can make it in the Big Apple. Wow, I love that. And here’s some context of what was going down at the moment. Pura and her sisters were part of the first major wave of migration from Puerto Rico to the US after Puerto Ricans were granted full citizenship in 1917. In the 20 years after that, the number of Puerto Ricans would balloon to more than 600,000 in the US. So she moved in with Lisa in Harlem the first thing she needed to do was find a job.

Jade Catta Preta  14:34

Oh, I thought you’re gonna find some cocaine. Side note she had a very scary, they were smoking opium back then.

Kareem Rahma  14:44

I think everyone was doing cocaine these days. They call it bundles now. Like some bundles.

Jade Catta Preta  14:56

Just do things that grow on the earth.

Kareem Rahma  15:11

Pura was already a talented seamstress and made her on dresses. So she natural you look for a job in the garment district. There were plenty of Puerto Ricans working there. And though she was already fluent in English, she was comforted by all the Spanish that she heard. But pure wouldn’t work there long as chance would have it. The New York Public Library, which was just over a decade old at this point, was looking to recruit someone who spoke Spanish. And initiative like this was basically unheard of in the 1920s. At the time, pretty much every industry was staffed entirely by White males, and the library was no exception. But at the 135th Street Library branch, a newly appointed librarian, a White woman by the name of Ernestine Rose, made integrating the staff her first priority.

Jade Catta Preta  16:01

Ernestine, if you told me that name, I would have been like she looks like she’s smelling farts all the time.

Kareem Rahma  18:18

What if that’s what Ernie is named after from Sesame Street?

Jade Catta Preta  18:21

Oh, yeah, true. Oh, wow.

Kareem Rahma  18:23

I mean, probably.

Jade Catta Preta  18:24

That would be cool if you found this story and was like Ernestine?

Kareem Rahma  18:30

Yeah, so Ernestine fart lady, who probably just far so important to this is a white librarian in a man’s world. Being like she could read, she could work and she could hire and she was like, I’m going to hire more women. And I’m going to hire more women of color. So, Ernestine Rose is kind of an amazing character in the story. She’s got to be one of the first people to graduate from library school. And at her previous post as head librarian on the Lower East Side, she found that the majority Jewish community became engaged with the library after the staff familiarize themselves, which was culture. Rose was keen on repeating that success in Harlem by hiring library assistants from the community. And that community just so happened to be a neighborhood filled with Spanish bodegas and barber shops.

Jade Catta Preta  19:22

Up on Washington Heights.

Kareem Rahma  19:30

To have the library succeed. Rose knew she needed a Spanish speaking librarian. So she asked a Spanish professor in Brooklyn if you could recommend anyone. He said absolutely, and pointed Rose to a teacher who just so happened to be Elisa, Pura’s sister, but as luck would have it, Elise’s new husband refused. He said, no.

Jade Catta Preta  19:50

No, you cannot work. You must be home making me sandwich.

Kareem Rahma  19:57

So Elisa asked Pura if she’d be down and she said yes, Pura remembers her first moment in the library vividly. As she waited to be interviewed, she watched Catherine Latimer, the New York Public Library’s first Black librarian, who had just been hired by Rose, Pura described the encounter this way. I saw her coming and going like a butterfly through the tables and talking to teenagers handling books. For a second, I just sat there and watched. I had been so lonely because all these young people reminded me of my friends that I had left in Puerto Rico. I said to myself, if I could do this, for the rest of my life, I would be the happiest person in the world.

Jade Catta Preta  20:43

What a cheap day.

Kareem Rahma  20:45

And just like that, after a short interview, Pura was hired on the spot. This made period, the first Puerto Rican and first Latina librarian to work at the New York Public Library. Pura was newly arrived in New York, but she’d already made history. She couldn’t have known the importance of all this. But it was what she did with this opportunity that truly marked her legacy. The start of her tenure was pretty typical librarian stuff. Pura worked in both the adult and children’s rooms and she spent most of her time helping Spanish speaking visitors navigate the library, organizing the books, you know, doing librarianship.

Jade Catta Preta  21:36

Here, like what do you do in library school? Like alright, this is the alphabet.

Kareem Rahma  21:44

I feel like it must be a really complicated like filing system.

Jade Catta Preta  21:48

Also, why don’t we make libraries easier to coordinate. I lost every time I go to a Barnes and Noble using their computer system we can all type into.

Kareem Rahma  22:05

You want a metaverse? Do you want like a digital library?

Jade Catta Preta  22:10

My house is connected too, I apologize and say thank you and please to my Google I’m scared.

Kareem Rahma  22:17

You know what? Here’s the reason I want to start doing it is because my thumb’s hurt so fucking badly from doing this. Yeah, I’m like googling like, what is […], when I could just be saying, Hey, Siri, what’s […]

Jade Catta Preta  22:34

Everything and my light in my room is pussy so I go hey, Google, turn on pussy and she goes turning on that pussy. It’s so fun. There’s one called Baby Butt plug. I never really turned that light on but I just love saying that. Every night my boyfriend goes Hey, Google, turn off pussy.

Kareem Rahma  23:05

Okay, in her words. As I shelve books, I searched for some folktales I’d heard at home, there was not even one. She was aware that she had been hired to service the Spanish speakers in her community, but she couldn’t share the folklore she knew would resonate. The problem was that the library didn’t have the book. Pura couldn’t tell the story. It was as simple as that.

Jade Catta Preta  23:30

So they couldn’t read any stories that they had to have the book. They’re like someone’s coming around going..

Kareem Rahma  23:45

On her commute to and from work Pura jostled from sidewalks filled with crowds. She took note of how many people would gather and listen to the poet standing on soap boxes delivering prose. Pura and other libraries staffers figured if people stopped to listen to stories on the street, they’d stop by the library to listen to stories. Smart idea. Take it from the streets to the library. So the library’s sponsored readings and lectures by the likes of Langston Hughes County, Colin and James Weldon Johnson. The library also hosted art exhibitions and choir performances. As a result, the library became more than just a public space, it unexpectedly became a major artery for what would become known as the Harlem Renaissance. The 130 History library branch was a thriving milieu that furthered racial and social justice. This would be seen as radical even if it happened today, let alone in the 1920s. But in 1945, Pura decided it was time to step up her game, so she enrolled at the library school of the New York Public Library. In a storytelling course pure drafted the story of Perez and Martina, the love story between a beautiful cockroach and a musician miles that her grandmother had passed out to her. She didn’t know it then. But that would later become purists first draft for her published book. I love that. Yeah. I am the cockroach. I heard this quote once about like how, like, cockroaches are the strongest animal because they just won’t die. Even like a nuclear bombing. They’ve been around longer than everybody. And then I was like, You know what? I’m in for cockroaches.

Jade Catta Preta  25:37

I’m more of a cool mouse. He looks like he’s got tiny sunglasses to me. And he’s got a little saxophone.

Kareem Rahma  25:48

He’s like wearing a cool suit. Little sunglasses. The cutest would be a tiny drum.

Jade Catta Preta  26:06

And it would hit one with his tail.

Kareem Rahma  26:08

Oh, cartoon shit. Cartoon energy.

Jade Catta Preta  26:11

Yeah, I like all extremities like can do stuff you know. Alright, continue. I’m sorry. Thank you.

Kareem Rahma  26:16

Armed with her library school education inspired by what she was witnessing with the Harlem Renaissance. Pura was more determined than ever to continue sharing stories. Pure constantly requested that an exception be made from the English language stories sessions, because she wanted to share the stories her grandmother had shared with her. Eventually, Purus persistence paid off and she received the Go ahead. But on one condition, Pierre was told tell the children that none of these stories have been written. But maybe someday, they will. When pure have finally got to tell stories. She rallied the kids and told them they were going to try something new. She’d start her stories like this. Close your eyes. First, make believe you’re anywhere a library, a lovely home like where you are today. Or even sitting in the park on a quiet afternoon. And we’re traveling and we go to Puerto Rico to get a taste of a little cultural tale. Bro, Pura vibes. She told them stories with the kind of imagination that transported the whole room. Even other libraries, staff members would pause what they were doing and listen, then the local Hispanic community took notice right away. Those kids had never come to the library before. Baylin Garcia, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent told NPR she remembers the hype around Pura Storytime. In her words. parents didn’t let them come to the library because they thought the library was only English. When puro was on. It was a different story. Oh my gosh, tell your girlfriend’s at school. There’s gonna be a Spanish lady telling the story. Garcia fell in love with the library because of pure when she grew up, she worked for the New York Public Library too, just like Pura. And today, Garcia’s daughter runs the same children’s section Pura worked herself. But as time went on, the number of Hispanic kids in Harlem began to shrink. At the same time, another population of mostly Puerto Ricans was rapidly growing in South West Harlem. So 1929 puro was transferred to the 115 Street Branch to work as an assistant to be the children’s librarian with the confidence of what she’d done at original post pure have finally and fully embraced her role as neighborhood but the Rican storyteller. Here she grew inner self honed her storytelling skills and introduced puppeteer. And then wanting to encourage newly migrated kids to come to the library. Pura instituted bilingual story time, where she reads stories in English and Spanish. She also pushed the library to purchase books in Spanish, which didn’t exist in any other branch of the library. She also created the signature puppet theater. So she’s feeling herself. She’s like, I’m that bitch.

Kareem Rahma  27:58

Once they said […], she just ran with it. Because we don’t even think about that. Like when I first started working at the Comedy Store women weren’t allowed to work there. Women did not work there as comics only like as like cocktail waitresses and all the dudes that work. There were comics. And I was like, I want to be a comic. I want to work the front door because I want to hear comedy. And they were like he doesn’t want that. I took up a phone shift. And she picked up, what is this? Why is it a woman picking up a phone? This is a woman?

Jade Catta Preta  29:54

Mitzi Shore, Pauly Shore’s mom who owns the Comedy Store. She’s no longer with us. But yeah, and towards the end she was like really loopy and had like Alzheimer’s and stuff.

Kareem Rahma  30:03

But still, that’s crazy. And also, I didn’t know this lore of it that Pauly Shore’s mom owned the comedy.

Jade Catta Preta  30:08

Oh, don’t even get me. That’s gonna be a rant. I’ll keep, I love the romanticize the history of that place so much. Wow, it used to be a gangster club called ciros. In the back in the 1940s.

Kareem Rahma  31:32

That’s sick. Well, that’s not the story we’re telling today.

Jade Catta Preta  31:36

You know, she did that so much. Like, I’m sorry, the point of it all was like, I never thought like, wait, women more women should work here. Just like I could take care of myself and make sure that I make my car every night. So it’s cool that she like, opened that door for so many people. And it was very it’s very selfless.

Kareem Rahma  32:51

Okay, so let me get back into it. Pura was an expert seamstress and she used recycled materials to craft handmade puppets herself that resembled the characters in her stories. She made props and stages that made the stories come to life. Her puppeteering would become a major community attraction. Kids would come from outside the neighborhood to catch the shows, unwittingly planting the Puerto Rican flag, making the whole community feel more like home. In an interview period recalled, this truly became the Spanish branch with a complete program for the children’s room as well as for the adult department. She was incredibly proud to have found a way to continue the oral tradition that had been passed down to her through her family. Historian Hernandez Delgado wrote, the 115 Street Branch emerged as the cultural mecca of the Spanish speaking community of New York City in 1932. She made history again when she successfully got her first children’s book published. And it was a very special story that you by now know the name of Perez and Martina.

Jade Catta Preta  34:26

It’s about the cockroach in the mouse.

Kareem Rahma  34:32

It was the first book authored by a Puerto Rican living in the mainland to be published by a mainstream US publisher ever. And it’s also possibly the first book written in English by a Puerto Rican living stateside, Torres II Martina became pure as a touchstone story and went through a number of editions and was also published in Spanish and recorded on final pure also took her puppets on tour traveling to different New York Public Library eight branches from the Bronx all the way to the lower Eastside to delight kids with their stories. It was a remarkable time for Pura. And this is when she started to feel like her grandma’s successor in transferring the folklore on to the next generation. In 1940, she met an amazing violinist, Clarence Cameron White. He was famous in Harlem for being an amazing composer and musician. And then December 26, 1943, the two got married. She was 40 years old at the time around, well, we don’t know for sure, because, you know?

Jade Catta Preta  35:34

We don’t really know.

Kareem Rahma  35:35

I feel like everyone back then was like, I fell in love with a violinist. I know every story that was like, yeah, it’s like, he was a violinist.

Jade Catta Preta  35:45

First, I heard the sweet sounds of the strings coming through the streets of New York City. You can’t even do an impression of a violin. I think it’s beautiful that she did all this stuff and then met a man. Yeah, she was like, okay, like let me write a book first. Let me be the first Puerto Rican woman to write a book about a cockroach and a rat and then we can maybe make sweet love.

Kareem Rahma  36:22

Pura promptly resigned from her job at the library to focus on writing more books and also to go on tour with her husband, who also happen to be in […]

Jade Catta Preta  36:36

I was so intensely listening. I was like, wait, was there a different?

Kareem Rahma  36:41

Okay, pure ended up authoring six more books based on Puerto Rican folktales. She inherited from her grandmother as well as an original story collection called rainbow colored horse, rainbow colored.

Jade Catta Preta  36:58

Have you heard of the rainbow colored hooker?

Kareem Rahma  37:01

Rainbow colored horse. She also published the three Magi in 1944 and collected a series of tails called the tiger and the rabbit and other tales, which was the first English collection of Puerto Rican folk tales published in the United States. Notice a few first here I do. Pura continued living in Harlem for the rest of her life. But in 1960, after 17 years of marriage, she lost her husband to cancer. Now nearing her 60s, Pura returned to the New York Public Library to work part time as a Spanish children’s specialist, The role they created just for her. She wasn’t constrained to only one branch either. She could go wherever she wanted the New York Public Library system.

Jade Catta Preta  37:46

Wait, did they keep her in a little area before? I don’t think you can only be in the Spanish speaking section. Wait a minute, that kind of defeats the whole purpose.

Kareem Rahma  37:58

No, no, this just means that she was able to like go to any library. She was originally assigned to the 135th Street Branch, and then the 115th branch, and then the 112th branch now she’s like freelance. And she took her puppet show wherever groups of kids would gather. For a brief period of time, she used a mobile library stocked with Spanish language books to reach young Puerto Rican children, wherever they were, in 1968, at almost seven years old, pure officially retired from the New York Public Library. But she took another job with the newly established South Bronx Library Project, a community outreach program to promote reading and library use in the poverty stricken communities in New York City.

Jade Catta Preta  37:59

She’s 70 now, she could just be retired, she could just continue going.

Kareem Rahma  38:55

Her philosophy though, never changed. She saw the library as the neutral ground. kids could come to find community and to dream. In her words, every child deserves to be able to see his family, his community himself or herself validated. At the same time, they all need windows, they need to know about other words. And on July 1st, 1982, Pura Belpre died of natural causes. She was 79 years old.

Jade Catta Preta  39:32

What a beautiful life.

Kareem Rahma  39:38

And that’s the end of Pura’s story, since her death, Pura Belpre his contributions have really only been acknowledged in the literary world. Her books are mostly out of print. But in recent years feminist and Puerto Rican scholars have been working to reissue her books and expand her legacy. In 1996, the American Library Association established the Pura Belpre org to recognize a Latin X writer or illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latin cultural experience for children. The city also honored puro by placing her name on the corner of 109th street of Lexington Avenue. It’s now known as Pura Belpre way, though almost 25% of American public school students are Hispanic. A recent study found that less than 3% of books published for kids in the US are by Latino authors and illustrators. So Pura’s efforts have very much remain a work in progress. Who knows if Pura would be stoked to have her name on the street on the road on the side of school, but I’m sure she’d be pleased to know that over 100 years, she started her career with the New York Public Library. Her work today is continued by the staff who have continued bilingual story time and even continued use of her puppets. Till this day, young visitors to the library are invited to make stick puppets inspired by pure stories. And in Harlem, the vintage puppets, that Pura made herself and the puppets made by her protegees are still in use. Kids who maybe didn’t feel they belong, were validated on stories they recognize were on shelves in their local libraries, and also had books in Spanish, that above all else may be pure as everlasting legacy. I want to leave you with one last quote from Pura, in her words, you know that’s good enough for me.  Well let me tell you so then, it hit, and that my friends is the story of Pura Belpre. Everyone that’s listening right now. If you are upset with us, go. In her words, don’t forget the magnificent sweep of the imagination and the dreams of you. When a boy comes only to a man shoulders, his dreams are tall. Through all the hardships and heartbreaks, these dreams often become reality.

Jade Catta Preta  42:36

They just do it is like more of an effective quote. This is actually what she said.

Kareem Rahma  42:45

And that, my friends is the story of Pura Belpre, the first Puerto Rican and first Latina librarian to work at the New York Public Library.

Jade Catta Preta  42:56

Now let’s talk about her quote more. I’m gonna go to the library. I want to know what these puppets smell like. They’ve been around since the turn of the century. I can smell the puppets already. Nothing like the smell of an old puppet.

Kareem Rahma  43:15

Nothing like the smell of an old puppet hole specifically.

Stephanie Wittels Wachs  43:42

FIRST is produced by some friends and salts. Ad sales and distribution by Lemonada Media. The show is created and hosted by Kareem Rahma. Executive producers for some friends are Kareem Rahma, Andrew […], researched by […], original audio production music and sound design by Salt. Executive producers for Salt are […] salts Head of Production […], Salt’s head of engineering, […], Salt’s head of post-production Robert Adler’s, Production Manager Alice […], post-production coordinator […], recording engineer Aaron Kennedy, edited and sound designed by […] Harris, dialogue supervision by Noah Kowalski. Additional sound design and music supervision by […], mixed by Ben O’Neil. Original music and composition by […] additional Music courtesy of extreme music recorded at Salt Studios in Los Angeles and the cutting room in New York City.

Spoil Your Inbox

Pods, news, special deals… oh my.