ALA Annual 2016

Pura Belpré – Twenty Years of Conceptual Continuity

My wife was born in the same town, Cidra, the town of eternal springtime, in the east central mountains of Puerto Rico.  I remember her delight when she learned of Pura, years later, when she was studying for her MLIS, and her joy at knowing of her connection with this legendary woman, that they had the same hometown.  I am sorry, New York, though Pura called New York her home, like so many Nuyoricans, Puerto Rico will always be their spiritual home, even if they were born en la gran manzana.

It was a joy and an honor to be present at the celebración, to commune with original art by Belpre-award winning artists, to shake hands with the winners, to tell them ¡Felicidades!, to hear their speeches and be there, in their moment.

For me, it was especially moving to meet one of my heroes, a woman who has earned the Belpre award multiple times – Yuyi Morales.  I have utilized her books for shadow puppet shows and for a very special project in Athens, Georgia.  I had a community library in Pinewoods, just outside of Athens, composed almost entirely of Mexican families.  Armed with a grant, their children and I created a three-part shadow puppet show, with one part focusing on Morales’ Niño Wrestles the World.  I had the children record their voices for the show, create the pieces and conduct the debut performance for their community.  I never dreamed I would one day – just one year later – be able to tell Yuyi how her work inspired, validated and led the people of Pinewoods to create a moving piece of art that would later circulate to all of the libraries in the county for a special summer reading presentation.

I am not Hispanic, but my wife and my children are.  I am proud of all of them, deeply and beyond measure.  Here in the U.S., it has been my honor to do all I can to ensure that Hispanics and Hispanic Americans are recognized for their beauty, and their contributions.

It’s interesting really…it all began with a spine label…or rather, a lack of a spine label.  I was just a library assistant then, processing books for a children’s section, putting the Newbery and the Caldecott spine labels on.  But where was the Belpre spine label?  Lacking one, and Demco not offering one, I simply made a sheet of them on paper.  I cut each one out carefully, found all of the winning books in our collection and proceeded to label them all.  It was a simple act, just a 1″ rectangular label, but now, in four of the libraries in two states I have served in, there they are, just as equal as their counterparts – as it should be.  Wherever I go next, I will make sure this happens, as well as celebrating El día de los niños/El día de los libros, and Hispanic Heritage month – every year.

And now, my beloved wife stands on the edge of graduating with her MLIS.  Her journey started years ago as a library assistant doing the job of a bilingual youth services librarian – I’m sure you’ve heard that story before.  I cannot wait to see what she will do next, her contributions, as she grabs the banner, with both hands and ensures that the Hispanic populations she goes on to serve are welcomed, validated and celebrated.  They need their champions, and there is my wife – she will stand with them.  And I could not be more proud.

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