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Hispanic Heritage Month Profiles: Celebrating Notable Names in American History

Monday, September 16, 2013

All through Hispanic Heritage Month, ABC7 is profiling individuals who made their mark on U.S. history. Find out more about them, right here!

Jan Rodriguez
Jan Rodriguez is considered to be the first non-native resident of Manhattan. He was born in Santo Domingo, capital of what is now known as the Dominican Republic, and was hired by a Dutch Captain to serve as a translator on a trading voyage to the Island of Mannahatta, which we know now as Manhattan. After his arrival in New York City, his career as a sailor quickly came to an end because he opted to stay on the island and not go with his crew. As a result, he worked at a Dutch fur trading post on Lower Manhattan. He is commonly considered the first Latino and African American to ever set foot in New York City. In 2012, his impact on this city was honored when Mayor Michael Bloomberg renamed the segment of Broadway between 158th and 218th streets in Upper Manhattan as Juan Rodriguez Way.

Pura Belpre
Pura Belpre was born in Puerto Rico was the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. Her initial plan revolved around studying at the University of Puerto Rico but that changed after she attended her sister's wedding in New York City. It was at that wedding where she decided to stay in New York. Her first job in New York was in the garment industry but she eventually took advantage of her understanding of the Spanish language and got a job as a Hispanic librarian's assistant at a library in Harlem. She led a push to stock more Spanish books in the library and implemented bilingual story hours where she read books to Hispanic children to encourage their interest in reading. Her efforts to better the Hispanic community did not just stop there. She was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Puerto Rican People which aimed to better the way of life for all Puerto Ricans. At the same time, she helped establish the Archivo de Documentación Puertorriqueña, an early effort to collect original Puerto Rican documents. Her impact on the Hispanic community was honored with the creation of the Pura Belpre Award. The award was established in 1996 and is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

Steve Bellan
Steve Bellan was born in Cuba and is known as the first Latin American to ever play in a professional baseball league in the United States. He played collegiate baseball for Fordham University and soon after he played for a professional baseball team in New York City called the Union of Morrisania. Even though he only played one season for the Union, the teams position in the Bronx made the cultural barriers that Steve Bellan broke all the more significant. His impact in the development of Cuban athletics goes ever farther. After leaving the United States, he joined the newly formed, Cuban professional baseball league. He is known by the whole country of Cuba as the main reason why baseball exists in Cuba. He organized the first game in Cuba and even served as both a player and manager for one of the teams.


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