MERIDEN — Families and teens gathered inside the Meriden Public Library this past weekend to enjoy a couple rounds of the Mexican card game Lotería in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
The event, organized by librarian Barbara Belejack, took place Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon. On Friday, those in the teen room got a sneak peak at the card game, playing from 3:45 to 4:45 p.m.
Lotería, which translates to “lottery,” is a popular game in Mexico and is often called “Mexican Bingo.” The game began in Italy in the 15th century before traveling to Spain and then Mexico in 1769, according to Art Center East, an art center in Oregon. The version we know of today was created in 1887 by French entrepreneur Don Clemente Jacques.
The traditional game consists of a set of 54 different cards, and each player has a board, known as a tabla. The board has 16 different photos from the card on it.
On the cards are different images such as el gallo (the rooster), la escalera (the stairs) and el borracho (the drunk). Each game has a cantante (singer) which says the verse that is on the card. For example, “La guía de los marineros,” which translates to “Sailor's guide” in English, is the card for la estrella (the star).
“For the first round, usually you have to fill up the entire board to make it hard,” Belejack said, “After that you can do it by rows.”
Once the winner fills up their entire board or row with their game pieces, they must yell “Lotería!” in order to win. Common game pieces that many players use are beans, rocks or crown corks.
Inside the library, “Pura Belpré!” is what the winners yelled instead of the usual “Lotería!”
“She was the first Latina librarian in the New York City system,” Belejack said. “She did a lot of really creative things that we associate with libraries today. She started puppet shows and she did story hours in Spanish.”
Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. She was a writer, collector of Puerto Rican folktales, and a puppeteer. Belpré has written books like “Perez and Martina” and “The Tiger and the Rabbit and Other Tales.”
Belejack wanted to recognize the work of Belpré during their session of Lotería. She created boards and cards which showed pictures of books that had previously won the Pura Belpré 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, according to the Association for Library Service to Children.
Belejack would read out a card, which was the name of one of the winners of the Pura Belpré award.
“I decided to recognize her because she was important in setting the standards for libraries today,” Belejack said.
Vivian Carcaño, a Meriden resident, came to the game session with her daughter. She hadn’t been to the library in about five years and decided to start participating in activities with her daughter.
“I’ve never played this game before but I’ve played Bingo,” she said. “Growing up in a Puerto Rican family, I experienced other traditional games, so it was nice to come and enjoy this one.”