Fabiola Robles Juarbe

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Jesus Juarbe Serrano -“Don Primo”


With the smell of coffee in the air and to the sound of Los Trio, I sit on the couch next to Grandpa. Together we look at an old photograph.

“That’s Mom next to your father, right Abuelo?” I ask. He nods his head.

“That’s him two years before the heart attack of which he died,” he replies sadly.

I take his cup of coffee to the kitchen, while he remembers his father.

His name was Jesus Juarbe Serrano: a father, a husband, a hard worker, and my great-grandfather. Son of divorced parents, he was born in Arecibo, around 1910, near the beginning of the First World War. He had a hard and difficult childhood due to the economic difficulties confronted by most Puerto Ricans and the rest of the world. He had to go to work before he had even turned ten-years-old. He never had the opportunity to go to school, so he never learned to write or to read. But my grandfather remembers he was really good with numbers and math.

In the neighborhood they called him “Primavera or Don Primo,” even though no one actually knows why. When he was about nineteen-years-old, he married Josefina “Chepina” Rivera and moved to a little wooden house near the river. A couple of years later, after giving birth to two boys, Josefina left the house without a reason, leaving Don Primo responsible for their children’s care. Years later, a car ran over her and she was killed.

In charge of his two sons, Don Primo had to work really hard. His main job was as shining shoes or limpia botas. At this point of the conversation, my grandfather takes me to his room and shows me his father’s boot cleaning kit. First, I’m amazed at how he has managed to preserve it in the same condition his father left it. As I take the black, wooden box in my hands, I notice its heaviness. I carefully set it on the floor and notice an iron figure shaped like a shoe on top. I manage to open the box and a cloud of dust is expelled meaning that it must have been closed for years.

Inside are bottles of alcohol and other creams and liquids, which Don Primo used to do his work. Attached to the removable wall of the box, are a couple of brushes of different sizes and colors. I touch them as I try to estimate the number of shoes they must have cleaned.

After seeing my reaction to this treasure that has been hidden for years in his closet, Grandpa tells me a little bit about his father’s work. He had to wake up early every day to walk to the town square so he could start his day. Once there, he waited for his every day clients, whom the shoe shiners liked to call marchantes. His client sat on a platform, which stood there in the square at that time, as he opened the box to take out the brushes and the creams. The box had an iron figure shaped like a shoe, which functioned as a step where the clients rested their foot, while the shoes were cleaned and shined. Just like a barber does, Don Primo, listened to his customer problems as well learned the inside facts on local events.

Apart from being a shoe shiner, Don Primo also worked as a piquero in the Fiestas Patronales that were celebrated in places near Arecibo, such as Barceloneta, Hatillo and Utuado. As a piquero, his attended to the gaming bets during the festivities. He watched as men gathered around a table where little, plastic horses raced. They bet money on the sure winners. Don Primo took the bets and paid the winnings.

Both jobs helped him sustain the basic needs of his children. When talking about his father, Grandpa likes to remember him as a kind man, who no matter what the occasion was, always wore a hat.

Even though I never met him, my grandfather’s memories and stories have helped me create a portrait of him. By knowing his past and seeing all of his efforts, my great-grandfather has become one of my inspirations. His life showed me how far you can go when you really want to, no matter what the circumstances are. Starting with almost nothing, he achieved a lot of success throughout his life. Despite the hardships, he was able to give everything his sons needed, without forgetting where he came from.

Tools for a Limpias Botas


  1. I am speechless after reading this. Wow! Great job. This story proves that people are stronger than they may think they are. With all respect, Don Primo is an admiring figure who fought for a better future of his children no matter what. I am thankful for people like him because I’m pretty sure they kept trying to make out of Puerto Rico the best for their next generation.

  2. Wow! This story definitely portrays the true puertoricans and the struggle they when through. The detail you wrote saying that he was always wearing a hat is very important. This show how puertoricans were very well-dressed for every occasion. It is truly inspiring how your great grandpa raised 2 children. With the maternal figure absent, all the weight was on his back. How he manage to balance this weight and work two jobs at the same time to keep the food on the table is astonishing. I am always saying that I would have prefer to live in those times that in the present times. Those were the good ol’ days were everyone had pride and work hardly for their own stuff.

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