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Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer (died January 4, 1974), better known as "Isabel la Negra", was a Puerto Rican brothel owner and madam.[1][2] Her name, and her brothel, Elizabeth's Dancing Club, became part of Puerto Rican folklore both during her life and posthumously. She was reportedly born in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Contents

History and legends

She owned and operated a bordello in Ponce from the late 1930s to the mid-1960s. At that time prostitution was tolerated. Urban legends and rumors state that her house was visited by many politicians, businessmen, and members of the clergy, but there is no solid proof of this.

Apart from her business as a madam, well documented in many Puerto Rican newspapers such as El Dia and El Vocero, not much is known about her life. The most widely accepted legend is that Isabel left home as a young teenager to live with a wealthy man, only to find out that he was married. She then dated another wealthy man, a much older, American. While Isabel was happy with him for some time, he reportedly became disrespectful towards Isabel's traditions. On Saints Day, a typical Latin American holiday, he blew out the candles she had lit to honor the saints. She was constantly physically abused by her husband. One of Isabel's best friends, Santos Antonetti (1922-2000) from "El Barrio San Anton" in Ponce, defended her on many occasions. After this episode, she left him and returned home, only to find out that her home was now being used as a brothel. She discovered what was going on and began her own business in prostitution.

Dubbed as Isabel la Negra, she declared herself "Madame" of her brothel, Elizabeth's Dancing Club. According to lore, Ponce's mayor was one of her clients, and the Puerto Ricans serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and the National Guard would use her brothel's services almost exclusively when they were in Ponce or in training in nearby Salinas and Fort Allen.

Literary & media representations

Several of Puerto Rico's most important contemporary authors and filmmakers have been inspired by Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer's life and made works based on her experiences. In 1975, Rosario Ferré and Manuel Ramos Otero published two stories about Isabel la Negra in the literary journal Zona de carga y descarga. These stories were later reprinted in short-story collections by each author.[3][4]

In 1979, a film, Life of Sin, was released, starring Míriam Colón as Isabel, with José Ferrer, Raúl Juliá, Miguel Ángel Suárez, and Henry Darrow. The movie was directed by Efraín López Neris.

In 2006, author Mayra Santos-Febres published a novel based on the life of Isabel la Negra, called Nuestra Señora de la Noche.[5]

Death

Isabel la Negra was shot dead in one of her establishments on January 4, 1974, for reasons which remain unclear. Emiliano Mercado del Toro was present on the occasion, and later recounted the experience.

Legacy

There is a street in Ponce, crossed by Papo Franceshi Street, and named to the memory of Isabel La Negra at Barrio San Antón.[6]

See also

References

  1. ^ López Rojas, Luis Alfredo. La mafia en Puerto Rico. San Juan, P.R.: Editorial Isla Negra, 2004, page 20, note 7. ISBN 1932271325
  2. ^ Ramos Rosado, María Esther. La mujer negra en la literatura puertorriqueña. San Juan, P.R.: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1999. ISBN 0847703665
  3. ^ Ferré, Rosario. "Cuando las mujeres quieren a los hombres." In Papeles de Pandora, pp. 23-38. Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz, 1976. ISBN 9682701066
  4. ^ Ramos Otero, Manuel. "La última plena que bailó Luberza." In El cuento de la Mujer del Mar, pp. 47-68. Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán, 1979. Also published in Cuentos de buena tinta, 195-209. San Juan, P.R.: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1992. ISBN 0865814546
  5. ^ Santos-Febres, Mayra. Nuestra Señora de la Noche; Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid: Espasa, 2006. ISBN 8467020938
  6. ^ Isabel La Negra Street
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