Latino History of RI

A collection of the voices of Rhode Island's Latino pioneers

Josefina "Doña Fefa" Rosario
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Doña Fefa
The "Mother" of the Latino Community
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Click here to listen to Doña Fefa talk about the day she left Santo Domingo to be reunited with her sister, Minerva.
Josefina Rosario, affectionately known as "Doña Fefa" among generations of Dominicans who currently live in Rhode Island, has been credited with launching the first wave of immigration from the Dominican Republic, beginning as early as 1955. She and her husband, Tony are remembered by many people who say they sponsored their families to come to the United States; gave them free room and board until they were able to find jobs; and made sure that they had everything they needed.

In 1930, Rafael Trujillo came to power in the Dominican Republic and established one of the longest-lasting dictatorships in Latin America. It endured until 1961, when he died. It was during Trujillo's reign of terror that many Dominicans, fearing they would be killed by Trujillo's men, first began to flee the Dominican Republic for the United States.

Fefa was personally effected by Trujillo's power when in 1937, her father was murdered by secret servicemen while recovering in the hospital from gunshot wounds. Her mother was left alone to raise 10 children, and later became paralyzed when she suffered a stroke. Fefa, the youngest child, eventually made her way to New York City where she had an older sister waiting for her, and where she met her husband.
I was twenty-one years old when I came to the United States.
My sister Minerva del Río was over here. My close sister, she lived in New York. She came here two years before me. She would often write to me, telling me that she missed her family. In her letters, Minerva often told me how she worked hard, and how much she missed me. I missed her, too. She came here to live with my cousin, who invited her to live with her in 1947, to keep her company. I remember when she left, I gave her an olive, you know — una aceituna. I ate half and I gave the other half to her. I was very close to her. In the old country, that is one of our customs. You share everything with someone you love.

I remember when we would drive to New Haven in our blue station wagon to buy plátanos, yuca, café Dominicano and other food for the Hispanic people who lived in Providence in the late 1950s and early '60s.
Doña Fefa
After I left, I remember I missed my mother, I did not want to leave her. I cried, you know. I was happy, yet sad. I cried because I was leaving my mother and my sisters and my brothers, but I was happy because I wanted to come to the United States to be with my sister.

On the plane, I only carried a small suitcase, like a tote bag. I think it was full of candies, or something, I don't remember exactly.

I remember it was cold when I arrived. Not like Santo Domingo. It was September … September 8, 1949.
It was hard for me to leave my family behind, especially my mother, who had been paralyzed at the age of 35 when she suffered a stroke. But, my mother knew I would be in good hands with my sister in New York. Ella sabía que ya estaba bien cuidada yo, estaré cuidada con mi otra hermana. Y yo sabía que ella estaría en buenas manos con mis hermanos y hermanas allá. And I did not worry because I knew my brothers and sisters would take good care of my mother, as well.

La primera semana estuve “happy” aqui, pero ya me quería ir despues. I was very happy my first week here, but after that I wanted to go back home. The shock set in. I asked myself: ¿Que hize? What did I do? Oh, where am I?

I remember in her letters to me while I was in the Dominican Republic, my sister would tell me that I would have to do everything here at first, and she was right. I had to go to work right away. I did everything here. I cleaned toilets, and everything!

I lived in New York for about seven or eight years. During that time, I met my husband. Soon after I left Santo Domingo — I had lived here about a month — I was waiting for the train to take me to the Bronx one morning; in the subway, to go to work. And then, a young man came up to me and asked me, “¿De donde eres?" Where do you come from? And I said, "Santo Domingo. I'm waiting for the 241," just like that. And then he told me that and he was impressed that I knew English so well after living here only one month. The truth is, I knew little English. I had simply memorized the numbers of all the trains I took everyday, nothing more than that! It turns out he had been watching me all this time, and that's how he knew I had been here only one month. Very soon after that, he asked me to marry him. Oh, pero primero fue a hablar con mi hermana. But not before talking to my sister.

After we were married, Tony worked at Carrullo Restaurant in Manhattan; era bus boy - as a bus boy. I got a job in a factory, making wallets. After a while, my husband got a job in Connecticut. We had to live in New York for a few months after that because we couldn't find an apartment in Connecticut. But as soon as we found one, we moved to New Haven.

My husband got a job working for some Greek people, Constantinopal “Connie” and Mary Gimogine, owners of Les Shaws Restaurant in New Haven (it’s no longer there). Algunos tres o cuatro años Tony estuvimo trabajando con ellos. For about three years, four years Tony worked for them. Eventually, they hired me too. I started out washing silverware. After a few years, Connie and his wife decided to open a new place over here, in Rhode Island. It was a restaurant located at the Yankee Inn, owned by Johnson and Wales, right across from the airport in Warwick. It was then that we moved here, to Rhode Island. My husband was hired as the cook, and I became the salad lady.

Connie and Mary seemed to like me and my husband because on my day off, I would often go over and clean their home and work for other people in Connecticut. These people knew that we were hard workers and dedicated. They never treated me like a servant, never. Whenever I went to their home to clean, Connie would wait for us to finish working, and then insist we sit at the dinner table with him. And that's why when he came to Rhode Island, he brought me and husband to work for him.


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