Latino History of RI

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

With the exception of those of pure Native American descent, nobody is "from here."

Part of America's identity is its reputation as a place where anything is possible, where education and hard work are the keys to opportunity and prosperity. It's what brought countless Latino immigrants to America, to Rhode Island, years ago and what continues to draw other bright and hard-working immigrants today.

As the debate over immigration reform heats up, we would do well to remember that America has always been a place of freedom and refuge from poverty and persecution.

The information gathered to create this timeline shows that Rhode Island was indeed built by immigrants.

Rhode Island Latino History | TIMELINE: 1920 to 1980

Puerto Ricans are recruited by private business owners, and brought to Providence to work in locals factories and as temporary workers on farms and nurseries. Among them is Julio Casiano, who at the age of 22 came to Rhode Island as a temporary migrant worker in the spring of 1926.
The 1920s

Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, nicknamed El Jefe, rules the Dominican Republic from February 1930 until his assassination in May 1961.

Mexican Consulate opens office on Westminster Street, Providence.
March 1938

The first bracero program is implemented between the U.S. and Mexico.


WWII breaks out, which lasted from 1939 to 1945

In 1944, Puerto Ricans first move into naval base housing in Newport.
In January of 1944, 60 men, who came as braceros from Mexico and brought from California and Texas to a labor camp in East Greenwich, arrive to help meet a labor shortage suffered by the railroad in the Northeast due to WWII. They work in East Greenwich, Providence, East Hartford, Springfield and New Haven to lay down and maintain railroad tracks that connect the West Coast and East Coast, United States. Two months later, 82 more men arrive. (more…)
January 1944

“Operation Bootsrap” goes into effect, initiating a program of industrial and labor exchange between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico.

In September of 1947, Josefina “Fefa” Rosario leaves the Dominican Republic to be reunited with her sister, Minerva, in New York City.
September 27, 1947
Josefina “Fefa” and Tony Rosario open the first bodega in Rhode Island. It is located on 1232 Broad Street, across from Roger Williams Park and at the corner of Broad and Baker Streets. (more…)

On February 16, 1959, Castro is sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba. In 1960 most economic ties between Cuba and the United States are severed, and the U.S. breaks diplomatic relations with the island country in January 1961.


The U.S. Census form does not collect numbers of Hispanics in Rhode Island, listing only “White” and “Other” as it releases population data.

By October of 1962, 220 Cubans live in Rhode Island, many are children who came as part of Operación Pedro Pan (Operation Peter Pan). In June 1962, with the help of the Providence Catholic Diocese and the International Institute of Rhode Island, El Club Cubano is formed in Providence, assisting Cuban refugees who continue to arrive in Rhode Island. (more…)
Gustavo Carreño, Horacio Gil and Valentin Ríos, the first of many new Colombians, arrive in Rhode Island. They are brought by Jay Giuttari to work at Lyon Fabrics, a local textile mill located on 469 Roosevelt Street in Central Falls. (more…)
March 5, 1965
The first Guatemalan family moves to triple-decker on Corinth Street in the West End of Providence. (more…)
Fall 1966

The U.S. Census Bureau counts 5,596 Hispanics in Rhode Island.

In June of 1970, noticing the growing Spanish-speaking population, The Providence Catholic Diocese creates the Latin-American Apostolate and appoints Father Raymond Tetreault to head it.
June 1970
The Diocese opens the first Latin-American Community Center in South Providence. Located at 3 Harvard Avenue, LACC opened its doors with the help of Board President Arturo Liz and Fr. Tetreault. Mercedes Messier is appointed as its first Executive Director. (more…)
October 25, 1970
The first Latin-American Health Clinic opens on Broad Street in South Providence. It is staffed by one Cuban and two Colombian doctors.
Nuevos Horizontes, the first Spanish-language newspaper hits the streets – owned and published by Giaconda and Jaime Salazar.
Casa Puerto Rico is formed in Providence, and later receives the city’s first block grant funds to a Hispanic organization.
In the summer of 1974, Calvary Baptist Church at 747 Broad Street becomes home to Iglesias Hispana El Calvario, the first Baptist Hispanic congregation in Rhode Island and part of a watershed of Hispanic congregations forming across New England.
Progreso Latino opens its doors to fill the needs of the state’s fast-growing Spanish-speaking immigrant community in Central Falls.
The Hispanic Social Services Committee is formed in Providence and one year later incorporates into a 501c3 nonprofit organization and becomes the Hispanic Social Services Association (HSSA).
The Guatemalan government opens the first Consulate in Providence. Zoila Guerra is appointed as Consul (It operates until the year 2000).

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