Latino History of Rhode Island

A Timeline | 1960 to the 1979

Rhode Island Latino History | TIMELINE: 1960 to 1979

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


Rafael Trujillo is shot and killed when his blue 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is ambushed on a road outside Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.

May 30, 1961
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, with the goal of assisting Cuban refugees who continue to arrive in Rhode Island.
Gustavo Carreño, Horacio Gil and Valentin Ríos, the first of many Colombians, arrive in Rhode Island. They are brought by Jay Giuttari to work at Lyon Fabrics, a textile mill owned by his father, located at 469 Roosevelt Street in Central Falls.
March 5, 1965
The first Guatemalan family moves to triple-decker on Corinth Street in Providence.
Fall 1966
Mercado Latino aka the International Market, is established at 129 Douglas Avenue. It is owned and managed by Cuban-immigrant Nerino Sánchez and his wife Nereida. The market remains in that location until 1983.
In 1969, Father Ray Tetreault offers the first Spanish-Language Catholic service in Rhode Island. It is held at a private home on Broad Street, and throughout that year he moves around to offer mass in other homes around South Providence to accommodate the growing requests by Hispanics to participate. By 1970, St. Michael's Catholic Church on Oxford Street officially begins to offer liturgical services in their basement to the growing Latino population in the city.

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 Tetrault to head it.
June 1970
The Providence Catholic Diocese opens the first Latin-American Community Center in South Providence. Located at 3 Harvard Avenue, LACC opened its doors with the help of Fr. Tetreault. Arturo Liz is appointed as Board President and Sister Mercedes Messier the Executive Director.
October 25, 1970
A Latin-American Health Clinic opens at 557 Broad Street in South Providence. It is staffed by physicians who were recruited from Spanish-speaking countries to fill the cultural-health needs of the fast-growing Latino community.
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 awarded to a Hispanic organization.
As more families from Colombia arrive in the Blackstone Valley, Elio Lozano, who had moved to Rhode Island from Barranquilla in 1970, sees a need to open a local market. In 1973, he opens the first Hispanic market in Central Falls: Colombia Market at 135 Washington Street (corner of Cowden). The market remains in that location and changes ownership, until it closes in the 1990s.
Osvaldo Castillo, originally from Puerto Rico, completes a 17-week training program at the Providence Police Academy and is sworn in as Rhode Island's first Hispanic officer by Mayor Joseph A. Doorley Jr. (June 28, 1974)
Josefina Rosario closes her bodega on Broad Street and re-opens in a new location, at 516 Prairie Avenue, right next to the Catholic Inner City office and near St. Michael's Catholic Church, where much of the Latino clientele are concentrated.
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.

Colombian police seize 600 kilograms of cocaine from a small plane. Drug traffickers respond with a vendetta, killing 40 people in one weekend in what's known as the "Medellin Massacre."

November 1975
Progreso Latino opens its doors at 438 Dexter Street, to fill the needs of the state’s fast-growing Spanish-speaking immigrant community in Central Falls. The first director is Rafael Sánchez.

In 1984, Patricia Martínez becomes Executive Director.

Club Social El Salvador is formed and soon thereafter the Latin American Soccer Association of Rhode Island (LASARI), both organized by the Carlos López, a Salvadoran immigrant who lived in Providence. LASARI became the first organization in the state bringing together Latin-American immigrants from all countries to play organized sports.
In January of 1978, José Quintero opens a small restaurant on 598 Dexter Street and calls it El Paisa. Soon thereafter, Quintero's health fails and his wife, who is left to manage the business, sells it to César and Donatila Zuleta. Zuleta remodels and officially reopens El Paisa in 1980. At that time the Hispanic population in Central Falls is growing in leaps and bounds, and the restaurant quickly thrives. Today it remains a popular eatery and its menu continues to cater primarily to the local Colombian community.
Roberto González is appointed to the Providence School Board by Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. (1978-1983)
Victor Mendóza, head of the Hispanic Cultural Arts Committee, organizes the first Latin American Festival of Music, held at the Temple to Music in Roger Williams Park. It attracts close to 20,000 people.
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).
Antillas Restaurant opens at 736 Broad St. by co-owners, Roberto González and Michael Reyes. It is the first stand-alone restaurant in Providence serving strictly Caribbean-style food. It closes its doors in 1982.

With tensions mounting in El Salvador and the country on the verge of an insurrection, the civil-military Revolutionary Government Junta (JRG) ideposes President Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero in a coup.

October 15, 1979

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