Nuestras Raices | Rhode Island


Pictured Above: Tomás Avila, Victor Capellán, Patricia Martínez, Alida Balderra, Lydia Pérez, Norelys Consuegra, Delia Masjoan-Rodríguez, Marta V. Martínez, Mercedes “Betty” Bernal, Juán Pichardo. Photos by Salvatore Mancini • 2001
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Collecting our history is incredibly important for me because we, as Latinos, rarely are given the opportunity to share our history and to tell our story. My hope is for the younger generations to learn about all the successes that Latinx individuals have had in this country, and to understand the whole history of the Latinx community, and how celebrateing our diversity makes us stronger and keeps united.
Marta V. Martínez, Founder of Nuestras Raíces and Community Oral Historian

Nuestras Raíces: An Oral History Project of the Rhode Island Latino Community

Nuestras Raíces: The Latino Oral History Project of Rhode Island began in 1991 when I met and recorded the memories of Josefina Rosario who had been co-owner (with her husband, Tony) of Fefa’s Market, the first bodega in Rhode Island. Later, I met with and recorded the voices of many other Latino pioneers, among them factory workers, community activists, social service providers, artists, elected officials, educators and others.

As the project moved forward, I chose to focus on the four largest Latino groups, based on the 1990 Census: Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians and Guatemalans. Twenty years later, the 2010 Census showed that these four groups were still the largest and fastest-growing in the state, and that the overall growth of the Hispanic population was significant compared to the greater population of Rhode Island.

The Spanish word “raíces” means “roots” in English, and this word explains what this project is all about: It is about the history — the beginnings and growth — of the Latino community of Rhode Island. It is about the first Dominican families; the first Colombian mill workers; the first Guatemalan jewelry workers who came to Rhode Island. It is about the first Hispanic physicians to open a health clinic on Broad Street; the first Latino students who enrolled in the public schools; and the first Hispanic police officer in the state. The most important observation I discovered through this project is that until the mid-1950s there was no evidence of significant numbers of Latinos anywhere in the state of Rhode Island!

The life of a long-ago immigrant or a recent arrival to America is a particularly rich topic for exploration through oral history. It is not easy to trace the personal lives of those who first made their way to America as far back as the turn-of-the 20th century, when America and Rhode Island first began receiving countless immigrants from Europe. However, as I set out to do this project, I found it relatively easy to find individuals who came to Rhode Island from Latin-America, and that was because Latinos began arriving and settling here as recently as the 1950s. Today, there are countless Latinos still living in Rhode Island with vivid memories of their first arrival to this state during those early years.

While just a decade ago Rhode Island’s Latino population stood at around 12% of the state. The 2020 Census now shows there are more than 180,000 Latinos or Hispanics in Rhode Island, up more than 50,000 from 2010. The growth in the Latino population is critical for the state’s economic future as its workforce ages, much as it did in the 1960s at the advent of the arrival of waves of Dominicans, Colombians, Guatemalans, and others. History is being repeated in 2022 as we see a graying population with a lot of people going into retirement, especially in the trade.

The Latino community’s continued growth also underscores the importance of investing in Latino youth. We are seeing a Latino population that is younger and while that’s a positive thing, it's critical that the baton passes to them to continue collecting this history, so that we continue to learn from their ancestral stories.

Nuestras Raíces communicates and presents the history of Latinos. But most importantly, will guide the future of Latinos. The stories I've collected showcase the successes and the struggles of the Latino community. I would like to see young people read and remember these stories and have role models they can look up to. This is why I hope to encourage and teach others to continue collecting many more.

Would you like to add your story to this collection? Do you know someone whose story should be in this collection? Fill out the
online form and I'll contact you right away.

- Marta V. Martínez
Community Oral Historian
Nuestras Raices, Founder & Project Director
© All Rights Reserved | Nuestras Raíces: Latino History of RI © | When using materials from this website, please acknowledge by stating the name of the URL of the webpage on which it is displayed. Citations should include full bibliographic information as follows: Courtesy of the Latino Oral History Project of Rhode Island, Central Falls, RI.