Latinos in Rhode Island

PUERTO RICANS | Angel “Tato" Cosme

He overcame barriers in life and love

Providence Journal – November 17, 1996 • by Tatiana Pina
Angel “Tato" Cosme, 66, quit school after the ninth grade to help his mother earn money for the family. He left the poverty of his home in Puerto Rico to work as a dishwasher at the Old Grist Mill in Seekonk in 1955 in hopes of earning enough money to send some home.

In those days, the boss (who was Argentinian) paid for employees to come to the United States and allowed them to pay him back after they started working. "I worked from 1pm to 12am six days a week for $42.94," Cosme recalls. “It was hard work, but it was better than I would have done at home."

He came to the United States with three other Puerto Ricans; the four shared an apartment in Seekonk.

"It was very wooded and secluded there. You never saw people,'' Cosme says. "I came from the city. I was used to seeing people and having them around me. What made it worse was not being able to speak English."

After a year he moved to East Providence with friends.

According to the Catholic Diocese, the first groups of Hispanics to arrive in Rhode Island were Puerto Ricans who came in the 1950s to work as migrant farm hands in South County, Barrington and Newport. Unlike other Latin Americans, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and are not bound by immigration laws.

Three years after getting his restaurant job, Cosme found a job as a color mixer for jelly beans at the School House Candy Co. in Pawtucket. He worked there for 33 years.

“Jobs were so abundant back then that you could try one place and if you didn't like it go somewhere else. You could visit five places in a day,” he says.
“It’s funny, back then they needed workers so badly they gladly took in Latinos,'' Cosme says, "Today there is a different attitude toward the Latino."

Cosme said the most difficult thing about life in the United States was trying to speak English, “Back home you learn proper English, but here people shorten their words. They talk fast. It is hard to keep up,” he says.

In 1961 he met his future wife, Albertina. Of Irish and French descent, Albertina was orphaned as a child and had been raised by a Portuguese couple. They met when he came to the building on Eddy Street in Providence where she lived, looking for an apartment.

Albertina tried to get rid of him, but he eventually rented a place in the building. In time they became friends and, later, married

The Cosmes play down the problems they've encountered as a mixed-race couple.

“I don’t know why pole make a big fuss,” says Cosme. “We all bleed in red.” They have two daughters, now 26 and 29, who grew up speaking Spanish and English.

In 1968, the Cosmes moved to a three deck on Borinquen Street (the Indian name for Puerto Rico) in the shadow of Rhode Island Hospital; they have lived there ever since.

Albertina, 63, who works for Colibri, a company at 100 Niantic Ave. that makes cigarette lighters, is quite conversant in Spanish. She also became a pro at cooking Spanish dishes.

“I can make pigs feet with garbanzo beans, codfish (bacalado) with okra, rice with gandules (pigeon peas) and chicken with rice,” she says. “I make codfish fritters every Sunday they love them.”
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