Latinos in Rhode Island

COLOMBIANS | Gustavo Carreño

This piece is written with information from an article that appeared in the Providence Journal | Scroll down to the end for issue date.
Gustavo Carreño, a highly skilled weaver, came to Central Falls, RI in March of 1965. He was one of three textile workers recruited by Jay Giuttari of Lyon Silk Works, Inc. in Barranquilla, Colombia. In a few months, Jay helped Gustavo bring his wife, Herminia.

Herminia came in the same flight with another Colombian: Pedro Cano, who was also coming to work at Lyon.

The Carreño's four children did not come for another three years, and stayed in Barranquilla with their grandparents until their parents were able to raise money and get a house for all of them to live. Gustavo felt comfortable leaving children with family in Colombia knowing they were well taken care of just as well as by the parents - even better in the case of grandparents.

Gustavo adds that when they left Colombia, he thought he and his wife would just work for a few years in Central Falls, save some money and go back. But that did not happen.

According to a Providence Journal article written in 1983, Gustavo, who was already 41, was committed to staying in Rhode Island, and had not visited Colombia since he left, 18 years prior. By then, the Carreño children were reunited with their parents.

He worked for Lyon Silk for a year and a half, then had a better offer from Pontiac Textiles and worked for them for six years, always trying to work as many hours as possible. Twelve hours a day, six days a week was his goal, and according to Gustavo, he usually met that goal.

Then, six years later, in 1972 he had an opportunity for a better job in the construction industry. But instead of taking chances and leaving Pontiac, he tried the new job along with his current one for the 11PM to 7AM shift at Pontiac and also the 8AM to 4PM shift at Sterling Engineering Construction Company, his second job.
His wife, Herminia, began working for Hasbro Industries and 16 years later (in 1983), was still there.

In the Fall of 1982, the family opened their own business: the Colombia Record and Gift Shop at 539 Broad St. in Central Falls. While the parents worked full time, the store was run primarily by the children.

The store carried hundreds of Spanish-language records of varied national backgrounds. It was fully carpeted and the display cases always filled with the largest selection of Latin American records and latest music, with requests by customers.

Lisette Carreño, a high school senior helped her sisters, Redentora and Milena, when she was not in school.

Redentora attended school at Mount Ida University in Boston, and Milena studied to be a legal secretary at the Sawyer School.

Their brother Francisco, who had served in the U.S. Army, studied management and also helped in the store during summers and while on Christmas leave. Gustavo, the youngest and the native Rhode Islander in the family, often helped his brother and sisters in the store with tasks such as unpacking cases of records and setting them up.

"The store is really for them," said Carreño. "We hoped they would learn a lot by working, and they did a terrific job running the business."
BEADE, PEDRO. "Colombians earn respect as they make their mark in their adopted homeland." Providence Journal (RI), BLACKSTONE VALLEY SOUTH ed., sec. NEWS, Jan 1983, pp. B-01.

Bernardo Chamorro

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