Places That Matter | Latinos in Rhode Island

Borinquen Street | Providence, RI

Borinquen Street | Providence, RI 02905

Borinquen Street, which is the ancient name for Puerto Rico, is the first street in Rhode Island that was officially re-named to the Spanish language.
In the 1980s, the Puerto Rican community in Rhode Island grew twofold and became a major driving force in the local political landscape. In those days, elected officials and candidates began to understand the power of the Hispanic vote and sought the support of the Puerto Rican community during local elections by encouraging them to register to vote.
Individuals such as Osvaldo “Ozzie” Castillo, who helped found the Puerto Rican parade in 1984, were involved in making change by leading Puerto Ricans through a time when the Latino community was growing rapidly. He was also one of the founders of Casa Puerto Rico, a multi-service center for the community. Castillo says: “At that time, there was a great need in the Hispanic community for all kinds of services and Casa Puerto Rico — located between Elmwood Avenue and Broad Street — was right in the heart of Providence.” It was here where the Latinos had begun settling since the 1950s.

According to Castillo, Casa Puerto Rico fulfilled a great need for the community as a whole: the elderly needed to be fed, kids needed to have a place where to go, there was also a "cultural" need. “We heard Latino elders say that they needed to [stay in touch with] their culture,” said Ozzie, “and that's why I felt a need to open a multi-service center, where we served not just Puerto Ricans, but all Hispanics who needed our services.”

That same year, in 1984, with the help of Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci and Councilman Tom O’Connor, Castillo and members of the Puerto Rican community petitioned to change the name of "Bishop Street" to Borinquen Street because, said Castillo, “Hispanics who lived on or near that street had a problem pronouncing the word bishop.”

“In Spanish,” said Ozzie, “the word bicho is a derogatory term, and so we renamed the street and called it Borinquen.”

Borinquen is the ancient name of the island of Puerto Rico. Before the Spanish Colonists arrived and renamed it Puerto Rico the indigenous Indians, The Tainos, called the land "Borinquen,” which means "Land of the Valiant Lord." One who was from Borinquen (Puerto Rico) is called a Boricua.

Today Borinquen Street is still the only street in Rhode Island officially re-named to the Spanish language.
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