Latino History of Rhode Island

A 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.

Warwick Ann & Hope opens its doors and causes such a traffic jam that prompts news coverage by radio & TV reporters; young men graduating with the high school class of 1964 are required to register for the draft at Field's Point; the Majestic Theater is a popular place to watch Disney movies.

The opening of I-95 by Gov. Chaffee, running from Thurber's to Elmwood Ave. causes a major traffic jam. South Providence and the West End are never the same.

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
The Pawtucket Times features a story about Mercedes Messier, who is the first Consul to Ecuador in Rhode Island, and notes she is also the youngest person holding that post in the United States. She works out of her home in the City of Pawtucket and serves the general New England region.
May 1969
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.

The U.S. Census Bureau counts 5,596 Hispanics in Rhode Island.

Pet Rocks are the latest craze in America; Jaws hits the box office as the most movie; Farah Fawcett and Fonzie are #1 on television; the The 1960s and 70s are a time of political turmoil in Latin America, and by the 1970s most Latin American nations are ruled by brutal dictatorships: Allende, the Sandinistas, and Pinochet are just three.
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
Father Ray offers first Spanish-language mass at the request of Félix Henderson, who opens up his home on 656 Broad Street for the first mass with 15 people in attendance. 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 1971, 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.
Sept 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, an employee for Progress for Providence, is appointed as the part-time director and leads the organization for the next two years.
October 25, 1970
Blackstone Valley Latin American Center (BVLAC) incorporates, with encouragement and support by Fr. Ray Tetrault. Four Spanish-speaking residents are hired when the group receives a $4,000 grant to do a community-led census in Pawtucket & Central Falls. The census count released in April shows the Spanish-speaking population numbers roughly 1,000, (Dec 1970-Jan 1971)
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.
Miguel Berrios a board member of BVLAC, organizes Rhode Island’s first Latin American baseball team called the Pawtucket Eagles. Their first game was against a Cuban youth team in Boston. Plans for soccer, track and little league teams are discussed.
April 1971
Arturo Liz, a part-time employee for both Progress for Providence and of LACC, asks WBRU to produce a weekly Spanish-language radio program to keep the community informed.
April 18 1971
Mercedes Messier is hired as the Executive Director of the Latin American Community Center.

She is invited to Nuestra Comunidad a radio program & series which airs on WBRU-FM for the first tim (July 1)
March 1972
Nuevos Horizontes, the first statewide Spanish-language newsletter is published. It is first funded through the Urban League of Rhode Island and it serves as a vehicle to inform the Spanish-speaking community about important services, cultural events, and other announcements. Later, Giaconda and Jaime Salazar reshape it into a tabloid newspaper.
Casa Puerto Rico is formed in Providence, and later receives the city’s first block grant awarded to a Hispanic organization in Rhode Island.
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.

Acción Hispana is formed and begins advocating for the needs of Hispanics primarily in Providence, but also statewide as needed. Their stated purpose is to vigorously defend the rights of those [Hispanics] who encounter discrimination in every form. Manuel Muñoz is the designated spokesperson for the group (March)

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)
The new highway (I-95) begins to affect business and Josefina Rosario closes her bodega on Broad Street. She re-opens in a new location on the other side of the highway at 516 Prairie Avenue, directly 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
Acción Hispanic, changes its name to Progreso Latino and opens its doors at 438 Dexter Street in Central Falls. Its purpose is to fill the needs of the state’s fast-growing Spanish-speaking immigrant community in the city. The first director, who is also director of Acción, is Mario Peña.
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. He is the first Latino to be appointed to serve in this post. He serves for five years (1978-1983)
Oct 6, 1978
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

To contribute, click here.

Stacks Image 2379