Latino History of Rhode Island

A Timeline | 1980 to 1999

U.S. Census reports 19,707 Hispanics in Rhode Island.

Disco is America's past time, and Rhode Islanders dance at the popular Barry's Disco in Warwick; Lupos is a popular downtown rock hang out; acid washed jeans and big hair become the latest fashion; roller blading is a form of exercise; and Rocky Point is the go-to family park; Reagan wins the Presidential election.

Latin America suffers a debt crisis during the 1980s—a period often referred to as the “lost decade”—many Latin American countries became unable to service their foreign debt.

Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador is assassinated while celebrating Mass, the day after he called upon Salvadoran soldiers and security force members to not follow their orders to kill Salvadoran civilians.

March 24 1980
Manuel Rivera, a Puerto Rican from the Washington Park neighborhood, files papers to run as a Democrat candidate for South Providence State Representative District 19 against incumbent Lenny Walker, becoming the first Hispanic to run for a statewide office.

Anthony Affigne a Puerto Rican, is elected as Chair of the Citizens Review Board. The board is later disbanded when Ronald Reagan is elected President.
July 1, 1980

Brigadier General Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores of Guatemala overthrows existing government. He allows for a return to democracy, with elections for a constituent assembly in 1984 followed by general elections in 1985.

The first Latin American Chamber of Commerce is proposed by Jaime Salazar as head (June 14, 1982). The group changes its name to the Hispanic Chamber and elects five officers (July 21).
June / July 1982
The Hispanic Political Action Committee (HPAC) is formed and headed by Victor Mendóza and Juán Francísco.
October 1982

Anthony Affigne files to run for City Council Ward 3 seat as an Independent candidate against Lloyd Griffin (June).

Republican candidate, Juán Francísco files to run for Ward 5 City Council seat (July).

May / June 1982
Mario Tovar, a Colombian immigrant, is sworn in as the first Hispanic member of the Central Falls police force. (December 3, 1982).

In June of 1983 he graduates from the Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy after completing a 12-week training course and becomes a full-time patrolman in the Central Falls Police Department.

Dec. 3, 1982
Juan Lopez is appointed to the Providence School Board (February 10) by Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. (1983-1987)

The Hispanic Chamber renews itself with election of new general officers and a call for a stronger membership (March 10)


Lidia Sánchez, of Cuban descent and a graduate of the New England School of Law, is sworn in as Rhode Island's first female Hispanic attorney.


Patricia Martínez becomes Executive Director of Progreso Latino.


War breaks out throughout Central America (1985-89). During that time, Central Americans, primarily, Guatemalans, Salvadorians, begin to arrive in Rhode Island in large numbers .


Margarita Baez, becomes policy aide to Lt. Gov. Richard A. Licht, making her the highest ranking Puerto Rican in state government. (April 1985)

Lt. Gov. Richard A. Licht appoints a 19-member Advisory Council on Hispanic Affairs to his office (September 25)

Roberto González is placed on the ballot and elected as the first Hispanic delegate to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention.
Nov 1985
As growing number of Guatemalans arrive in Rhode Island, Julie's Market, owned by Julieta Castellanos, opens on Appleton Street in Olneyville to serve the needs of the growing Guatemalan and Spanish-speaking community in that neighborhood.
Anthony Affigne, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, runs for Governor of Rhode Island as a member of the Citizens Party.

Juan Francisco is sworn in as the first Hispanic to the Board of Regents for Elementary by Governor Edward DiPrete (March 13, 1986)

Quisqueya en Acción is formed by Margarita Cepeda as a youth organization that retains and celebrates the Dominican culture and heritage in Rhode Island.
Hispanic Social Services Association (HSSA) receives its first operational grant from the Rhode Island Foundation. Marta V. Martínez is hired as the agency’s first Executive Director.

Martínez founds the Hispanic Heritage Committee of Rhode Island and with a seed grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, organizes the first celebration of Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1991, the celebration becomes Hispanic Heritage Month, a 30-day statewide event from September 15-October.


The US Census counts 43,932 Latinos in Rhode Island.

For the first time in the city's history, three Hispanics from the south side file at once as political candidates for office: Juan Francisco (R-District 20), Leo Medina (D-Ward 10) and Jenny Rosario (D-District 18) (September 5, 1990)

Governor Bruce Sundlun establishes by Executive Order the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs. Marta V. Martínez is appointed as Chair (September), along with 14 other Hispanic individuals.
Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci appoints three Hispanic individuals to the nine-­member school committee.
Anastasia Williams becomes first Hispanic in Rhode Island to be elected to a statewide office — State Representative, District 9, Providence.
Headed by Marta V. Martínez, the Hispanic Social Services Association (HSSA) officially changes its by-laws to become the Center for Hispanic Policy & Advocacy (CHisPA).
Roberto González becomes first Latino Judge in Providence; he is appointed to Providence Housing Court (January 11).
Delia Smidt, of Argentinian heritage, is the first Latina to run for a Senate seat (District 31 -Coventry/West Warwick)
Hoping to become the first Hispanic elected to statewide office, Eduardo López of Puerto Rican heritage and Chairman of the Republican Hispanic Assembly of Rhode Island, announces his bid as the Republican candidate for the office of Rhode Island Secretary of State.
May 20, 1998
Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee (RILPAC) is formed. RILPAC launches voter registration initiatives and with the exception of school committee candidates, endorses candidates for local and statewide offices.

In November Luis Aponte becomes the first Latino to win a seat on the Providence city council.

In November of 1999, the school board names Diana Lam, of Peruvian heritage, as the city’s first Hispanic school superintendent

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