Latinos in Rhode Island

Walk along Broad Street, South Providence, and you see stores selling plantains and yuca, hear people speaking Spanish and eating at restaurants run by Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Guatemalans. Fifty years ago, Broad Street looked and sounded very different.

Kelly's Hamburgers sold grilled cheese on a roll for 15 cents, and most of the residents were Irish or Jewish. In the late 1950s, however, these families began moving to the suburbs, but in the time-honored American way, new immigrants moved in. Many of these newcomers were Latino; although their Rhode Island numbers were tiny before the early 1960s, Latinos are now 40 percent of Providence’s residents. Almost half of Providence's children live in a home where English is not the first language. This is an enormous change over two generations. How did the newcomers react to their new home? And how did Rhode Island react to them? Where are some of their cultural, religious, and economic roots?

Join Marta V. Martínez, Executive Director of Rhode Island Latino Arts, as she shares stories of the people who came and the places and organizations they created to help them make Rhode Island home. Highlights include the story of Dominican-run Fefa's Market, which opened in 1959 and where Josefina Rosario provided familiar food and good advice on navigating the American system. Lyon Fabrics in Central Falls recruited skilled weavers from Colombia. Cubans, some fleeing Batista and others fleeing Castro, created a Cuban Club based at the International Institute of RI, and Latino Christians discovered a Spanish-speaking welcome at Calvary Baptist Church. Finally, the González brothers opened Antillas Restaurant opposite Calvary Baptist, and served the tastes of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Former Site of Fefa's Market

If we had to find one person who represents Dominicans in Rhode Island, it would have to be Josefina Rosario. “Doña Fefa” is loved, respected and celebrated as the "Mother of the Dominican Community." Dominicans are now the largest…

Lyon Fabrics

It all started in the early 1960s when Jay Giuttari, son of a Central Falls mill owner, was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he became friendly with the son of a Colombian mill owner. After graduation, Jay worked in…

International Institute of Rhode Island

Since 1922, the International Institute of Rhode Island has helped immigrants coming to Rhode Island. Equally important, the Institute helped them find ways to preserve their culture while adapting to American life. Recently merged with Dorcas Place,…

Calvary Baptist Church

Calvary Baptist has served South Providence for over 150 years. In 1902, the church opened its doors to the community at a time of severe coal shortage. Their service continues: walk into the church any Sunday and you will hear voices singing and…

Antillas Restaurant

Broad Street today is full of ethnic restaurants, but in the late 1970s Latinos anxious for a taste of home had very limited choices; Doña Fefa sold a few prepared foods in her store, but otherwise families had to cook their own. Roberto and José…
This tour is a product of the Latino Americans: 500 Years of History grant opportunity made possible through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.