Q. Which small Rhode Island city elected a 27-year-old Latino mayor in 2013? A. Central Falls, where 60 percent of residents are Latino, most of them Colombians. Q. Why are so many Colombians in one city that measures one square mile?
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 Colombia for a while. He discovered that local weavers were using machinery similar to that in his father's mill and that they were very skilled at repairing the old looms. Meanwhile back in Central Falls, his father was finding it difficult to replace retiring workers; their children were going to college, becoming teachers and lawyers and doctors, rather than going into the mills.
Giuttari 's solution: hire Colombians, and the first three arrived on a cold March day in 1965. Lyon Fabrics closed in the 1990s, but for over 20 years the mill welcomed skilled Colombia weavers to work the machines. They became the nucleus of the Colombian community in Central Falls.