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  • ➤ Marta V. Martínez
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    Café Recuerdos is a traveling art installation. It was created by Ana Flores, and was inspired by stories I collected about Rhode Island Latinos who began building the community in the 1950s and 60s.

    I’d like to invite you to participate as this project grows. My goal is to collect stories of the personal lives of all Rhode Islanders. The aim of this project is to assist you in understanding that your personal stories can offer a historic, cultural, economic, and social context to our lives, and that people’s personal stories can be an essential foundation for developing and building a sense of place.

    I believe that the collection of these stories is an exciting way of involving residents in adding to the history of our cities, towns and neighborhoods. Telling personal stories offers a sense of belonging, a pride in place, as a factor in a civic consciousness.

    Sharing stories can create a strong connection between an individual and his or her community. Further, recalling personal histories and sharing them will help preserve cultural traditions and language.

    Finally, my hope is to collect many stories that elders in the community will remember, and then to pass them along to young people so they can understand where they came from.

    I am interested in collecting your story. I invite you to tell me who you are and what made you decide to make Rhode Island your home. So, do sit for a spell and take the time now to tell me your personal story.

    Go here to get started.


    Click on any of the sections below to read some of the stories that have been collected as part of Café Recuerdos. Be ready to be inspired.
  • ✻ Marianne Ruggiero
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    Oto’s Story

    Here is the story of my son-in-law Mario Otoniel (Oto) Urizar. He is from the village of Chujuyub, El Quiché, Guatemala, and arrived on 27 marzo 2007. I share his story in the way that he wrote it down:

    ¿Cómo llegaste a este país?

    De Guatemala a México en autobús. Vine por México en autobús y teníamos que caminar cuando habían estación de policía. Luego llegamos a la frontera con U.S.A. cruzando por Matamoros Reynoso .Estuvimos tres días encerrados a diario veíamos que llegaban mas personas, hasta q llegamos a completarnos 45 personas, al tercer día por la noche cruzamos el rio bravo. Teníamos como diez minutos de camino nos corrió inmigración por suerte no nos agarraron a todos. Llegamos a Houston y luego tuvimos que caminar en el desierto por tres noches y tres días, y luego de tres días de desierto nos tomamos otros tres días en minivan para llegar a Rhode Island.

    ¿Te costó adaptarte a tu nueva vida? ¿Por qué?

    Si me costo por el idioma y las leyes de este país q no las conocía. Me hace falta la comida y mi familia.

    ¿Porqué has venido?

    Vine porque en mi país no contamos con mucho empleo.

    ¿Qué pensaste cuando viste la nieve por primera vez?

    Cuando vi nieve la primera vez no podia creer que esto era real.
  • ✻ Carolina Bonilla
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    This is Carolina Bonilla, she is from Medellín, Colombia and came here in December of 1999.

    Why did you leave your country? What did you regret leaving?

    I left Colombia because we were only supposed to come and visit the U.S. But once we were here we couldn't afford the airfare back and we overstayed our visa. I regretted leaving my life there. I was just a little girl.

    Describe your most vivid memory about arriving for the first time in the U.S.

    When I was on the plane they fed me mashed potatoes, I had no idea what they were. Once getting off the plane and not being able to understand anyone was very scary. It sure wasn't home and I felt like it would never be “home.”

    Did you find it hard to adjust to life in the U.S.? What did you like most about your new life here? What did you miss?

    It was very hard to adjust. We had absolutely nothing. Looking for a place, knocking from door to door. Once I got older it was a little easier, but not really. I was awarded very good scholarships and couldn't use them due to my legal status. My resentment grew because they told me I was a great student, but all my hard work was for nothing. I really only enjoyed life when did dance. It was my only outlet.

    Describe your first experience seeing snow.

    I loved it. I was a small child and it was fun playing in it and being able to go sledding. It was if I were in a movie!
  • ✻ Alba Figueroa
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    This is my pal Alba Figueroa, from Guatemala City. She came to the U.S. On July 2, 1992. From Virginia she moved to Providence. It's funny, I've known Alba since last September and I just figured her mom lived here, since she talks about her constantly.

    Why did you leave your country? What do you most regret leaving?

    I want to learn another language. But I came because I lost my job in Guatemala and I didn't find another job in Guatemala in two years. My aunt ask me to come to work here in VA. I only want to be here for one year. But I ended up living here for 24 years.

    Describe your most vivid memory about arriving for the first time to the U.S.

    I came to Virginia near to Washington D.C. And for the 4th of July celebration was a big party on the Mall where is all the monuments in the Park, and was a lot of fireworks and a concert. Was very special to see this big Independence Day celebration it was a lot of fun.

    Did you find it hard to adjust to life in the US? What did you like most about your new life here? What did you miss most?

    I miss my mother, my sister, and brother, all the family. I miss the weather, the food. The different places i still love like the volcanos and the lakes I used to visit. It was very hard to adjust but I stayed until I like to live here, took me about two years. I meet new friends that did what I did.

    Describe your first experience seeing snow.

    What a beautiful day was when I was babysitting two boys and I took them to play outside to slide on the snow. Was very amazing to see how white and soft was the snow and was a lot of fun to slide on down the hill.
  • ✻ Sandra Levine
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    This is Sandra Levine, from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. She is married to an American and lives in Cranston.

    Why did you leave your country? What do you most regret leaving?

    I left my country because I wanted to learn English. I worked in one of the biggest Oil Companies in Bolivia Chaco S.A. as a Vice-President’s Assistant and they needed English speaking staff. I got a Student Visa to USA and I saved money for my English classes and for my expenses. I was lucky that my brother offered me a place to stay.

    I have no regrets. It was one of my goals to come here and I’m glad I did it. I prepared myself two years before I moved to Rhode Island.

    Describe your most vivid memory about arriving for the first time in the U.S.

    The first time I came to U.S.A was on August/1997 and I fell in love with the summer of the small state of Rhode Island. I visited Newport and the tourist places. Everything I saw it I like and enjoyed it very much.

    Did you find it hard to adjust to life in the U.S.? What did you like most about your new life here? What did you miss?

    New places are exciting and beautiful when you have a relative to help you out. My brother was very supportive. In the beginning I found very difficult to adjust myself, the language, the documents needed to get jobs and the luck of experience in this country that was one of the most challenge situations that I went through.

    I missed my mother, my relatives and friends with who I spent the most time in my country.

    Describe your first experience seeing snow.

    I learned a lot since I came to USA. I have been working hard to get what I accomplished, emotionally and professionally and I’m grateful for my family, my daughter and my husband, they made me adapt to this country very much. I overcome a lot of difficulties during the 14 years I live here. I’m very happy that I speak English and for the opportunities I have in Rhode Island.

    The first time I saw the snow I went outside to feel it with my hands and I asked my brother to take me a picture of that moment. I still love it but I don't like too much of it.
  • ✻ Cindy Sánchez
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    This is Cindy Sánchez, who arrived from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in 1998 (she was 10). She lived for a time in NYC, then moved to Providence.

    Why did you leave your country? What do you most regret leaving?

    I left Honduras to meet with my mother once again. We had been apart for 4 years, since I was 6. Leaving Honduras was bittersweet since I was leaving other family members behind. But I was going to be with the most important person in my life.

    Describe your most vivid memory when you first arrived in the U.S.

    My uncle was the first person I saw when I arrived in the airport. I hadn't seen him either in 4 years and when I saw this big man with a mustache first I felt confused. I had the feeling you get when you go from darkness into a bright room. It took me a few seconds to figure out that this was my uncle. He hugged me tight and guided me toward the escalator going down. As it happened, my aunt and mother were right in front of us, they thought we'd be waiting on a lower floor, so when they looked around and saw me behind them they were shocked, then we all broke into tears right there on the escalator.

    Did you find it hard to adjust to life in the U.S.? What did you like most about your new life here? What did you miss?

    New places are exciting and beautiful when you have a relative to help you out. My brother was very supportive. In the beginning I found very difficult to adjust myself, the language, the documents needed to get jobs and the luck of experience in this country that was one of the most challenge situations that I went through.

    I missed my mother, my relatives and friends with who I spent the most time in my country.

    Describe your first experience seeing snow.

    I remember it was a Saturday in March. I was awakened by my mother and she walked me to her room. It had the biggest window and I could see all the glistening white snow and it was incredible to look at.
  • ✻ Rodrigo Pimentel
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    Rodrigo is a graduate of East Providence High School. Born in Portugal, he moved to RI when he was 10 months old.

    Why did you leave your country?

    I immigrated with my parents due to economic factors in Portugal (The Azores). I was only 10 months old at the time, so I do not remember much.

    Did you or your family find it hard to adjust to life in the U.S.?

    The greatest difficulty to adopting to American life has been more so due to the political climate.

    I appreciate being offered ESL resources while growing up, and helpful classmates who assisted me in adopting to life in the U.S. as an immigrant.
  • ✻ Mauricio Salgado
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    Mauricio stopped by our traveling cart at the PRONK! Family Fun Festival on August 27th. He is spending three years in Rhode Island as part of Trinity Repertory Company’s efforts to connect with artists in the community.

    Why did you leave your country? What do you most regret leaving?

    I was born in the U.S. My family left Colombia because their lives were threatened.

    Tell us your story:

    Dad came in 1968. His dad [my grandfather] was a truck driver that needed the money. He brought his family over one at a time. All nine of them (wife and eight kids).

    Mom came over in ’68 as well. She is eight of nine children and came over because her Dad had cancer and he was told that the best doctors were in the U.S.

    Both of my parents were 14 when they arrived. Dad graduated salutatorian. Mom dropped out and volunteered at a community center, where she helped provide food stamps to clients. One of her clients was my Dad’s mom.

    Abuela introduced them.

    What do you miss the most about not being with your family?

    I miss having lots of people in my house all the time. I miss my parents’ dreams of home … their nostalgia.
  • ✻ William Staffeld
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    William is originally from the Dominican Republic and currently lives in Providence. He moved to Rhode Island in 2006. He visited us at the PRONK! Family Festival in the West End of Providence.



    I came to the United States and received my residence through my father. I came with intentions to go to college. I was a bit Americanized because of the life I led in the Dominican Republic, but despite that, it was a huge culture shock to me. I found American college life to be totally different.

    What I miss the most is the warmth of the people. I am a very social person and many Americans are surprised sometimes with that [about me].

    I had no problem adapting to my life here. What pleases me most is how much respect people are given.

    • • • •

    Llegue a Estados Unidos con residencia por parte de mi padre, con intenciones de ir a la universaidad. Ya estaba un poco Americanizado por la vido que llvaba en la Republica Dominicana, pero aun asi fue un choque cultural tremendo. La vida universitaria Americana es totalmente diferente.

    Lo que me hace falta es el calor de la gente. Soy una persona muy social ya muchos Americanos a veces les sorprende mi calor.

    Mi adaptación fue facil. Lo que mas me agrada es la organización que les toca respeto a todo

  • ✻ Rebecca Noon
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    Rebecca is the Community Engagement Coordinator and a Teaching Artist at Trinity Repertory Theater. She hosted Café Recuerdos on behalf of Trinity and managed the cart for three days, while it sat just outside the theater lobby.

    Where did you live before you moved to Rhode Island?

    London UK, San Francisco CA, Santa Fe & Roswell NM, Cleveland OH, Seattle WA, Fairbanks AK, Newport OR.

    I came to Rhode Island because I needed a change; I wasn’t sure where I’m from or where I needed to go.

    Describe a few things that were different to you about R.I.

    Quite. Beautiful. Old buildings. Good food. Flat. Green. Water.

    Did you find it hard to adjust to life in R.I.? What did you like most about your new life here? What did you miss?

    I miss mountains and relaxed people.

    I miss people who are less guarded.

    I miss living somewhere with more infrastructure for the arts.

    I like where I live - my house, the beach, my friends, the four seasons, my job.

    I like living somewhere that I can have an impact.

    It wasn’t difficult to adapt, but I fee like I’m still adapting.
  • ✻ Cristina Soto St. John
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    Cristina and her children stopped by the South Providence Community Library on September 29, 2015 for the community pot luck, organized by Library Director, Thien Tran.

    Where did you live before you moved to Rhode Island?

    I was born in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic but I lived in New York before coming to Rhode Island.

    Tell us your background and the story behind your journey to the U.S.

    I went to medical school in the D.R. and then I moved to the U.S. in 1989. I lived in New York only for a week, then I came to Rhode Island.

    I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t communicate or get a job in my area.

    To make money to support myself, I worked in a factory. Then I went back to Santo Domingo, but I became lonely there and I returned.

    I studied English and also studied to become a Certified Nurses Assistant (CNA). I worked two jobs and I volunteered at Women & Infants Hospital and also Rhode Island Hospital, and eventually got a job at the Allen Berry Health Center.

    I stopped working for a while to study to get my license, but I could not concentrate. I got married, had three children and finally got my license. But then, for health reasons, I had to leave my job.

    Now, I am an “at-home mom.”