The History of Latinos in Rhode Island

A collection of the voices of Rhode Island's Latino pioneers

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The Rosarios Move to Rhode Island

So, it was these restaurant owners — Connie and Mary — that first brought us to Rhode Island. We knew no one here, had no family. Back then, Les Shaw restaurant was part of a hotel. So, we lived there; two months we lived there while we looked for a house. And, we knew no one.

About 18 months later, Connie and Mary filed for bankruptcy and closed down their restaurant. When that happened, they asked me and my family to go back with them to Connecticut, and my husband said: "I don't want to depend on you all the time. I have a family now and I want to stay here."

Entonces de allí, encontramos una casa en la Dexter Street en Providence, y allí nos quedamos por un mes. We finally found a house on Dexter Street in Providence — at the corner of Dexter Street and Potters Avenue. Pero, era muy pequeña. Despues encontramos una en la Chester Avenue, 145 Chester Avenue. It was too small, so then we moved to 145 Chester Avenue. That's the Torigian house, I remember that. It was right across from St. Joseph Hospital. Next to Kappy's Liquor Store. It's no longer there. I go by there sometimes and see the empty lot. It's almost on the corner of Broad Street and Chester Avenue.

The house had seven rooms, and we paid 45 dollars a month. Imagine that? I helped paint it. Estaba bien limpio. Todos esos judios vivian allá. It was a very nice, clean neighborhood. Beautiful. Jewish people owned many of the stores in that neighborhood at the time. They had a liquor store there, a pizza place.

About a few weeks after Les Shaws closed, my husband found a job as a cook at Johnson's Hummocks on Allens Avenue — on the corner of Allens and Public. And I became the salad lady there. My daughters later started working there part-time. We all worked hard to save our money so we could open our own business.

Eventually, my husband left
Johnson's Hummocks to work at the Quidnessett Country Club. And then he worked at the Metacomet Country Club, and eventually at Barrington College. After that he quit because he was tired of working for other people. He was ready to open his own business. A good friend of his, Mr. Adelman, the brother-in-law of the owner of Lynch Liquor Store and another market on Broad Street near our house, loaned him some money to help him open his own grocery store, a bodega.
People knew exactly what time we would be returning, and they would be waiting there to get their things; a long line would be waiting for us when we arrived. Yeah, I remember, we used to have a little scale to measure items,the dried goods. Those who did not order things would come anyway to see what we had.
Doña Fefa

The First | Los Pioneros

I strongly believe that my family and I were the first Dominican family to live in Providence, and maybe Rhode Island. I believe that and here's why: In 1959, after the restaurant closed, we first drove on Post Road and then Broad Street, and when we arrived in South Providence, Tony went up to a policeman on the street and asked: "Where do the Hispanic people live over here? ¿Dónde esta la comunidad Hispana? ¿Dónde viven los Hispanos?" The policeman said, "I don't know where the Spanish-speaking people live in Providence, but I think there may be one family in East Providence." My husband then asked him, "Where is East Providence?" And he told him to go East, then over a bridge...

Anyway, we went over there and asked for the Spanish-speaking people, and finally someone there told us about two Hispanics — they were Puerto Ricans — who lived there. I asked about any Dominican people or more Puerto Rican people, and they said that there were no other Puerto Ricans over there, no other Hispanics anywhere.

Fefa's Market | The First Bodega

We got the idea of opening a market — our own bodega — instead of a restaurant soon after we moved to Providence because almost every weekend we would drive to Connecticut and New York in our blue station wagon to buy the Dominican food that we missed, that we could not find in Rhode Island. Things like plátanos, yuca, café, cilantro ...

Ah, yes in the station wagon ... We would drive it to Connecticut or New York because they didn't have Spanish products here at all.

When people saw us in New Haven or New York, they listened to us talk about Providence and how nice it was, and would ask if they could drive back with us. As more and more people came back with us, they fell in love with Providence and would decide to live here.

Soon, we brought more and more Hispanics to Providence, and as we continued to drive to New Haven or New York, we would bring back food and sell it door-to-door,
como de domicilio, right there on Chester Avenue.

En Chester Avenue me decían, "Oye Fefa, queremos cuatro platanos, cilantro, café Dominicano — Dominican coffee ... Others would see me out on the street and invite me over to their house so they could give me their order for Dominican food before I left for Connecticut.

For the first several years, we would deliver the food door-to-door. But, then it got to the point where more and more people started coming to us, placing orders and we felt a little overwhelmed. So, eventually when we returned from buying food in New Haven or New York, we would pull into the big parking lot behind our house on Chester Street, open up the back of our car and started selling food from there.

People eventually knew exactly what time we would be returning, and they would be waiting there to get their things; when we arrived, a long line of people would be waiting for us. I remember, we had a little scale to measure items, the dried goods. Those who did not order things would come anyway to see what we had. They would line up and say:
"Quiero tres platanos, medio kilo de cilantro, un kilo de habichuelas..."

And that's how they would get their shopping done. It looked like “un ventorrillo" — a food vendor — that's what they would call it. Like those peddlers today who sell fish, sandwiches and pinchos right there on Broad Street and Elmwood Avenue. They still do that today.

Our house on Chester Street soon began to fill up with lots of people, people my husband and I brought from New York, New Haven or sponsored from Santo Domingo. They stayed in our house with us until they could find their apartment or house.

The Dominicans first lived right there, on Chester Avenue. That's where it started, you know. We had a sort-of boarding house for people who we brought from New York or New Haven, and also those who wrote to us from Santo Domingo who wanted to come to the United States. It was first just a few families, and we would sponsor them. And then more and more came, and we still tried to accommodate them and let them live with us for a while. If our house was too full, they would stay in Dr. Emerson Torigian's house. He was a dentist who lived next two us, on Broad Street. He was very kind and helped us a lot.

We sponsored Juanita Sánchez's father in 1966 , and then later, one by one we brought the rest of her family. Then from there, I remember another cousin of hers, José ...



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