Latino History of RI

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

Continued . . . Josefina "Doña Fefa" Rosario

Fefa’s Market

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After a few years, in the early 1960s, when the Hispanic community started growing more and more in Providence, we opened a bodega, market on Broad Street — right on the corner of Broad and Baker. Across from the entrance to Roger Williams Park in Providence, where the laundromat is now. Doce-treinti-dos 1232 Broad Street. We called it Fefa's Market. And then, not too much time later, we started to serve food, like a small a restaurant, in the back corner, inside the market.

I remember, there was an americano that called my husband "Mr. Feefa." Ha! Yes, I would answer the telephone and he would say, "I want to speak to, eh, Feefa." And I would say, "Well, she's speaking." And he would say, "No, Mister Feefa." And other Americans, they would say "Feefa," instead of "Fefa!"

Later, we opened a second market on 516 Prairie Avenue, a few miles from the first market. We moved there to be closer to the growing Hispanic community. It was open seven days a week. We all worked very hard. My daughters worked there when they were not in school.
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

To this day, people who remember me from those days call me "Doña Fefa." Those families, their children and other relatives who came later to Rhode Island still see me and still remember how I brought them here. Most people started coming here from the Dominican Republic around 1960, and by the mid-60s, there were very few of us. After that, between '66 and '69, that's when more and more Hispanics started buying houses. Then they started writing to their families and friends, asking them to come join them in the United States. The Dominican community started slowing growing then, and they began to settle in homes off of Broad Street, and people started to open a few businesses then, too.

It wasn't until the early 1970s when more and more Dominicans and other Hispanics came here in larger numbers. 1975 is when the dam broke open; when Antonio Guzmán was elected President of the Dominican Republic and many people were afraid to stay in that country. There was a lot of poverty and the economy did not look hopeful in the Dominican Republic,so people wanted to leave. It was about that time that we also bought our first house--62 Lenox Avenue.

Today, I feel like many Hispanic people treat me like I am somebody special. I guess I brought an awful lot of people together. See, we were such a small community here back then, and we took care of each other. My husband was such a good man, he was so helpful to so many Hispanics. He would give you the shirt off of his back! He was also a great cook. On Sundays, he used to make a big tray of shrimp, or roast beef or whatever, and he would invite lots of people over to eat Sunday dinner with us. Lots of shrimp! Back then they were really cheap, we used to buy a big box because he knew where to buy it, being a chef. So he would make shrimp, pieces of roast beef, and he would make rice and beans, and a big salad.

In those days, when people needed something, they would come to us. They knew we would help them. And we never felt we could ever turn anybody down. People would come to us for help in the middle of the night saying "No tengo dinero para pagar el gas, y ya me lo cortaron. Por favor..." I don't have money to pay my gas and they cut it, please..." Somehow, my husband knew how to go and turn the gas on so the people wouldn't have to be cold. That I remember. And they would come any time of the night, they would come knocking at the door seeking our help. And, as I said, we never felt we could ever say no to anybody.

And then there was Padre Rubba. He helped us, he helped a lot of the Hispanic people in those days. He was from Providence College. My husband eventually started asking around to see if anyone could help the Hispanic people, especially those that were living in our house. And there was this priest, I think he was a Colombian, Padre Rubba. I remember he gave people beds, he gave people clothes. Clothes and everything. He especially helped some of my cousins, you know, he got everything for my cousins, and for everybody who said they needed something. He would get a list of what was needed, then would call my husband, Tony, who would go get the items and bring them to everybody.

After a few years of living in the United States, when a Dominican friend died, my husband and I had to go with the family to the funeral parlor--I remember we went to Bell Funeral Home on Broad Street. We went there not only to help interpret, but to teach the funeral director about Dominica customs, what to do when one of them died. We also helped raise money to send the body back home to be buried.

Pretty soon, people in Providence began to know me and my husband well, and so it was easy for me to go to a business owner and recommend someone for a job. I would even help people get their social security card. People trusted me and my husband and they would help us in whatever way they could. Of course, it was easier back then because there were more jobs available. When one of the people who was living in our house found a job, I would then ask for 15 dollars a week for room and board, no more than that, until they got settled in their job and were able to find their own apartment.

But, it was not always easy, it was a struggle for us and many other Hispanics, as well. Many people had to rely on one another for help. I mean, many of the Dominicans and other Hispanics who had kids that spoke English often had to ask them to interpret when they went out.
I would even send my daughters to interpret for many of our friends who needed help while applying for their social security, trying to get a driver's license, and other things like that. Some people didn't know how to read even in Spanish, so my daughters helped with that, too. Many times, I would take the girls out of school and send them somewhere to interpret for our friends who needed help during business hours. I am very proud of my two daughters, Cecilia and Madeline. Cecilia was the first Hispanic to attend and graduate from Roger Williams Junior High School [now, Roger Williams Middle School]. And then she graduated from Central High School in Providence, and later from Rhode Island Junior College [now, Rhode Island College].


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