Nuestras Raices

Latino Oral History of Rhode Island

Josefina Rosario

Josefina "Doña Fefa" Rosario

Honoring the Mother of the Latino Community

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Doña Fefa in 2004
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Doña Fefa in 2016 reunited with Nuestras Raíces Project Director, Marta V. Martínez
As time went by and the Hispanic community grew, I began to help Hispanic people register to vote. I knew that the Puerto Ricans who lived in Providence could vote, but they had never been registered before. So, my husband and I went out and helped them register. I remember when [Vincent] “Buddy” Cianci was running for office, my husband went out and got a school bus. And if you could see the people that he put in that bus to go and register to vote... Wow! There were lots of them.
I was once referred to as "The Mother of the Hispanic Community" by the Providence Journal newspaper. And on Mother's Day people sometimes call the Spanish radio stations to wish me a Happy Mother's Day. They dedicate songs and everything. "Feliz Día de las madres, a Doña Fefa..."
Doña Fefa

When my husband passed away, I expected a large crowd. But, never did I imagine the number of people that came that day to pay their respect! We counted 76 cars at the funeral. My nephew, who is a Providence Police Officer, counted them. I was very happy that so many Hispanic people remembered my husband and me when my he died. He died on July 10, 1978, and on that day, we saw how he touched so many people while he was alive.

Today, I am retired and don't do as much as I used to back then. But people still remember me. And they also know my daughters and grandchildren. Sometimes, I still get calls directly from the Dominican Republic, from the American Consulate there asking to help someone who wants to come here. My daughters do most of the helping. I am not as active as I used to be, but I know I can trust my daughters to help when someone calls looking for information about schools, jobs, or whatever.

comadre, who lives in Cranston says to me, "Fefa, you can leave your car parked in the middle of South Providence, leave it open, pocketbook in it, whatever, and you don't have to lock the windows or doors because everyone, people of all ages know who Fefa is and what kind of car she drives. Nobody will EVER touch your car! I mean, it doesn't matter who it is. They all love you and respect you so much!"

So, many young people from this generation that I don't really know personally, know who I am. Sometimes, when I am sitting in my car waiting at a stop light, I will hear a car honk and somebody say "Fefa!" And when I look up, you know, I don't know who that person is! Then they will say, "I'm related to this person or that person..." And then I say, "Oh yeah, HI." It seems everybody knows me, but I don't know everybody else!

Even my grandchildren's friends know who I am. For example, once my granddaughter was visiting a friend's house and was introduced to the parents. When they realized she was my granddaughter, they told her how I had helped that family when they first arrived in Providence 16 years earlier. Now, the young kids at my granddaughter's school and their parents and grandparents say to her, "Oh you're Fefa's granddaughter, aren't you?" And they treat her with respect. That makes me feel good.

I was once referred to as "The Mother of the Hispanic Community" by the Providence Journal newspaper. And on Mother's Day people sometimes call the Spanish radio stations to wish me a Happy Mother's Day. They dedicate songs and everything. "Feliz Día de las madres, a Doña Fefa..." A Happy Mother's Day to Doña Fefa, they say. People like Hugo Adames, [a radio personality], who know and remember me.

In the old days, we would have a big feast at my house on Mother's Day. Many people would come; old friends from the community would always stop by and see me. You know something, when I say 'community,' I am referring to the people whom we knew in the old days, as well as those who still do a lot of work for Hispanics today.

There are many people who I know who are like family. I don't only think of them as friends, I see them as familia, you know. Because they've always been there. We are still there for one another. And we will always be there, to the end. ◼︎

December 13, 2018 — Josefina "Doña Fefa" Rosario passed away at the age of 90, after a brief illness.

Interview conducted by Marta V. Martínez, Juanita Sánchez
and Karen Lee Ziner.
May 1991

Leaving a Legacy for Future Generations of Latino Children

In 2004, Marta V. Martínez, Executive Director of Rhode Island Latino Arts, Oral Historian and Project Director of Nuestras Raíces, was asked by the Providence Children's Museum to help them create an exhibition in their Coming to America gallery that best depicted Latinos in Rhode Island. Without hesitation, Marta chose the story of Fefa and her bodega, and for a number of months, worked with museum staff to develop, create and install this special exhibition.

Today, museum staff agrees that
Fefa's Market is the most-popular stop in the museum for children and adults of all ages. Families can enjoy this re-creation of Fefa's bodega, along with a cash register that belonged to Fefa, photos from her personal album, the sound of her voice on the pay phone and the smells of spices that Fefa may have sold in her store. And if you listen carefully, you can even hear music that Latinos in the 1960s came to hear as they sat around tables, ate the food that they missed, played rounds of dominoes, and reminisced about life back home.


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