The History of Latinos in Rhode Island

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

Rhode Island Latino History | TIMELINE: The 1980s to 2000

U.S. Census reports 19,707 Hispanics in Rhode Island.


Brigadier General Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores of Guatemala overthrows existing government. He allows for a return to democracy, with elections for a constituent assembly in 1984 followed by general elections in 1985.

The Hispanic Political Action Committee (HPAC) is formed by Victor Mendoza and Juan Francisco.

Roberto González is elected as the first Hispanic delegate to the Constitutional Convention


War breaks out throughout Central America (1985-89). Refugees flee their homes and begin arriving in large numbers to RI (1987-89)

Quisqueya en Acción is formed by Margarita Cepeda as a youth organization that retains and celebrates the Dominican culture and heritage in Rhode Island.

The first Hispanic Chamber of Providence is formed.

Hispanic Social Services Association (HSSA) receives its first operational grant from the Rhode Island Foundation. Marta V. Martínez is hired as the agency’s first Executive Director.

That same year, Martínez founds the Hispanic Heritage Committee of Rhode Island and with a seed grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, organizes the first celebration of Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1991, the celebration becomes Hispanic Heritage Month, a 30-day statewide event from September 15-October.


The US Census counts 43,932 Latinos in Rhode Island.

Three Latinos run for political office unsuccessfully. (Juan Francísco and Jenny Rosario for state office and Leo Medina for Providence City Council)

Governor Bruce Sundlun forms the first Governor’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs. Marta V. Martínez is appointed as its first Chair (September), along with 14 other Hispanic individuals.
Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci appoints three Hispanic individuals to the nine-­member school committee.
Anastasia Williams becomes first Hispanic in Rhode Island to be elected to a statewide office — State Representative, District 9, Providence.
Hispanic Social Services Association (HSSA) becomes the Center for Hispanic Policy & Advocacy (CHisPA).
Roberto González becomes first Latino Judge in Providence; he is appointed to Providence Housing Court (January).
Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee (RILPAC) is formed. RILPAC launches voter registration initiatives and with the exception of school committee candidates, endorses candidates for local and statewide offices.

In November Luis Aponte becomes the first Latino to win a seat on the Providence city council.

In November of 1999, the school board names Diana Lam, of Peruvian heritage, as the city’s first Hispanic school superintendent

Census 2000: The Hispanic population grows to 90,820


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