The History of Latinos in Rhode Island

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

Pedro Cano, Sr - 1966

Pedro Cano, Sr.

I was born on August 19, 1919, so that makes me 78 years old right now [in 1988]. I left Medellín, Colombia and came to Rhode Island in November of 1965, and it was cold when I arrived. That was something I had never experienced, because in Colombia it is always warm. I was recruited to work in a mill called Lyon Fabrics Company by a man named Jay Giuttari. He told me that his father needed skilled workers to work in the mill, and he also told me that there were a few other Colombians who had been working at Lyon since 1965. My friend, Gustavo Carreño, was one of those workers, so I already knew about the jobs in Rhode Island and I did not hesitate to tell him that I would come. It was Gustavo who had recommended me to work at Lyon because he knew that I was a good worker. I had studied at a technical school in Colombia to become a machinist, and I was good at my job. I was good at fixing looms.
Today it is hard to imagine that we lived like that in those days. Central Falls has changed and now we have so many [Latino] markets, restaurants, record stores and people in the street can be heard speaking Spanish every day.
Don Pedro Cano

At first it was hard for me to leave Colombia because I had a wife and 11 children, and they could not come with me. Lyon only needed skilled workers and they did not think I should bring my family. But they promised to help me bring my family after I arrived and worked for a while. I found a small apartment near Lyon because I walked to work every day. I worked many hours, up to 12 hours a day sometimes. They paid me about $2.20 per hour and I would send almost all the money I earned to my wife, Olga, in Colombia. I kept enough to pay rent and to buy some food, but everything else I would send to her so she could some day soon come to live with me in Central Falls.

I did not know English, but at work all the Colombians spoke to each other in Spanish, so English was not important. Jay Giuttari spoke some Spanish too, so he would sometimes talk to us and ask us questions about our work, and sometimes he would ask me about my family back home in Colombia. At that time, I didn’t feel that I had to learn too much English because we worked at our machines all day and didn’t have time to talk to the other workers.

There were many Americans and some Portuguese workers, but I still did not learn enough English to have a brief conversation with them. I only learned a few words related to the machinery, so when something was wrong with one of the machines, I would recognize the word and that way I could fix it. In those days, it was hard to get around if you did not know English.

Today it is easy for the young people or for those coming here from Colombia for the first time because there are so many people who speak Spanish. There are interpreters in doctor’s offices, city offices and there are several Hispanic [Colombian] markets where we can shop. Back then we didn’t have any of that. It was sometimes difficult for me to go to a doctor’s office or to buy food at the market.

There was a market in Providence where some of the Colombians would go to buy [Latin American] food. A Cuban family owned it, but I don’t remember the name of the store. We would go there to buy food and to speak Spanish because we would also find other people speaking Spanish there when we arrived. There were a few Puerto Ricans at the time, and they seemed to enjoy talking to us as much as we enjoyed talking to them.

Today it is hard to imagine that we lived like that in those days. Central Falls has changed and now we have so many [Latino] markets, restaurants, record stores and people in the street can be heard speaking Spanish every day. There are also so many other people [from Latin America], and not just a few like when I first arrived. Life is very different for my children today, and I am proud and happy that they do not have the struggles that we did in the 1960s. My entire family finally came to live with me in Central Falls by the early 1970s, and today all of them are busy going to school, working and enjoying life with their own families. I retired from Lyon in 1984, 18 years after moving here, and today I am still very busy and enjoying what life has to offer.

Interviewed for the Latino Oral History Project of RI on
April 11, 1998

NOTE: * Don Pedro passed away on January 14, 2012 at the age of 92.

  •  with Jay Giutarri

    with Jay Giutarri

  •   2004


  •  First Car

    First Car

Stacks Image 2565