Emerging Pan-Latino Coalition
A 1980 study of the Latinos of Rhode Island portrayed a community rife with division: There is a great deal of divisiveness and nationalistic animosity between various Latin groups, especially between Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. The Latin community’ is not really one united community at all but a loose confederation of recently-arrived Spanish speaking migrants from more than a dozen separate Hispanic nations.8 However, at the time that study was written, efforts belying that contention were already under way. These efforts were spurred, in part, by the desire to improve living conditions and provide opportunities for advancement, which led to increased cooperation among Latino national groups. In 1970 the Latin American Community Center, one of the first organizational attempts at pan-Latino cooperation, was formed with help from the Diocese of Providence. In 1977, Progreso Latino was founded in Central Falls as a nonprofit, community-based agency that offered services and opportunities for individual development. Additional organizational efforts toward pan-Latino cooperation and
the promotion of common interests continued into the 1980s with the foundation of HSSA, which later became the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy (CHisPA), in Providence.
By 2000 pan-Latino cooperation and commingling seemed to be more the norm than the exception. Events and festivals organized by one nationality tended to draw support and participation from others. The prime example is the annual Dominican Festival of Rhode Island, which was started by the Hispanic Cultural Arts Committee in 1985 and has become one of the largest Dominican celebrations in the country. Other Latino-oriented parades and festivals that draw a popular following include the Colombian Independence Day parade in Central Falls and the Puerto Rican Festival of Rhode Island.
Although these gatherings often attract the attention and participation of the state’s non-Latino political and business leaders, Latinos’ assimilation into the larger society has not been free of conflict. Some of this discord can be traced to tension between new migrant groups and old ones that have been established in the state since the early twentieth century.
As Rhode Island experienced an influx of migrants in the 1970s, many were viewed bleakly by those who have made it’ out of the ghetto.9 The stereotype persisted that many of the new migrant mostly Latinos and Asians were aliens without visas [who] provide cheap labor, but often increase welfare costs .. . [and] clamor for more aid.10 Antimigrant sentiments, of which Latinos were the primary target, continued right up to the turn of the century. In February 1996, a Guatemalan migrant was assaulted in Providence by a teenager who had asked the man for his green card before attacking him. In 2006 a small, private group called Rhode Island Immigration Law Enforcement (RIILE) began a campaign against state assistance for undocumented workers and their families.