10th anniversary of Latino empowerment in RI

While immigration gets a lot more attention these days, it's worth remembering the civic organizing of Latinos in Rhode Island.

Tomas Avila was kind enough to copy me on an e-mail noting this important date in local history:

"Haciendo Historia" RILPAC

Thursday May 14, 1998


Back on Thursda May 14, 1998 after months of meeting and planning and Seinfeld finale episode was taking place, the founders of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee (RILPAC) held the official organizing meeting at La Cabaña Night Club, holding election of officers and board of Directors with the following outcome.


      Board of Directors

      President:                                Pablo Rodriguez, MD

      Executive Vice President:       Alina Ocasio

      Vice President:                        Juan M. Pichardo

      Secretary:                                Michelle Torres

      Assistant Secretary:                Margarita Guedes

      Treasurer:                               Tomás Alberto Avila

      Assistant Treasurer:                Betty Bernal


       Alido Baldera

       Gladys Corvera-Baker, ACSW

       Victor F. Capellán

       Francisco Cruz

       José González, Ed.D.

       Ricardo Patiño

       Vidal Perez

       Tomás Ramirez

       Manuel Suarez, Esq

       Angel Taveras, Esq

I've reported on some of the subsequent progress, as with Ready to rumba, in 2003:

The growing appreciation for the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Fund (the fundraising arm of the civic fund) could be seen when almost every statewide candidate of note — and hundreds of other people from a variety of backgrounds — came out for RILPAC’s festive spring 2002 tribute to Dr. Pablo Rodriguez at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick. Rodriguez, one of the state’s most veteran Latino activists, deliciously delivered on the palpable sense of a political coming-out; bringing the ballroom to a hush by saying he was about to make a very important announcement — triggering visions of an incipient campaign — he then vowed to be the best husband and father he could be.

All this marks a dramatic change from the time 15 years ago, when the since-deceased Juanita Sanchez and just a few other individuals advocated politically on behalf of Latinos. "It was very difficult in those days," recalls Rodriguez. "Now, there are a number of people who are working on issues, some together, some completely separately. I think that’s a sign of a healthy community. Some people feel there should be a single group or a single representative, and I think that’s inaccurate."

Indeed, the growing vibrancy of Rhode Island’s Latino community is evident in any number of ways. Flourishing small businesses — bakeries, groceries, travel agencies, hair stylists, and the like — fill formerly vacant storefronts on Broad Street and Elmwood Avenue in Providence. Activists like Nellie Gorbea, Gonzalo Cuervo, and Patricia Martinez have landed prominent posts, respectively, in the Brown, Cicilline, and Carcieri administrations. And the predominant Anglo culture is paying a growing amount of attention — as seen by the copious selection of Hispanic foods at the new Shaw’s Supermarket in Eagle Square, for example, or the issuance last week by Attorney General Patrick Lynch’s office of a Spanish-language version of Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.

The seriousness with which some members of the extended community view their civic responsibility can be seen in how Victor Cuenca, a 37-year-old Bolivian native, has abstemiously avoiding making political endorsements since starting his Spanish-language newspaper, Providence En Espanol, about four years ago. Other Spanish papers have tended to be irregular or fiercely partisan, so Cuenca’s faced a struggle for credibility when he launched it with his wife from their North Providence home. Now, though, Providence En Espanol boasts a payroll of 12, free weekly circulation of 25,000 copies at hundreds of locations, an office at a Seekonk, Massachusetts, industrial park, and after attracting a raft of campaign ads last fall, it’s flush with news content and ads from Nordstrom, Ocean State Job Lot, and Showcase Cinemas. Cuenca now feels his paper has gained enough authority that he plans to start making endorsements after its fifth anniversary. Similarly, the Spanish-language radio station, Poder 1110, was a vital channel of political debate last year, arguably offering the most robust flowering of community-based radio in the Providence market.

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