From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the United States commemorates Hispanic Heritage Month. In Rhode Island, the Latinx community is rapidly growing, having increased 40% in the last decade, per the US Census Bureau's 2021 census. To celebrate a vibrant and diverse community, local governments, businesses and organizations have come up with different ways to uplift traditions and cultures.
In Pawtucket, the city government has established the first Latino Art Exhibition. The "Latino Roots Art Exhibit" is on view from Sept. 12 until Nov. 30, featuring the works of local artists such as Evans Molina–Fernandez and Carlos Ochoa.
According to Diana Figueroa, senior planner for the Pawtucket Planning & Redevelopment Department, the initiative seeks to promote and foster relationships with artists from different Latino backgrounds. "It is important that we have this gallery here and through the art, support the cultural exchange between visitors and artists," she said.
The city of Pawtucket has also partnered with the Rhode Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to organize support tours of Latino-owned businesses. The program, Figueroa said, "is designed to provide Pawtucket's small businesses with the resources that they need and celebrate entrepreneurship." The next tour will take place at 10 a.m. on Oct. 12 on Main Street downtown.
Progreso Latino, a non-profit organization serving the Rhode Island Latino community since 1977, is celebrating its 45th anniversary on Oct. 21 with a gala. According to Claudia Cordon, co-director of education, the event will highlight their educational work, especially their adult learning initiatives.
Progreso Latino will award students and teachers for their hard work in transitioning to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event will also feature Michael Grey, the governor's workforce board chairman, as a keynote speaker.
The organization is also highlighting its "services for a lifetime" approach, according to Cordon. From providing early childhood education to senior mentorship, Progreso Latino covers all the stages of life. On Oct. 14, the seniors in the organization will host an open house that will begin at 10 a.m. and is open to the public. The space will feature dedicated sections for different Latin American countries, and people are encouraged to add items that represent their cultures, Cordon said.
According to Cordon, Progreso Latino's mission is to help the community "achieve greater self-sufficiency and social-economical progress," she said. Currently, the organization has focused on facing a "post-COVID world," said Cordon.
For her, the pandemic exacerbated the immediacy of issues that have long faced the community. "A lot of it has to do with connecting (people) to well paying jobs, sustainable jobs … and that we acknowledge the expertise of foreign trained professionals," Cordon said.
Ediz Monzon hopes to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month as his family's coffee truck Cafe Modesto — "Humble Coffee" — completes its two year anniversary. Monzon recounted the months spent in Guatemala learning about coffee. "We fell in love with coffee and then when we came back, during the pandemic,” he said, “my wife and I built the truck together," he said.
The business provides imported Guatemalan coffee to the Rhode Island community. "We know exactly where our coffee is coming from," said Monzon. Modesto is capable of supporting "the social and economic development of the women and small communities of Guatemala" by responsibly choosing the beans and grounders, according to the business’s Facebook page.
According to Monzon, the experience of drinking authentic Latino coffee builds relationships and fosters a "home away from home." He said that their idea "is to bring people together and create a little community. We get to know more people, no matter where they come from." He added that Brown students are often regulars at his truck, which is often parked near the pedestrian bridge. "The international students really like it," Monzon said.
In Rhode Island, Hispanic Heritage Month can be celebrated as diversely as the identities within the Latinx community. The month is "a celebration of our common heritage, but also acknowledging our diversity because there are twenty Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America,” Cordon said. “We are uniting … but we each have our own identity."
Julia Vaz is a senior staff writer covering the environment. She is a sophomore from Brazil studying Political Science and Literary Arts.