18 Sep 2023

POC Proudly Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Josh Pereira


This September 15th to October 15th, Papitto Opportunity Connection (POC) acknowledges Hispanic Heritage Month and the abundant contributions made by people of Hispanic and Latino descent. Initially observed as a week-long celebration in 1968, Hispanic Heritage Week became Hispanic Heritage Month in 1988, under President Ronald Reagan.

Today, there are roughly 63 million Hispanics living in the United States. Pew Research finds 81 percent of them are U.S. citizens with distinct origins from across Latin America and Spain.

In Rhode Island, diverse groups of Latinos have worked hard to contribute and empower their communities, from the farmlands to the highest levels of local and state government.

Who better to help us mark the occasion, than two POC grantees working to explore the history, share the heritage, and celebrate the accomplishments of Latinos in Rhode Island. We checked in with two executive directors committed to their communities.

Pictured from left to right: Founder & Executive Director, Rebekah Rosen-Gomez, Nathan Hilyard, and Conexión Latina Newport Co-Founder & Associate Director, Yolanda Macias

Conexión Latina Newport
HQ: Newport, RI
Executive Director: Rebekah Rosen-Gomez

POC: Could you share any reflections on the non-profit’s growth, in the last year, and its significance to the Latino community in Newport?

Rosen-Gomez: Conexión Latina Newport has been very careful about growing and adding programs and projects, because we want to make sure that we are efficiently and effectively doing what we have already committed to.

This past year we have produced a very focused and comprehensive strategic plan, started our “Mujeres Poderosas” (Powerful Women) program, and created many new organizational partnerships. We were recognized by RI Kids Count at their annual breakfast as being an organization that is working to make things better for children and families.


We have been able to continue our education and health care navigation work, which has included enrolling over 300 children in health insurance, thanks to the Cover All Kids law, and are working very hard with community members to get Drivers Privilege Cards thanks to that new legislation. In addition, we have concentrated a lot of our time working on systems change and communicating with our community partners to understand the barriers that exist in their organizations. Lastly, we are putting a lot of energy into creating a sense of belonging and ownership for our Latino Newport residents.

POC: What are you focusing on this Hispanic Heritage Month? How are you involving the community?

Rosen-Gomez: For the first time ever, Newport will have a Festival Latino on September 23rd to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month. This is an effort to bring everyone together to really see and appreciate Hispanic culture, and what the community adds to our lives here in Newport. It will be an opportunity to celebrate their hard work that fuels our tourism industry and our economy, and a chance to be one community, rather than separate socio- economic and cultural groups.

We will be featuring a local Latino DJ and a Norteño band (Northern Mexican music), Hispanic vendors, performers, a dance troupe, and food trucks from across the state, and many community members will be facilitating activities, selling handmade goods, and teaching dance lessons.

POC: What are you hoping to accomplish in the next year?

Rosen-Gomez: Our biggest project for next year is forming and training our Community Advisory Board. This board will be a group of residents from vastly diverse backgrounds including country of origin, age, sexual and gender identity, education level and much more. This group will serve not only as our advisors, but as our ambassadors that can spread information out through their networks, and bring in vital information about needs, barriers and inequities that are happening in the community.

We look forward to another Festival Latino, along with other community building and development opportunities. We are also hoping to focus on building entrepreneurship and business development amongst community members.

Above: Marta Martinez

Rhode Island Latino Arts

HQ: Central Falls, RI

Executive Director Marta Martinez

POC: Could you share any reflections on the non-profit’s growth, in the last year, and its significance to the Latino community in Rhode Island?

Martinez: We started off as a volunteer group celebrating ‘Hispanic Heritage Week’. It was a group of about three or four of us and we were all volunteers. At the time, which was 1988, there was nothing celebrating our culture. That’s why I started it, organized it as a volunteer group and the group grew very much like the Latino community in Rhode Island. And we’ve steadily grown in terms of what we offer and what the needs are out there.

There’s this personal need that I felt that a lot of Latinos feel, when they come here. You know, you miss your culture, you miss your dances, your food, your music, and then just speaking Spanish and being around other Latinos who look like you and act like you. That was basically why I started the organization. When you walk in our doors and you’re Latino you feel at home. You feel like yourself, you can speak Spanish, Spanglish, English you can take off your shoes, just be normal. It would feel normal and not necessarily guarded.

Everything we do is very Latino centered, and it is very Rhode Island centered. All our artists live and work and practice in Rhode Island and we offer everything. We offer music and visual arts, culinary arts, we also offer drumming, bachata dance classes, and we offer theater. It’s all traditional but we’re also doing a lot of contemporary.”

POC: What are you focusing on this Hispanic Heritage Month? How are you involving the community?

Martinez: Sunday September 10th we celebrated our 35th anniversary! We’ve kicked off a year-long celebration. We’re supporting a local neighborhood block party; we’re supporting several of the local businesses by having what we call a scavenger hunt. We’re also offering ‘Barrio Tours’ where we take folks to Broad Street and Central Falls.

POC: What are you hoping to accomplish in the next year?

Martinez: My goal is to start bringing in younger people to be a part of the organization but also to promote our mission. And our mission is to promote Latino arts and culture but also our history and heritage. And to change the narrative that Latinos are not all about sunshine, food, and music, and all the fun stuff. We are also about uplifting stories, and some that are not so much negative but not necessarily comfortable.

We’d like to bring young people together to collect stories, oral histories too, and put them out there to share them. To interview our elders and to put their stories out there too. I’m trying to bring awareness to a younger generation that we must embrace our culture.

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