In the mid-1990s, America had one of its periodic anti-immigrant seizures. As the Hispanic population swelled and dispersed, California banned, by referendum, illegal immigrants from accessing public benefits. In 1996, Congress passed legislation barring immigrants caught without proper documentation from returning for as long as a decade; giving asylum-seekers a year to apply; and deputizing local police as immigration officials.
In Rhode Island, Joseph R. Paolino Jr., fresh from his stint as the United States Ambassador to Malta, demonstrated his diplomatic chops and the broadening effects of travel by mounting an unsuccessful campaign for Congress on an anti-immigrant platform, with the catchy slogan: English only.
Paolino’s advocacy for the elimination of bilingual education and a crackdown on undocumented immigrants galvanized the Latino community. They rallied against Paolino, but Latino candidates got crushed in the Democratic primaries for General Assembly seats representing Central Falls — a city with the highest concentration of Latino residents.
“A bruising election,” recalls Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. “We thought: Let’s bring everybody together for a debriefing over pizza about what happened.”
Fifteen years later, Rhode Island has in Gorbea its first Latina in statewide office; the capital city elected its second Latino mayor, Jorge Elorza; Central Falls, its first Latino mayor, James A. Diossa; Pawtucket elected its first Latina, Sandra Cano, to the city council, and Latinos won local elections in Smithfield and Newport. Latinos and Latinas are also beginning to fill state and municipal unelected policy and leadership positions.
By the 2014 midterms, some 6,100 Latinos held elective office out of 500,000 in the United States, says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
To read the full story: http://www.rimonthly.com/Rhode-Island-Monthly/March-2015/The-Rising-Latino-Tide/