Behind Newport’s Tourism Industry, A Growing Number Of Latino Workers

Aug 2, 2017

As Newport’s tourism industry grows, so does its Hispanic community.

Leo’s Market on Broadway Street is a hub for Newport’s Hispanic community. A steady steam of people comes in and out of the store to buy groceries and to order food from the kitchen. The cooks flatten out tortillas and fry them on a large cooktop. They’ll use them for dishes like pupusas from El Salvador.

Alba and Juan Carlos Campos are the owners of Leo’s Market and they say about 50 percent of their customers are of Hispanic descent. The couple is originally from El Salvador and have lived in Rhode Island for more than 20 years. They opened the market in 2009.

Campos says there are many reasons why Hispanic immigrants move to Newport. “One, it is safe, compared to my country and compared to other cities in the US and the type of living, it’s a lot better,” Campos said.

In the past six years, Campos said that he has noticed more newcomers in the area, especially from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. And an increase in job opportunities might be the reason why. “Since after the recession it {jobs} have been increasing little by little especially in the hospitality businesses,” Campos said.

According to the city of Newport’s Department of Planning and Development, people of Hispanic or Latino descent represented more than eight percent of Newport’s population in 2010. Members of Aquidneck Island’s Latino community say those numbers continue to increase, drawn here by year-round job opportunities like landscaping, dishwashing and catering.

Maria moved to Aquidneck Island from Mexico City over a decade ago. We are not using her real name because she is undocumented. Maria has worked in several restaurants in Newport and puts in around 90 hours of work a week. She is planning on moving back to Mexico in December to be with her children, but she has enjoyed her time living in Newport.

“I love the beach and there are so many Americans that are really good people and they have treated me well here,” she said.

Father Ray Malm at St. Joseph’s Church has watched Newport’s Hispanic community not only grow, but change over the past ten years. ‘The community is becoming younger and since I’ve been here, there are more families,” said Malm. And that’s probably because more people are staying and getting married and having children. According to Malm, there are around 200 Spanish-speaking congregants who attend mass regularly.

“I think that its because they get a real sense of community, the mass is in their language, we try to bring them together for dinners and things like that,” he said. “So I think they feel a real support in the community here in St. Joseph’s,” he continued.

St. Joseph’s takes an active role in educating Hispanics on their rights and immigration law. Since the presidential election, many immigrants are more concerned about their legal status and some have sought advice from immigration experts.

“I see a lot of Central Americans. We see a lot of Guatemalans and people from El Salvador and Honduras. That’s our vast majority,” said Hans Bremer, an immigration attorney who runs a practice in Providence.  He said that since Trump’s presidential campaign began, his practice is constantly full with people trying to get their paperwork in order.

“Many days our first consultation starts at nine and we will do a half hour consultation, every 30 minutes until 6 or 7pm,” said Bremer.

And it’s not just undocumented workers that are worried, many immigrants are concerned that they are no longer welcome, especially after hearing President Trump’s comments about immigration. But for people like Alba and Juan Carlos Campos, Newport is home. The Campos’ own a business, they have plans to expand, and, they say, they are here to stay.