“La Broa’” celebrates the history, heritage and cultures of Latinos in Rhode Island.
“La Broa’” (Broad Street) is having its world premiere at Trinity Rep from Jan. 19-Feb. 18 and is earning rave reviews:
“‘La Broa’” is a tribute not only to Hispanic immigrants but to immigrants who come to the United States from all over the world,” writes The Warwick Post
Among the cast members are two graduates of RIC’s theatre program – Magnolia Pérez ’15 and Alexander Crespo-Rosario II ’21.
Crespo-Rosario II plays Carlos and Pérez is understudying for the principal role of Doña Rosa, who was inspired by the real-life Josefina “Doña Fefa” Rosario.
Known as the “mother” of Rhode Island’s Hispanic community and founder of the first Hispanic food market in the state, Doña Fefa immigrated from the Dominican Republic to New York in 1949, moved to Rhode Island in 1959 and went on to assist other Hispanics in finding jobs and housing.
Situated in the heart of South Providence, Doña Fefa’s Market on 1232 Broad Street sold food products familiar to Latinos. It was a place where, for decades, the Latino community would gather to share stories and discuss current events that were affecting them.
The neighborhood went on to serve as the center of Hispanic commerce and Latin cultural expression and became the birthplace of the Latino political movements of the 1970s and 1980s.
“La Broa’” draws from the true stories of Rhode Island Latinos documented by Marta Martínez in her book “Latino History of Rhode Island: Nuestras Raíces (Our Roots).”
An oral historian and executive director of Rhode Island Latino Arts, Martínez spent over 35 years recording these oral histories, including Doña Fefa’s, which she then turned into a fascinating book about the birth of Rhode Island’s Latino community. It is the first comprehensive chronicle of the history of Latinos in Rhode Island.
Pérez has worked directly with Martínez since 2018 bringing these oral histories to the community. Along with being an actress and storyteller, Pérez is a teaching artist at Rhode Island Latino Arts.
“When Marta and I were first navigating the story of Doña Fefa and how we were going to tell it to the public, we got the idea to create monologues,” she says.
“I would accompany Marta to local libraries, museums and schools where she was giving presentations about her oral history book and I would become Doña Fefa. At the end of my monologue, I would tell the audience about my own immigration experience.”
Pérez’s mother, also Dominican, has worked in factory jobs for most of her adult life. Like Doña Fefa, she continuously helps newcomers and immigrants find jobs and housing. “It’s a cultural thing,” Pérez says. “The people of the Dominican Republic are very community oriented.” She credits her mother’s hard work and dedication for her own success.
After graduating from Rhode Island College, she worked as a substitute English language arts (ELA) teacher before landing a full-time job as a theatre teacher at Blackstone Valley middle school. The 34-year-old also just completed graduate courses at RIC to become a certified ELA teacher. On Saturdays, she teaches for RIC’s Upward Bound Program.
“And all of this because my mom made the bold move to come to Rhode Island,” she says. “Without her bravery and sacrifice, I wouldn’t be able to do any of the things I am doing.”
The Hispanic community say the same of Doña Fefa.
“The problem is we don’t hear enough positive stories in the newspapers about our community,” she says. “In the headlines, all you hear about are the bad things that happen on Broad Street, the shootings. Yet there’s so much more to our community. We’re business owners, political figures, healthcare workers, teachers. We have a strong sense of community. Community was the first thing that kept us here. It kept us going.
When asked what she’s learned from Doña Fefa’s life, Pérez replies, “That you don’t necessarily have to be a political figure to bring people together to make change.”
“In portraying Doña Fefa, I also found my ‘why’ again – why I’m still in Rhode Island. There’s so much to be done, and there’s been so much done for us to be able to stay here.”
“This play is, in fact, a love letter to these founding families and to their cherished haunts, whose razing or repurposing has been heartbreaking but whose reimagined resurrection here is heartwarming and magical.” – Boston Globe
“A marvelous world premiere that must be seen by one and all.” – Theater Mirror