María-Rivera María Rivera, the new mayor of Central Falls, Rhode Island, said that as a Latina she has to work 10 times harder.
Image via Desirée Tapia

The daughter of hardworking Puerto Rican parents proudly carries “la mancha ‘e plátano” in her DNA.

María Rivera has the unique distinction of being the 33rd mayor of Central Falls, Rhode Island, the first woman mayor in the city’s history, and the first Latina mayor in the New England state. And if anyone is grateful and humbled by these accomplishments, it is Rivera herself.

The Camden, New Jersey native who proudly carries “la mancha ‘e plátano” in her DNA, grew up seeing her Puerto Rican parents work hard in factories, making sure the rent was paid and there was food on the table.  

“I never grew up wearing a pair of Nikes or name brands, we just couldn’t afford it, but I had everything I needed,” Rivera told The Americano. “My parents worked late hours and the expectation for me and my sisters was to go home to clean and cook.”

This instilled in her a strong sense of hard work, cooperation, and the importance of having strong roots. As a woman, she learned resiliency and the capacity to deal with the difficulties of life, even when “la piña está agria.”

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“My mom moved to the US at the age of 14 and pregnant, without knowing a word of English. You can imagine how tough a move like that was for a child, especially a child having a child,” recounted Rivera.

By the age of 18 her mother had three young daughters and spoke no English.

“I was always very observant of how my mother guided us, knowing just how determined she was, from our moves from house to house to walking us to school in the middle of snow storms. She helped me understand I needed to do better for my family one day,” said Rivera, who is the proud mother of two.

“We never had a house, but we had a home filled with love and never went without a plate of arroz con habichuelas,” she recalled. “I am so proud and grateful to have Boricua parents. Even though I live in Rhode Island, I consider Puerto Rico my first home.”

Latina Power

Rivera has been working with Latino families for a while, first during her time on the Central Falls City Council, and now as mayor.

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“I’ve made it a point to make my team a true reflection of our community, with more women and people of color, and have ensured that there is bilingual staff in every department. I live in a community that’s over 65% Latin; it’s only right that we reflect who our community is at every level,” she said.

When asked what it means to be a Latina in a sea of white political power, she doesn’t mince words. Rivera, who was sworn in twice on Jan. 4, first in private by Central Falls Probate Judge Bruce Sawyer, then by Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea in a public ceremony, knows she has to work, she said, 10 times harder.

“But I feel empowered knowing I’ve opened doors for the first time that have taken too long to open. Those doors will never be closed to Latinas again.”