By JONATHAN BISSONNETTE
CENTRAL FALLS – With a sizeable Colombian-American presence in the city, it was appropriate that the destination that would host a visit from the Colombian Ambassador to the United States – his first visit to Central Falls – would be one of the oldest family-owned Colombian restaurants in the square-mile city.
Dozens packed into El Paisa restaurant on Dexter Street Wednesday morning to welcome Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzon to Central Falls. Pinzon, at the public address and reception, met with many Colombian-American members of the community and surrounding region and spoke about the positive relationship between Colombia and the United States.
Pinzon expressed his happiness for being able to visit Central Falls, saying “I was very emotional today.”
"Seeing these Colombian communities, they have the best values of our people in the sense that they have a strong beleif in family and are hard workers," Pinzon said. "That's why I feel they are Colombian and will be forever but they are Americans as well."
Pinzon said that Colombia and the United States presently share a very strong relationship and he said that Colombua has evolved over the years. He additionally said that the people of Colombia and those living in America with Colombian heritage are "hard workers contributing to the greatness of the community."
Pinzon also asked the gathered local and state leaders to "take care of these people. They will take care of themselves because they are hard workers who care for their countries. Help them and they will be ready to support you and whatever endeavor Rhode Island has."
Mayor James Diossa said he was "extremely proud of the opportunity" to host such an important figure from Colombia. Diossa said it was "an honor for me as a Colombian and as the first Colombian mayor in Rhode Island to host him."
Diossa said that Colombian traditions and heritage continue to this day in Central Falls by the second and third-generation Colombians continuing to share their culture, eat their food, and listen to their music.
"Even though it's taken 50 years to get involved in higher political stages, we've done it," Diossa said. I'm delighted to that this special moment ... Many of our Colombian brothers and sisters would love to have been here today."
Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee said that during his time as mayor of Cumberland, he saw Central Falls in "somewhat of trouble" but said that what has since happened shows that Central Falls is not only a comeback city, but a place that has already achieved that comeback. The square-mile city is now ready to help Rhode island become "the comeback state," McKee said.
"In Rhode Island, everybody matters. Every community matters," McKee said, noting that just last weekend, he was standing with Chinese and Taiwanese representatives during a scholarship ceremony at the China Inn in Pawtucket and now he was with Colombian representatives in Central Falls.
"Today you've got a very special guest here. To have you here today is fantastic," McKee said to Pinzon. "Let me extend Rhode Island's hospitality to you."
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said that the Colombian community is a "foundational community in Rhode Island," that contributes to their cities and state in so many different ways.
Gorbea also said that Diossa is "one of our gems" and that he has been "absolutely fabulously recognized as a true leader."
corbea then read a proclamation from the state, saying that Rhode Island is home to a "sizeable Colombian American community" dating back to the 1960s when ckilled mechanics and laborers went to work in the mills of the Blackstone Valley, contributing to civic, economic, and cultural development across the Ocean State, while adding a rich diversity and moving the state forward.
Following their remarks, District 58 State Rep. Carlos E. Tobon presented Pinzon with a proclamation and Diossa presented Pinzon with a key to the city of Central Falls. district 56 State Rep. Shelby Maldonado and Central Falls City Councilor Kenneth Vaudreuil then each gave Pinzon pins of the Central Falls city symbol.
Original story can be found in the 4/7 edition of the Pawtucket Times.