PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Sixteen hundred miles from the island of Puerto Rico is a one-block street in Providence that bears the island’s indigenous name—Borinquen.
Its former Bishop Street name bared too much resemblance to a vulgar word in Puerto Rican Spanish. Puerto Ricans living in the area at the time recall families living on the block being embarrassed to speak its name.
“Several families living on Bishop Street that expressed displeasure and a sense of distastefulness with having to say that name with their heavy Spanish accent, and that it just sounded too much like a Puerto Rican term that’s kind of vulgar,” community activist José González said.
Osvaldo Castillo, alongside community organization Casa Puerto Rico, asked city councilors to change the street name to one that would honor the block’s residents.
“If we changed the name it would be Borinquen Street,” Castillo said.
City council minutes show a resolution to change the name to Borinquen Street passed in 1984. Castillo is quoted in a newspaper clipping from the time documenting the change.
“The word ‘bishop’ as pronounced by Hispanics who can’t speak English, is a dirty word,” Castillo said at the time.
José González and his brother Roberto recognize that while some thought the change shouldn’t be a top priority, the move symbolizes one of the first organizing successes in the community.
“It was something that was given to the community that leaders could then say, ‘Hey look, see what we can accomplish when we organize,'” Roberto González said.
The community celebrated the new name with a festival honoring it.
“The whole street was filled with joy,” Castillo recalled. “The Puerto Ricans that lived in the city of Providence felt so proud, and that’s why we celebrated the festival in the name of Borinquen Street.”
“Every time I go by and I see Borinquen Street, I smile because I know that there is power,” José González said. “And politicians used to tell us, ‘If you guys are a strong voting block, then there’s nothing you cannot do.'”