Mayor Maria Rivera
Photo: Twitter/@@MariaForCF
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Puerto Rican Maria Rivera is Rhode Island’s First Latina Mayor

In the last year we’ve seen an increase in the number of Latinas and women of color in politics with women like Rep. Deb Haaland now being considered for Secretary of the Interior  and now Maria Rivera joins their ranks. The Puerto Rican mom of two was sworn in on Jan. 4 as mayor of Central Falls becoming first woman mayor in city history and first Latina mayor in the State of Rhode Island. Rivera moved to Central Falls, a city that’s about 1.3 square miles with a population of roughly 20,000, in 1987 from Chicago where she grew up. During the swearing in she took a moment to recognize the lives lost to the coronavirus, reflecting on how the city has been hit with more than 3,200 residents testing positive with a 28% positivity rate is by far the highest in the state, the Associated Press reported.

”I have hope because the incredible people in Central Falls have helped me recognize what’s important to fight for,” Rivera said. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea praised the diversity in Central Falls saying it’s “part of the secret sauce of Central Falls, because government should reflect the community it serves.” Rivera is taking over the position from Mayor James Diossa, who is the son of Colombian immigrants.

She’s no stranger to being the first having been the first woman and Latina to serve as City Council president and she’s ensuring her administration is also diverse. She selected Anthony Roberson to become the city’s police chief, becoming the city’s first African-American to do so. She also appointed Municipal Court Judge Joseph Molina Flynn, the first gay and first previously undocumented immigrant to hold the seat, the Boston Globe reported.

During her swearing in ceremony she recalled growing up having to take ESL classes and working multiple jobs after school.  “Even today, after school, you see young people working all kinds of jobs,” she said, adding. “I have come to realize all that hard work is a true blessing.”’

She said she comes from “humble beginnings” with parents who moved from Puerto Rico and settled in Camden, New Jersey where she was born before moving to Chicago. Rivera went on to earn an associate’s degree from Community College of Rhode Island and a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Roger Williams University. She previously worked as a senior eligibility technician at the state Department of Human Services.

Now as the mayor of Central Falls, she calls it a “place of dreams.