When Sabina Matos got here to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic on the age of 20 with out understanding any English, she did not assume she could be staying.
That was then.
Nearly three a long time later, Matos, 49, has made history as Rhode Island’s first Dominican American and first Afro Latina lieutenant governor — in addition to the primary Black lady to carry statewide workplace in Rhode Island and the state’s second feminine lieutenant governor.
She’s additionally one of many nation’s first Afro Latinos in a state management place.
“Within the Latino group we’ve to be taught to worth and acknowledge our African heritage extra. It is not at all times valued,” she mentioned in an interview with Noticias Telemundo.
Matos was born and raised within the Dominican Republic, in Paraíso, Barahona, within the southwest. Her mom was a trainer and her father was mayor of Paraíso. She had a childhood “with a variety of love and a variety of sense of group,” Matos mentioned.
“My home was a spot the place folks at all times went once they wanted assist with one thing, they at all times went there and I at all times have these reminiscences of my dad and mom,” she mentioned.
In 1994, the household immigrated to New York, the place she labored in a manufacturing unit, later transferring to Windfall, Rhode Island.
“My dad is right here and all the things I’ve been capable of obtain has been due to him and my mom, and their sacrifices,” Matos mentioned.
When her household first bought to the U.S., as she advised The Windfall Journal, “we arrived in April and I mentioned that I’d return by December.” However she managed to be taught the language, keep and earn her diploma from Rhode Island Faculty.
In neighborhoods with a Latino majority like Olneyville, in Windfall, the place Dominicans like her and a rising variety of Central Individuals dwell, Matos first started working for group organizations, later representing her neighbors on the Windfall Metropolis Council.
Her Spanish accent when she spoke English made her doubt whether or not she ought to enter politics, a concern that adopted her till she was appointed lieutenant governor in April 2021.
“There are at all times the feedback about whether or not you actually should be the place you might be. Did you’re employed laborious sufficient to get there, to be within the place,” Matos mentioned. “Many individuals have been making feedback about my hair, my pores and skin colour, my accent… We at all times should work twice as laborious to attain respect.”
However the complexes she felt, she assured, are fading.
“I’m now at a stage the place I really feel that I’m not fascinated with eliminating my accent. I consider that my accent makes me [as I am], and it says so much about my history, about who I’m,” she mentioned.
In Could 2017, Matos grew to become Windfall’s interim council president, serving till December of that 12 months. In January 2019, she was elected Metropolis Council president.
In April 2021, she was appointed by Gov. Dan McKee as lieutenant governor; Gina Raimondo had resigned as governor to hitch the Biden administration, making McKee, who had been her lieutenant governor, the state’s chief government.
Within the fall of 2022, Matos was elected lieutenant governor after defeating two Democratic challengers within the main after which Republican Aaron Guckian and impartial Ross McCurdy in November, garnering 51.2% of the vote.
“Having acquired greater than 170,000 votes from the residents of the state of Rhode Island, that was very thrilling, understanding that the folks of the state are trusting me in order that I can signify them for these 4 years,” Matos mentioned.
An vital objective for the Latina lieutenant governor is bettering entry to high quality reasonably priced housing, particularly for the state’s rising Hispanic group.
“We dwell in neighborhoods that always have decrease high quality housing, with few sources accessible to them,” she mentioned. “For a few years we’ve not been constructing sufficient housing and that has created a disaster. Now it is tough to discover a place that is accessible for a household, to dwell.”
Matos touts the passage final 12 months of a regulation permitting the state to problem driver’s licenses to individuals who lack authorized immigration standing; it would go into impact in July. Solely 18 states have handed related legal guidelines.
In the discharge saying the brand new regulation, Matos thanked the sponsors of the invoice and group leaders, including that the “causes for making this funding are quite a few, nicely documented and supported by details.” She mentioned it might allow 29,000 Rhode Island taxpayers to have authorized and secure entry to the state’s roads.
Having had the chance to legally come to the U.S. as an grownup and recognizing the privileges she and her household loved retains her linked to what she says is most vital — a connection to the folks she serves.
“I don’t wish to find yourself in a bubble and never be in contact with what’s occurring, on a day-to-day foundation. And I attempt to be very intentional about sustaining my relationships with the completely different group teams and with the folks locally who helped me to get right here the place I’m,” Matos mentioned.
Past laborious work, Matos credit her success to her dad and mom and the training she was capable of obtain — in addition to to group assist.
“I bought right here, however you don’t see all of the individuals who got here earlier than me, who labored very laborious to ensure that the Latino group participated within the civic course of. … It’s not one thing I did alone, however with the assist of the group and the individuals who got here earlier than me.”
There have been obstacles. There have been the years of waking up at daybreak, like many different immigrants working in factories and different labor. She confronted racism, together with from Latinos, regardless that they weren’t acutely aware of it, she mentioned.
“You don’t see your self recognized on tv, within the motion pictures you don’t see your self,” she mentioned. “The black Latino group doesn’t see itself as represented. And now that has been altering extra.”
As a younger lady, she typically had a tough time seeing the worth of her heritage as a Black lady, she mentioned. Now, from her management place, Matos seeks to assist others so they do not should disguise who they’re and the place they arrive from.