Our American Dream: Angel Taveras, a Proud Dominican, and a Mayor for All

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Before there was Harvard or Georgetown Law, the Housing Court judgeship, or the historic election to the office of Mayor, Angel Taveras had a vision.

No, the son of Dominican immigrants didn't have a premonition that he'd attend the most elite schools, be appointed by a mayor as a judge – or become the mayor of Providence himself, the first time a Hispanic has elected to that post.

But Taveras always saw himself succeeding and, through his achievements, helping people along the way.

"He had a vision that he was going to make a difference," said Dinora Dominguez, Taveras' sister.

A month into his term, the 37th mayor of Providence has seen his dreams come true. But Taveras – who showers his sister and mother, Amparo Ovalles, with credit and praise – knows you can't move forward without looking back.

"I feel really blessed in many, many ways," Taveras said. "My mother sacrificed a lot, and emphasized education so that my sister and I can live the American Dream."

That journey for Taveras, in some respects, began in Monción and Navarrete in the Dominican Republic well before he was born. His father, Rafael, and Ovalles emigrated separately from the Caribbean island in the mid 1960s.

They immigrated to New York, eventually settling in a seventh floor walk-up apartment in Brooklyn, where Taveras was born, Dominguez said.

A few years later, the family moved to Providence.

That's where a young Taveras displayed early signs of benevolence by – not unlike many second-generation Latinos – helping translate and interpret for friends and family who didn't speak English.

He also played baseball, a forum he used less for athletic advancement but instead to hone his leadership skills.

"He kept statistics and score for the rest of the boys," Dominguez said. "He went above and beyond just playing the game.

"He did it all on his own," she added. "No one had to tell him to what do to, or to follow through on things."

Taveras channeled that drive all the way to Harvard University and Georgetown Law School. From there, he was appointed by his predecessor, David Cicilline, to the city Housing Court judgeship.

And he reached the pinnacle of his career in early January when he was inaugurated as mayor of the city.

"It was amazing," said a humbled Taveras, recalling throngs of supporters at the inauguration. "There were a lot of tears, and not just for me, my family, but for their hopes as well. In some ways, I think I embodied their dreams."

Now, with the elation fading and the real business of government at hand, comes the hard part for Taveras.

Providence, like the rest of the country, is still trying to dig itself out of the economic crisis and get the unemployed to work. The achievement gap, too, is a major concern for Taveras.

And just as he was taking office, a controversy over immigration started brewing. Newly elected Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee rescinded two executive orders – state police had been enrolled in an ICE enforcement program and E-Verify, which required businesses to check the immigration status of employees – only to have the state's attorney general introduce another measure.

Peter Gilmartin said he supports enrolling Rhode Island in the "Secure Communities" program. The program allows local law enforcement to share arrest date with ICE, enabling the federal agency to track and deport undocumented immigrants.

Taveras said "Secure Communities" was not welcomed in Providence.

"My administration has looked into the possibility of opting out of the agreement. Local police shouldn't being doing the work of federal immigration officers," he said. "Unfortunately, Providence doesn't appear to be able to opt out of 'Secure Communities' without ending coordination with the Department of Justice on other public safety issues, which we would never do."

Taveras has spoken out in support of immigrants, though, saying he doesn't want unauthorized immigrants to worry about reporting a crime for fear of revealing their immigration status.

He draws on his own experience, too, as an example of the success an immigrant family can achieve with the benefits of a good education.

"I think it's very typical of the American experience," he said of his upbringing. "You can substitute Italian, Irish, French for Dominican, and it's not atypical. It's this idea that the generations that follow, once they're given the path to education, they have a chance to succeed."

That success for Taveras would seem limitless. He was coy, however, about his aspirations beyond the mayor's office.

Taveras can't see into the future, of course. He only envisions succeeding at his current job, and helping as many Providence residents in as many ways as possible.

"It's really about perseverance, knowing that there's a light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "It's a long tunnel, but it's worth it if you make it out."

You can reach Wil Cruz at wil.cruz@foxnewslatino.com.

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