Back in the 1980s, Enrique Sanchez Mora opened what may have been Providence’s first Mexican market.
Thirty years later, members of his extended family own many of the city’s most popular Mexican restaurants, including Viva Mexico, El Rancho Grande, and Dolores.
And two of his grandchildren now intend to make their own mark on the city — by shaking up local politics. 
Enrique Sanchez, 26, scored one of the left’s biggest victories in Tuesday’s primary election when he ousted a veteran legislator who’d been in office since before he was born. His brother, Miguel Sanchez, 24, handily won his own race for Providence City Council and is on track to become one of its youngest and most progressive members. 
Both are members of the Providence chapter of Democratic Socialists of America and Reclaim Rhode Island.
Other candidates on the left — primarily those aligned with the Rhode Island Political Cooperative — struggled to gain ground in Tuesday’s election. So why did the Sanchez brothers succeed?
Both say that an aggressive door-knocking strategy paid off. And it also helped that they could draw on deep community ties forged through their family’s Mount Pleasant store. 
“Whenever folks would come to Rhode Island, especially from Mexico or other parts of Central America, my grandpa would connect those people with services or needs,” Miguel said. “Especially in our Latino culture, community businesses like my grandfather’s kind of serve as a resource hub, just by word of mouth.”
While Providence has a large Latino community, the majority of Spanish-speaking immigrants have traditionally come from the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. By contrast, the Mexican American population is relatively small — though the Sanchez brothers are often surprised to hear it described that way. 
“It’s a little strange for us, because we grew up in a pretty Mexican neighborhood,” Miguel said. 
Their grandfather, Enrique Sanchez Mora, grew up in a village called Piaxtla in the southern state of Puebla. After immigrating to the United States, he landed in New York and worked at a tortilla factory owned by a relative. According to the brothers, he distributed products throughout New England, which was how he noticed that there was no Mexican market in Providence.
In the 1980s, Miguel said, there was a nascent Mexican American community in the Olneyville and Valley neighborhoods, centered around factories that have since been shuttered. Sanchez Mora saw an opportunity and moved his family to Providence, opening Tortilleria Sanchez in 1988. 
The family-run store would later be renamed Sanchez Mexican Market and today is known as Casa Mexico
Located in a brick Atwells Avenue storefront, it sold traditional ingredients like queso blanco and tomatillos that were hard to find in the Providence of the 1990s, along with freshly made tacos and tostadas.
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And it churned out tens of thousands of tortillas per day, which were distributed to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the region.
Sanchez Mora developed a reputation for helping connect newly arrived immigrants with housing and jobs, the brothers say. He also encouraged his relatives to follow him to Providence and start businesses of their own.
The stretch of Atwells Avenue that serves as the dividing line between Olneyville and the Valley and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods soon became a mini-Mexico, and the store served as a community hangout. Two of Enrique and Miguel’s uncles started the Chicanos Car Club in 1995, and the back parking lot became known as a place to tinker with low-riders.
Today, just about every Mexican restaurant in town seems to be owned by one of Enrique and Miguel’s cousins. Casa Mexico is run by their uncle, Ivan, and their father, who is also named Enrique, Miguel said.
They no longer manufacture tortillas, but little else has changed.
Growing up, the Sanchez brothers ping-ponged between Providence and the Midwest.
Their parents split up when they were young, so they’d spend several years in Rhode Island, then several years in Iowa, switching in the summer. Both graduated from high school in Iowa, then moved back to Providence for good. 
Their time in Iowa helped shape their worldviews. In his “Mother T” letter to voters, Enrique said that their mother “had to make the difficult decision to put our family on food stamps to get by.” He went to work on a chicken farm, spending weekends cleaning up the hen house and loading pallets of eggs so that he could contribute to paying the bills, he said. 
Their mother, Jacqueline Arreola, also became active in immigrant-rights issues, Miguel said. She brought them along to rallies and protests against immigration raids, and when they returned to Providence as young adults, getting involved in local activism felt natural.
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Both brothers became involved with the Olneyville Neighborhood Association, in addition to Reclaim and the Democratic Socialists of America. They helped found BLM [Black Lives Matter] RI PAC, which is intended to help people of color run for office, and they are working on starting a new group, the Rhode Island Mexican Association. 
Enrique, who attended Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College, works as a substitute teacher in the Providence public school system.
Miguel is a few credits away from completing his associate’s degree at CCRI and is trying to figure out his next move — he initially thought he wanted to specialize in small business management but is now thinking that he might want to complete a bachelor’s degree in emergency management.
In the meantime, he’s been working in the constituent services division of Gov. Dan McKee’s office. 
Both brothers were inspired by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, and they say that the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 further galvanized them to run for office.
Miguel sought to replace term-limited Providence City Councilman Michael Correia in Ward 6, which covers Manton and Mount Pleasant. He filed paperwork to run in early 2021, after realizing that many of the existing council members were term-limited and he could be one of roughly a half-dozen new faces, he said. 
Toward the end of 2021, Enrique announced his own plans to challenge Rep. Anastasia Williams, an outspoken and occasionally controversial legislator who has represented a large swath of the West End since 1993.
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In a recent interview, he said that he saw it as “a matter of doing my part, and using whatever energy and time commitment I had to help improve our living conditions here in Providence.”
“I’m not going to lie, when my brother first mentioned about running, I was upset,” Miguel said. “We don’t come from a wealthy family, so we have limited resources. … Selfishly, that made me feel a kind of way.”
But after they talked it over, they concluded that they could team up and share volunteers and resources whenever possible, Miguel said.
Both brothers’ campaigns centered around issues such as affordable housing and investing in public education.
Ultimately, Miguel defeated his Democratic rival, Joseph Giampietro, with 85% of the vote. And Enrique scored progressives’ biggest upset of the night: He notched 52.8% of the vote, while Williams received 39.8%. (The remaining 7.4% went to another challenger, Lonnie Mangum.) 
Both are expected to face only token opposition in the November general election. Miguel stands to become the first DSA-endorsed member of the City Council, while Enrique is on track to become the group’s third member in the legislature. 
“Our campaign for State Rep was outspent 5-1, we didn’t have political institutional support, no union support, no corporate PAC money support,” Enrique wrote on Twitter after the results came in. “We didn’t even send out a mailer because we couldn’t afford it towards the end.”
In an interview, he estimated that he spent three to four hours “hitting the doors” every weekday, and averaged six to eight hours a day on weekends.
His goal, he said, was to “set the example for people who are thinking about running for office, working people who might not believe we can do it. “
“It is possible,” he said. “It just takes a lot of work.”

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