Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Maria "Pete" Durgan




"Next door is the house I grew up in, and where I live today is the house my grandparents built. I grew up here on this block, went to school in Arlington, then when I was twenty-one, moved to Richmond, got married, came back briefly, got settled, but couldn't afford to live in Arlington.  We moved to Alexandria, rented there and then moved South Alexandria, and lived there for a long time and then moved to Herndon when my ex got transferred there. And then we split up, and I moved back here.

My grandfather was one of thirteen kids in a small town in Mexico. His father was the town doctor and his mother was the town nurse. A tuberculosis epidemic hit the town and both of them died. Their oldest daughter was the town pharmacist and she had to figure out what to do with all these kids. My grandfather had a talent for music and so they said, “all right, you can go to the conservatory in Mexico City,” and they shipped him off there. He roomed with my grandmother's family, got a room there; that's how they met.
He was young and dumb, in school, and playing in a bar, and who walks into the bar, but this up-and-coming political figure named Pancho Villa. Pancho Villa said, "Hey you know, I'm getting ready to go on a stump tour. I need a band to play before I'm doing my speaking to gather people around. I like these guys… Hey y'all wanna be in my band?" They went, "Yeah, sure." I can honestly say my grandfather was in Pancho Villa's band. He was his clarinet player.

They played concert band stuff, popular music of the early 1900s. He immigrated to D.C. in 1925, so I'm a little unclear about when he exactly he came over from Mexico. He left Pancho Villa in the midst of some dispute involving Federales on a train. He threw his hands up in the air and said “I'm outta here!” He then came across the border to Texas and played in pickup circus bands and traveled around a bunch. Apparently he was really, really, good, and somehow he got into the US Army band in Houston. He was good enough in the Army band that he got recruited to play in Pershing’s Own, the main US Army Band, based here at Fort Meyer. At that time it was a cavalry band so you played while you were riding a horse.

So he moved here, bought this little plot of land near the fort, went back to Mexico and got his wife, and built this house. She used to say, "I dug the foundation of this house with a shovel and a level." They built the house using scraps because they didn't have any money. There's some wood downstairs that came from a barn over at the Lee Mansion. They were tearing down Robert E. Lee’s old barn, so he got the good wood, brought it back and used it to build part of their house. There was also an embassy downtown that was being torn down, so he and a bunch of buddies went over there and got some bricks. The house is almost a hundred years old now. This is where he and my grandmother lived. They had one kid, my dad, and he grew up here. When he got married, they bought the lot next door and my father and my grandfather refurbished it. After my mom and dad got married, they moved in, and that's where I grew up.
My mom's originally from DC. They got married in 1953 at Saint Dominic's Church in DC. Because my father was Mexican they couldn't get married in Virginia at the time, because it would have been race mixing. The law against race mixing didn’t apply just to African Americans, but to anybody who wasn't fully white. Saint Dominic's was her church, so that's where they would have been married anyway.

The population in the neighborhood was white, lower class, blue collar. Nobody had a lot of money. Lots of Army people who were stationed at Fort Myer were nearby, and government workers, of course. When I was growing up, this area was mostly tiny little houses. Our house next door was considered a big house, but it's not that big by today's standards. Most of them were built on stilts, so people would dig them out and add the basements. Most of them are gone, the only ones that remain have been spiffed up. My niece bought the house up the street and that one is a nice little odd house.
My mom is very involved with Catholic church. She is one of the main fixtures at Saint Thomas Moore church. I went to Saint Thomas Moore Elementary School and to Bishop O'Connell for high school. Those schools were barely integrated at the time. I think there were two female black kids and one male black kid at Saint Thomas Moore.

The Butler Homes neighborhood near us was a black neighborhood. And of course Green Valley was black. South Rolfe Street and all the streets down by Lady Queen of Peace were a black neighborhood. People really didn't mix back then. My brothers had a friend who was black and he'd ride his bike over, and he was asked not come down the street. People weren't real kind about some things.
It took a long time though for things to change. There were no Latinos around here. It's funny. I was raised like a white kid and I felt like I was a white kid, but looking back on it when I got older, I realized some of the things that I didn't understand might have been related to the fact that I was a dark-skinned kid. I was just kind of ignored in school and that kind of stuff, and caught a little more flack from the teachers than some of the other people. Not terrible flack but it was there. Not with my schoolmates, they never were a problem. It was the older generation.

My grandparents had a piano, it sat right in the living room and my grandfather used to play hymns on it all the time. He used to write hymns, he was mega-religious. He and my grandmother were fixtures at Fort Myer Chapel. They were Mama and Papa Flores, everybody knew them, and as each of them died, they gave them this wonderful Army Band send off. It was really sweet. When my grandfather died they had a cello and a string quartet playing. It was beautiful.

My grandfather played music until he lost some teeth and he couldn't play anymore, and then he retired. After that, he worked for a while at the airport and fixed airplanes; he was very mechanical. I remember my grandmother working in the laundry over at Fort Myer. She was a very dark woman and worked in the laundry. She spoke English but it was not great, it was very heavily-accented English. I realize now it was a step down for her because she had been a teacher in Mexico. She came up here and couldn't get work except at the laundry because of her language skills.

I came to music through the family I guess. Because of my grandfather, and my dad played clarinet and sax, too. He was very proud of his years in the marching band at Texas A&M University. I learned piano when I was a kid, but eventually lost interest in it. I picked up bass in my thirties because my ex played guitar, and my brother Joe played guitar. We had this family band and used to practice over at my house. At the time there weren't many women bass players. I'm not saying it was terrible, but there were some awkward things. I always was treated well in my groups, but if you were working with a sound guy, you were automatically dismissed. I used to have to take men with me into the music stores because nobody would wait on me. I am not kidding. Roll's Music in Falls Church was dreadful. I’d go and wander around and try to find somebody to help me with something.

Our family has also been doing a big Memorial Day picnic for years. Fifty-three years ago my mother got to be friends with some nuns at Saint Thomas Moore Cathedral and decided she wanted to throw a picnic for them. It was really nice, and next year, they did it again. This time she invited her family and her family is huge, so it just kind of grew as time went on. As we kids started playing music, we'd bring our bands and play at the picnic and that was fun. I guess what happened is when you get older you get more friends, and your friends come and then your friends have kids, and then your friends’ kids come and then your relatives, too. I have thirty-two first cousins and they all got married and have kids, and then they all come every year. My mother's church friends come and of course the priest at Saint Thomas Moore would come and it just got bigger and bigger. On perfect weather days, we have something like two hundred and fifty people. People think of it as a family reunion but it's more than just the Flores and Gambino folks. It's a community tradition.

My mother's maiden name is Gambino. My grandfather who is Italian came here in around the turn of the last century. He was from a town east of Naples. The Irish side, my grandmother's side, probably came over about the same time. They were from Donegal, Ireland. My Italian grandfather married a person who is of Scotch-English descent in West Virginia. I had an aunt Francis Gambino, who did a genealogy search of that side of the family and traced us back to Jamestown or Yorktown. She joined the Daughters of the American Revolution.
What's interesting, is they said, "Don't trace your Irish relatives," because they didn't want us to know why they came over. It was probably because of the potato famine. They were probably potato pickers, which is fine, everybody does what they have to do to better for themselves. But this cousin of my mother’s did a further genealogy search and found that the people who came over from England were likely kids picked off the street, thrown on a ship, and sent out of England just to get them off the streets. Apparently they just picked people up off the street back then if you were a vagrant, threw you on a ship, and there you go. The Brits were not very kind people.

I’ve seen changes in the neighborhood over the years. There’s more affluence. It’s much more diverse. When I was growing up, there was only one other family in our church who was of Latino descent. It was a Mexican family called the Garcia's; they're still around. Mike Garcia, the insurance guy who has a business on the Pike, Mike on the Pike. There was no Latino community when we were growing up. In the 1960’s it was considered un-American for your children to speak any language other than English, and so we grew up not knowing Spanish, purposely not knowing Spanish. It was real typical child rearing practice, where parents wanted their kids to speak English and not the mother tongue. But we’d eat the food. Oh my God yes. I grew up eating tortillas and tamales and my grandmother had such a knack for spices. Oh man, she was good. Her mole, chicken mole. I became a vegetarian but I still think about her chicken mole. My dad used to take my grandparents to Manual Pena's Spanish store in DC. That was the only place around where you could get masa. You needed masa if you wanted to make your tortillas or tamales, because you couldn't buy tortillas anywhere, there weren’t even Doritos back in the day.
I really can't put a time on when I noticed more people coming into the area. I have to admit, I just loved it. Before I went to Richmond for college, after high school, I had some friends who were Ecuadorian. We used to hang out at parties and stuff. And so I got kind of into a circle of Latino friends.
I think the first big wave of immigration happened in the mid ‘70’s while I was in Richmond in school, but it must have begun before, because one of the reasons I realized it was time to leave Richmond was when I heard a Spanish accent on the bus and got this huge wave of nostalgia and knew it was time to leave. They had no Latinos in Richmond, you were either white or black, and here you already had more diversity. Honestly I might have been blind to it because it was just happening, and it was cool. You know how you sort of stuff happens and you don't even think about it?
I was here when the Vietnamese wave came through. I used to go to Clarendon all the time. MyAn Fabrics was one of my favorite hangs. The nice ladies helping you with your fabrics and then the guys in the back playing pool.

I fully retired in April. I worked in health care. I worked at MCV in Richmond for a couple of years. Later I went to work for G.W. Hospital, and worked there for fourteen years as Director of the Medical Staff office. I did that for a long time, then freelanced for a little while and then I got offered a job at MMG in Rockville, Maryland. I commuted to Rockville for 15 years. Right now I'm with a six piece band called The Curbfeelers that plays soul and blues. It’s lots of fun. We play at the Celtic House on the Pike about once a month. I also play in this band called NovaZanz, which is a mix of everything from country to standards.
I am currently the Penrose Neighborhood Association president. Mostly that involves keeping up with Arlington County government stuff, keeping the neighbors informed. Trying to make sure people get issues resolved..

Right now we have a bike path we’re working on. That's how I got involved, because I wanted to see the plans for the bike path. After much back and forth, they finally started building it and it should be open soon. There were also some issues related to a group house where the residents were not behaving properly, and it turns out that the people who were running the group house were not screening their people really well. They were sending people with behavior issues and it was scaring the neighbors. That got resolved. I was also on the Career Center working group which was put together to come up with some guidelines and vision to manage what we do with the site. We have the Career Center which has bunches of different programs in it. There's also the community high school, the Fenwick building, and Patrick Henry Elementary School, which is going to be superseded by Fleet School when it opens. A Montessori program is going to move into the Patrick Henry building. There's lots of concern about parking, because there are people in Arlington who think nobody should ever own a car. I don't think that's too much of an exaggeration. They don't want any parking onsite there, they think people should just not drive cars there, even if it's an option school where people from North Arlington would send their kids over. At the same time they're talking about removing residential parking restrictions. I'm trying to keep abreast of all that.
The main thing is in the short term, they told us we cannot remove any buildings, but in the long term they said, if you want to really build a full-service high school, you have to get rid of Patrick Henry, consider getting rid of Fenwick, and then consider what you want to put on the site. It was a very interesting and very frustrating process. On the one hand, you had a lot of meetings and a lot of back and forth and a lot of consensus building, but you were doing it in a vacuum of information. I think that really goes back to the School Board not really thinking things through in a long term way. I went into it with an open mind, thinking I'm not going to be biased in all this, I'm going to represent Penrose, I'm not going to represent myself. We have a PhD person in our association, Christine Brittle, who works in with surveys and focus groups professionally. She helped us survey the community. We got a fairly decent response, so I had some guidelines to use. I represented what we learned.

The School Board went back and forth regarding the Career Center site about whether they wanted a neighborhood school there or whether they want an option school. It's not big enough for a neighborhood school because you don't have room for all the field space that you would require. At one point they were talking about it being a neighborhood school but it wasn't going to have quite a few of the facilities that at Wakefield, Yorktown and Washington and Lee have. No soccer field, football field, football stadium, pool. So back and forth, back and forth. As it stands now, the School Board still doesn't know what kind of curriculum they're going to put in there. We told them they can't put a neighborhood school there without appropriate facilities. In the far future, they need to raze the Patrick Henry building so that they have enough space for fields and the stuff that you need to have an equitable kind of high school experience. Even if it's a STEAM school, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, you can't short those kids on basic high school things. Those programs save kids in school, because if you're just doing academics all the time, sometimes people just burn out. You have to be equitable. There was a lot of north versus South Arlington kinds of feelings raised about why would you consider building a neighborhood school in South Arlington that has vastly inferior facilities.

I meet and work with the other civic associations along the Pike. We have a monthly meeting called Pike Presidents Group and we meet at the CPRO (Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization) and keep each other up to speed on what's going on. It’s one of the best perks I get out of being president, is I get to go to that meeting. Adam Henderson from Douglas Park chairs it and he's an awesome leader.
We look at things like transportation up and down the Pike. There's always been concern on the Pike about transportation. Because the streetcar got nixed, we were promised a rapid bus transit, which never materialized. There's a lot of frustration with some construction that's going on and contractors who aren't following regulations and working all night and not being done by the time they're supposed to be done, causing traffic jams and that kind of thing. We learn about the developments, making sure we're all up to speed on the Harris Teeter building. They call it The Centro now.  It’s going to be a beautiful Harris Teeter with apartments up above and residential and it's going to have this cool little park in the front.  I made sure, as best I could, that people knew what the plans were.

CPRO is doing some interesting things all on the Pike, like the banner program on the western Pike, and the Farmers Market up at Arlington Mill. They keep us up to speed on stuff that they're doing. They're supposed to be an economic development assessment done of the western Pike to try to make it more vital. It's really odd because on the one hand, I love the diversity and the people who are there. I call them the Little Brown People on the Pike. I'm one of the little brown people on the Pike, and I love them and I want them to stay. But on the other hand, economic development means they're probably all going to be priced out. So I'm in the middle. I can see the need to spiff things up, but on the other hand, really? Do we really want to do that?
I did a booth at the County Fair for Penrose and Arlington Heights, we try to boost membership and sell our lovely “Proud To Be From South Arlington” T-shirts. It was fun, but we heard that realtors steer people away from South Arlington by telling them that the schools in South Arlington are inferior, which pissed us off. Some people seem to think that being around kids that have English as a second language is going to drag their kids down. Your kids will be fine. And they'll help the kids learn. We know people who are coming here and going “that's the best kind of education for my kids.” Schools are really good here. Our local schools would be high-end schools in probably 95% of the country. But when you talk to people from North Arlington, there's this perception that they're inferior and realtors steer people away. Of course you know if you buy in North Arlington, you're going to pay 100,000 dollars or more than you would if you bought the same house in South Arlington. So the realtors make more money that way. We have our 1.5 million dollar mini-mansions here in Penrose too, they happen. People have a right to do what they want to do with their property that they buy. The people I've met who live in those places are great people who made choices related to the neighborhood and they like it here.


People who move to South Arlington know what they're getting. I've heard from people who've moved around here who have kids. They want their kids to have the experience of all the ethnicities in their schools. They like the fact that you're in this kind of big ole melting pot of all kinds of people and it's cool that we all get together and hang out the way that we do. You can be in an apartment building and you can have an Ethiopian family next to a family from Honduras next to people from Thailand, et cetera, et cetera. And that's unique and cool and so people who move here, they like it, they want it."

Photography and interview by Lloyd Wolf.

Larry Yungk



Larry Yungk was flipping through the pages of the Living Diversity book. “This wall reminds me of a wall that was in our neighborhood. I think it was 1998, when I was still relatively new in the neighborhood and got roped in to join the Alcova Heights Civic Association (AHCA). My neighbor Walter Green and I were taking pictures for our revised AHCA Neighborhood Conservation Plan. The Plan is kind of a blueprint for neighborhoods to use with the County to address community concerns and make improvements. One problem was that there was only one block left on Columbia Pike with no sidewalk, and it was in our neighborhood. It was a dangerous spot where pedestrians had to step into a busy street. On the day we took pictures, a kid came down the sidewalk bouncing a basketball and stepped into the street and Walter got the shot—with a bus looming in the background.

“A year later I was the President of the AHCA. We presented our plan at a County meeting and we included the photo with a proposal for the sidewalk and wall for this block. (We did this as a PowerPoint back when few people still knew what that was!) And we got the funds to build the sidewalk.”

The Alcova name comes from the Alcova House, a historic property in the neighborhood.  Alcova stands for (Al)exandria (Co)unty, (V)irgini(a), Larry explains. “The Alcova Heights Association back then worked with the Country to get the funding that built a playground, pavilions, bridges and made other upgrades in Alcova Heights Park. All those upgrades in the park benefited us and others in South Arlington. There was one last unpaved street in Alcova Heights and we got that fixed too. It’s a lot of work to put the plan together and create your wish-list, but it was worth it.”

“Arlington is one of the very few places in the country that has this system—money raised by a county tax that neighborhood associations can apply for to use to fund ideas to improve their communities. I think the fund has ten to twelve million dollars in it. The bottom line is that except for the final County approval, it is all in the hands of the neighborhoods. Someone asked me if it actually works. You let citizens plan what happens next in your neighborhoods? Yes, I said. You do and it works.”

“My first Arlington apartment was at Fillmore Gardens near the Career Center in 1988,” Larry said. “I had lived in a lot of places—Maryland, Northeast DC, Southeast, Northwest DC, Takoma, Beltsville and even Annapolis. But it was here that I met my partner, Dang in 1991. It turned out Dang lived in a condo right on the other side of the Pike on Walter Reed. We both took the bus a lot and Dang knew everyone on his commute as he went into DC for work for years. It was so convenient and easy biking (even though I had to carry my bike up 3 floors to my apartment). We went out for a couple of years and eventually decided we should buy a place together. DC was expensive and we both liked South Arlington, so that is where we wanted to be.

We looked around and eventually put a bid on a house in Alcova Heights but didn’t get it. The day after, Dang drove around to look at the house one last time. On the next street, he saw people going into a house, one of whom he knew was a realtor. He stopped and asked the realtor, and learned the house was about to be put up for sale. It was owned by the original owners, who had been there since 1941—it still had the original stove (which we kept for a long time). Later that day, we came back to look at the inside of the house. Then we went into the backyard and it stretched on forever. We asked the realtor, ‘Is this all part of the house?’ The yard was 250 feet deep, which as it turns out is not that unusual for Alcova where some yards are twice as deep!

The Middletons, who we bought it from, were vegetable gardeners and they had fruit trees. And our neighbors knew so much [about gardening]. When things started growing around our garage after we moved in---it looked like a bush---we asked the neighbor Doug, ‘what is this?’ He said it was fig! When we moved in, I knew a little about gardening, and Dang, almost nothing. Over the next 25 years, Dang became an expert gardener, and now the yard has gardens everywhere, and we have even been on several garden tours.” 

Our neighbor at the time was Doug True. He was in his 80’s and was the first to welcome us. That was a big relief to us as a same-sex couple. And we learned so much about the history of the area from Doug. In his backyard he had a great red oak, 60 feet high planted by his grandfather. The land our house was on was once owned by Doug, and he sold it to the Middletons. He told us that in the 1930’s Arlington streets were renamed to the alphabetical and number system we have now (which is why streets like 6th street have so many separate parts!) The National Foreign Affairs Training Center is located behind our house in an area called Arlington Hall. During WWII, Arlington Hall used to be an army base and there they did the code breaking during WWII—the Japanese code was broken there. Doug said, when they put roads in—like Quincy and 6th (my street) they made them extra wide so Army vehicles could go on them. There were once guards who patrolled the perimeter, which was just outside our backyard.

“In the 1990s, there were still so many of the original owners. Now most of those original neighbors are gone. Mrs. Middleton was 84 when she sold to us. When we moved here in the 1990s there were very few families with young kids. Then when they had kids they moved out. We do have houses now where the owners’ kids have moved in with their families. Now in the last two years dozens of houses have sold and it seems everyone has kids!

“Maybe it was a Southern thing, not walking through front yards—but we pushed for 15 years to have sidewalks put in on many of our streets. On many of our streets they only got put in over the last 10 years or so. Now so many people are out walking, and kids riding their bikes. I think the sidewalks made us a more family friendly place. Also, people got fed up commuting from far suburbs and I think younger people are happy with the smaller houses here. Some were cottages, some hunting shacks converted into houses. For a few years, many folks were tearing them down and building big but now people are just adding additions to the old houses. The neighborhood is younger, youthful, noisier. Someone told me your neighborhood is halfway between Manhattan and Mayberry.

So the battle continues—trying to keep both people’s visions happy. In the Arlington “Urban Village” idea the County promotes, I think the needle is more toward Manhattan.  Our neighborhood has changed from blue to white collars. I remember when we were buying, our realtor tried to reassure us by saying, “The area between Route 50 and Columbia Pike is really Central Arlington and not South Arlington.”  But it is South Arlington. And what we have liked here is the diversity that we found on the Pike and in the neighborhoods, which is different than you find in most of North Arlington.”

When I came to DC in 1980 it was a different. I originally came to go to law school, but dropped out of and began to work with refugees. In 1987 I started with the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and retired as senior resettlement officer in Nov 2017. I have known The Pike since the early 80’s when I did resettlement work and you could find affordable housing for refugees here, in places like Culmore, PG County, and even in neighborhoods in DC that were then cheap, like Adams Morgan. Most refugees liked living near bus lines, ethnic stores, and restaurants. There were many Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian refugees in Arlington but many later moved farther out as they wanted to be in houses, more suburban. Others, like the Ethiopians, seemed to like the urban feel of The Pike. Many came here from cities in Ethiopia and Eritrea. We still see Ethiopians and other Africans now but it’s not as many as in the 80’s. The immigrants here now are more Latino. But there are also others like Mongolians — most people don’t know, but Arlington has the largest concentration of Mongolians in the US.  Some refugees are still here in Alcova, I know a Cambodian family who have been here since the 80’s.

“There is another kind of diversity here with three couples on our street and more in the neighborhood from the LGBT community. It has always been a very welcoming neighborhood.   Not just me, but other LGBT folks have been officers in our Association.  Anytime you move, you take a chance on being accepted, but being in Arlington, you know it would work. Dang is Thai and had a friend who lived in the neighborhood who was a Lao refugee so that was also a plus for us.

““Overall, Alcova is a mostly white neighborhood but there is still diversity. There are several African American families here and Indian American families too.  We also have many Latinos living here. Sometimes you see plants in front yards and wonder what’s that? Later you learn they are things like Asian pears, curry plants, or Japanese persimmons.

Not everyone in Alcova Heights owns their home.  There are a lot of rental houses where you see Latinos and others living in groups trying to make it in the US. Later you see many of these folks moving from rentals into owning their own houses.  

Then there is a diversity of the kinds of jobs people have. There are many military people here, which is not at all like where I grew up in Ohio. We have people working in the private sector, government, for museums, in the Foreign Service, musicians, and stay at home parents - all living side-by-side.  We’ve had an award-winning AP journalist, a cartoonist, and a cellist who plays at the Kennedy Center Opera. There is diversity in ages as well, although the neighborhood is definitely getting younger.

“One thing that’s my favorite is nature and how much of it we still have here. So you see deer walking down the alleys—yeah we still have alleys. We see herons, owls, and this year the most Monarch butterflies ever! We have foxes and ducks live in the park in the spring. (It’s one of the reasons we do a neighborhood park clean up each year.) The only thing we haven’t seen yet is a bear. I’d love to see one but not in my backyard! Dang and I love nature. We just sit in our backyard and listen to the birds. We have more nature than you’d ever expect being this close to the city.

“One of the things I loved most while Il lived here was learning photography, the old-fashioned film kind, at the Career Center. I was part of the Adult Learning group who met there for 15 years. It was not just the photography, but I made a lot of friends there – and it was a great break from the usual work. Unfortunately, this year the photo class had to be disbanded as the Career Center had to use the space for other things. Also, we lost the oldest and most beloved classmate this year. I still feel those losses.”


“Now we are retired, and are planning to move to Cincinnati. My parents live there and now need more help. Also, this is an expensive area for retirees. We will miss a lot of the benefits of living in Arlington. Dang loves the convenience of Columbia Pike and public transit so when we decided to move to Ohio it has been hard to find the right place as it is so different from here. When I showed him Route 4 there he thought it was like the Pike. And then I took him to see the huge Jungle Jim’s grocery—you know Dang is a chef. Once, he saw all that international food he finally felt he could survive even in Cincinnati.”



Interview by Sushmita Mazumdar of Studio Pause. Photography by Lloyd Wolf.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sarah Manrique Chiriboga




"I grew up right on Taylor Street, at the intersection of George Mason and Columbia Pike.  I grew up on the Pike, my whole life is the Pike basically.
My mom came here from Peru in the 1990’s because of her cousins that moved here. They lived in Fairfax, so she was rooming with them when she first moved here. Then she started working at Reagan Airport, doing the parking, you know how people would do your parking tickets? She met my dad there. He is an immigrant also. He's from Italy.
They met at the airport and they hit it off. She didn't really speak English very well, but she went to college in Peru and had learned enough English there to be basically conversational. Then they got an apartment in Barcroft. They stayed there, had me, and then my parents got divorced when I was really young. But my mom has stayed in the Barcroft Apartments the whole time. I grew up there until recently I moved because I went to college.
My mom went to college but that didn't really transfer over coming here. You hear that a lot. Her degree didn't count here. She got an accounting degree in Peru. She worked for the government there, she worked for the department of economy and there was a government uprising and a corruption scandal and all this stuff. People were rioting and my mom has never really liked conflict, so she didn't participate. Her coworkers were all rioting and she wasn’t into that. Everyone was like “Oh, why don't you want to? Why aren't you doing something?” They started attacking her for not doing something, telling her it was because she was afraid. So she ended up quitting her job and my grandmother pushed and pushed her to come here.
My mom had cousins who had come here, so my grandma was like “go to America, it will be good for you.” So she came here, and she had to work a whole bunch of jobs that were nothing close to what she was doing for the government in Peru. She was a nanny, then she worked doing parking, then she was a security guard, then she worked in a hospital, and now she's a nurse aid. And she's been doing all these different jobs, but nothing she studied for, you know? Nothing up to her education.
She wanted me to succeed. It was just always a subconscious thing, it was always like, what's the point of her coming all the way over here if I don't make something of myself, to help give back?
When I was really little I was in a traditional dance troupe, but it wasn't here, it was in Peru. Every year they did national military parade and I was in a little parade. It was cute. I would get all dressed up. It’s similar to the Bolivian style, basically the same outfit.
My mom and I don’t know so much of the language, but my grandma spoke fluent Quechua. She taught me a little bit when I was younger. I remember she told me Incan proverb “ Ama suwa, ama llulla, ama qhella  – it means don't lie, don't steal, don't cheat.” It was an Incan proverb that they all go by. She would tell me that a lot when I was little.
I'm at George Mason University. I study government and international politics. I went to Randolph Elementary School, so that's an IB (International Baccalaureate) school, so I was IB all the way to high school and then I ended up going to Wakefield High School. I also went to Randolph Elementary, to Drew and to Claremont for a little bit. I was born here, so I’m an American citizen. I have a really crazy story, because I didn't live here when I was really small. Not long after I was born, my mom sent me to live with my grandparents in Peru. I lived there until I was four and then I came back.
When I came back I didn't speak English so they put me in Claremont which is a language immersion school, so I had to learn English. Then I went to Randolph Elementary and from there I went to Jefferson Intermediate, and from there I went to Wakefield.
When I was growing up, there was always a very strong immigrant influence here, in Barcroft at least. Every one of my neighbors, they were Ethiopian, they were Nigerian, they were Salvadorian, they were Mexican. All of them were immigrants. Nobody that I knew in my neighborhood was a white American, born here. Even North Arlington to me was a different world. I didn't know certain parts of Arlington existed until I got older. Like Cherrydale, the Yorktown area… I'd never been there. I knew Courthouse, because I'd been to Courthouse ever since I was little. Then when I got older and I made friends and I went to summer school, I realized that this was also a part of Arlington. When I was little, I just knew this area and Ballston.
The kids I knew from the neighborhood all tended to migrate to the same places. The deciding factor happened in middle school where you're either going to the North Arlington Schools or you're staying at Wakefield. And there were some parents who were very against their kids going to Wakefield, even when I was in middle school. This was in 2011, and Wakefield has changed over time, but there were parents that were really against it. I think that was because of the bias that they had against old Wakefield. It was based on a racial bias. You know there were gangs back in the day, there was racial tension. Even when I went there, there were a lot of fights, and it was different from Washington and Lee, or Yorktown. I would talk to kids from there, and they'd be like “wow, you guys have people fighting at your school? How many security guards do you have?” We had like five or six and they would have one, and one resource officer, and we'd have maybe four, but parents were just not trying to send their children to Wakefield. They would purposely try to avoid it, act like they had a different address or put them in the IB program so that they wouldn't go to Wakefield, which I thought was kind of messed up. You're kind of stifling them from the culture there, because it wasn't a bad school to go to. I feel like I did get a good education but that's because I wanted to. Some people didn't take it as seriously as I did. Some people took different paths, but Arlington has a really good school system.
I learned to eat all different kids of foods, especially at Randolph School. They have that International Baccalaureate programs, and they would have this day where after school, all the kids would come and bring different foods from different countries, and it would be like a big banquet and people would perform dances, or show things from their culture for everyone. We had a lot of fun.  There were kids from Bangladesh, doing traditional Bangladeshi dance in their outfits, people from India, people who were from Thailand, people who were Bolivian, obviously, who were doing Caporales. The principal was really accepting of everyone.  She set up these days for all of us to bring out cultures together and it was like, that's what that school was. Diversity everywhere. I'll always remember, when I first went to that school, they had a little globe and a picture, everyone was holding hands, and people from different cultures all holding hands. If you go in there you'll see it, it's really really cute.
Being in an IB study team or something you'd have kids of all different cultures, playing, talking about different things. I was exposed to so many different types of foods at those events. I remember us eating food from Mali. We learned about Mali and we got to barter with each other, and we ate with our hands and we got traditional garments, and people came in and they showed us instruments and they did performances for us. We learned a lot, it was a lot of fun
In high school, the kids would often hang out by ethnic group. It was very disproportionately cut into different ethnic groups, especially children who didn't speak English as a first language. Like HILT (High Intensity Language Training) students, they all hung out by themselves. In a way, other kids would kind of isolate them on purpose. Even in a place like Wakefield, people that spoke English would kind of put them on the outside and treat them like they were outsiders. There was even a bias there. It wasn't really right, and a lot of it came from people who did speak Spanish but were American-born, to people that weren't born there. It was just like “oh, look at them they can't even speak English properly, and I was born here and I speak English and Spanish.” And I thought ”why are you doing that? Why would you treat someone like that, if your parents at one point were this person who also couldn’t speak English.”
When I was a kid in Barcroft, I played with people from all different backgrounds. But there are a lot of parents, ethnic parents Hispanic parents, who don't really like letting their children freely roam, so nobody could go to the park. Nobody was allowed at the park even though the park was across the street. Like Doctor’s Run Park right there, I mean, nobody could go there. My mom was okay with it if it was me and nobody else. Instead, almost everyone played at this little courtyard in the Barcroft complex. We called it the Arches. We played there every single day from twelve o'clock to nine p.m. in the summers. Every day, kids from all different backgrounds. We played soccer, hide and seek, running through the buildings. I know so many different cuts in all those buildings, just from running through there when I was a kid playing games. It would be Ethiopian kids, Indian kids, Pakistani kids, Hispanic kids
White kids started moving into our neighborhood around 2009. There were never any white kids in the neighborhood before. It was really weird, just strange for us, because there were literally no white kids before. So there was this one girl, she was blonde, and her little sister and she come out, right in the middle of the Arches, and all of us were staring. We were like “what?” like “who is this person, like what are you doing here?” First it was just her, then another white family came, then another white family came, and all these white families starting popping up and all these immigrant families started moving away. My friends started moving away.
They moved to Annandale, Woodbridge, places that were more affordable for them. Rent started going up. When I was a kid I remember it being, like $600 a month or something. We would always get letters every year, the rent's going up $100, the rent's going up $100, the rent's going up $200. Every year the rent would be going up, going up, going up, and now for a one bedroom it's something like $1,200, but because my mom was there for thirty years and they knew her, as a courtesy she was paying $945, because she was there so long and had established a relationship with them.
I see changes happening. Yes, now more drastically, very much more from 2016 until now, everything has changed so quickly. Food Star and that oriental market that used to be here are gone. Those are two things that I very vividly remember when I first came here from Peru, I would go there and they would have Spanish products or things that you couldn't get at traditional stores like beef stomach, or things like that that are traditional dishes from Peru, lengua, things like that at the Chinese place. Then you couldn't go there anymore because they closed it down. And when I was in high school I was very vocal about how angry I was about Food Star closing, because, I'd go to the food trucks, I'd go buy stuff when I'd be cold. I'd get horchatas in the summer, I'd get snow cones from the street vendors with my friends.
Even the taco truck that was near here ended up moving further up Columbia Pike, across from that new Brewhouse, I would have never thought there would be a brew pub on Columbia Pike, where all these frat bros hang out. I would have never thought that. Seriously. For me it was just a big shock, walking up the Pike and seeing all these different people being there. It was just like “wow.” Ten years ago it wasn't like this.
It was shocking and felt somehow threatening because in a way the area is losing its culture. Like with Food Star closing, a lot of my friends felt the same way, but nobody was as vocal or as angry as I was. I was joking, but I was like “I'll tie myself up and I'll wait there with signs.” It meant a lot to me. Pushback. At least for me, I wonder “why?” There's a fancy Harris Teeter grocery store in Ballston, there's a Harris Teeter in Shirlington, there's a Harris Teeter in Pentagon City, there's a Harris Teeter up in North Arlington in the Lee-Harrison Center. There's Harris Teeters everywhere. Why take away something that meant so much to the community, you know? For me it meant a lot.
Originally they were calling that new place being built something like Columbia Pike Village Center, or Village Center, the Village Place, or something like that. But now, choosing to name it something like “El Centro?” It’s like there's a wound there, and you're pouring salt in the wound. The wound is them tearing it away, and then calling it by a Spanish name. It just didn't feel right. It feels kind of like a slap in the face.
It is because the immigrant community won't be able to live there you know? Nobody. They're calling it El Centro, but how many Hispanic people are really going to live there? Everybody who lives there is probably going to be a graduate, post-graduate student, frat guy… that's who's moving into these places, that’s who is kind of taking over the area. The community that I know is being pushed out.
I didn't have trouble with gang stuff growing up, but it was around some. Sadly, I have two friends who ended up in trouble. One of my friends went to jail,; he killed his dad by Thomas Jefferson in 2016. And my other friend went to jail because he was robbing cars in Fairfax, which was also in 2016. They weren’t South American or Central American kids. One of them was one of the white kids that moved into my neighborhood. He was a really nice kid, but he went down the wrong path, and the other kid was also one of the white kids that moved into my neighborhood. Both of them happen to be two of the families that moved into that neighborhood.
My college, George Mason University, has a lot of diversity. I'm involved in a lot of clubs, like First generation students. Also the HSA, which is the Hispanic Student Association, Mason Democrats, and I'm a student ambassador for the Schar school which is the School of Policy and Government. I represent the school, go to school events, about the school. We talk about our experiences as Mason students, and what we've learned throughout the classes we’ve gone through. I've been to Mason Dreamers, there's a club at Mason. I believe in the Dream Act. I have friends who are Dreamers, so I obviously care about them as well. I have a friend who's been closely affected by it to a point where she had to drop out of school and now she's just working to catch up to pay back all these loans and all these things she owes to the school. And it's been really impactful for her, and it makes me sad to see what she was going through.
I think as much as I would like to return to this community when I’m done with school, I don't know if I'll be able to afford living here. If I stay in the apartment, yeah. but I don't know if I want to live in an apartment forever. I want to get out ,and I know none of the houses here are affordable for, honestly, anybody without taking out a huge mortgage or something crazy.
I recently got a job. I work a lot of mobile sales. I was working at Sprint then I stopped and I was working at AT&T and I stopped and now I'm working at T-Mobile.
I’d like to get into politics. My teacher really inspired me when I was in high school. She pointed out injustice and misrepresentation of people in the government. I think my point of view is the way a lot of people feel, but they don’t want to vocalize it. I feel I could be that means to the way to get the word out and represent people who feel their culture is going away. A lot of Hispanic people here, in this area, don’t get to talk about how they feel misrepresented in things like the Arlington County Board. How is it that, just the differences between the areas, within the streets, here there’s a lot of potholes, but if you go into north Arlington, everything’s nice and even and smooth. It’s like nobody listens to what we have to say here. Everybody listens to what they have to say in north Arlington. If there was somebody here that was willing to take the issues and put them before the Board and let them know we won’t be silenced. I’d be willing to do so. That’s what I want to do. I feel empowered to do that.
I see a lot of the people I grew up with on the Pike are moving away. We tried to stay in touch, but you know, distance is hard. I've had a lot of people who grew up here move to different states just because this entire areas is becoming increasingly more difficult to live in. The cost of living is going up and you can't expect people who are in the middle class, and aren’t making a lot to keep up with these costs.
When you put things like a brew house in, the cost of living goes up all together for the entire area. There are other signs of change. All of these buildings coming up along the Pike. It's really strange for me because there's high rises everywhere now. It feels like every few months there's a new high rise development on Columbia Pike. I don't really understand why, because all the other ones that were here previously all had vacancies for rent, so it's like nobody's moving into them, so why are you guys building more if nobody's moving into them? I don't understand.  A lot of them they tried to make them condos and they couldn't sell them. Especially like the ones you know by the new fancy Giant Food down there, that used to in a small shopping center with a bunch of different stores before they tore that all down and put in those condos. They still haven't sold those places for like six, seven, years! And still you guys are putting more up.
At one point we didn't have a car, so I just took public transportation everywhere. Now they have these new scooters here, the Lime, Bird. I was like, wow, never would I have thought that they would have these on Columbia Pike. All I used to see, including myself when I didn't have transportation, were people taking the METRO. People taking the ART bus, people riding their bikes, people walking up and down Columbia Pike, or driving. And now it's gotten more congested with traffic on Columbia Pike, it's so hard to get from one place to another.
I’m seeing less diversity in the community now. A lot of the people, a lot of my neighbors who I've lived with, and I've lived in the same building for a long time, all I can say is that everybody but us has moved. Everybody has left. We've been the only ones to stay. When my grandma she was still alive and she'd come visit us in this country, she had friends, other grandmas who lived in the neighborhood. Their families have moved out of the neighborhood now. People I played with moved out of the neighborhood. When you ask them why, it was like “oh I couldn't afford it anymore.” Or the apartment management told us they were going to renovate it, and then they didn't renovate it. That's something Barcroft likes to do, tell people we're going to renovate your apartment, go find temporary housing, and then they don't renovate their apartment.
The people who are moving in are post graduate students, people who work in DC, people who have finance, accounting jobs. People with really nice cars are living there. It's all white people moving in now. I still see a lot of diverse people walking around because there's still areas on the Pike that still have condensed groups of immigrants, like over there in Columbia Heights West and Buchanan Gardens, those brick apartments. There's a lot of Hispanic people who still live there. But at least in Barcroft, it's changed.

I'd like to see the community integrating things that have already been here along the Pike. Not taking away so much culture that has taken years to formulate. Back before all of this, these people came here and by themselves built these businesses, they built the economy and the infrastructure, this part of Columbia Pike. Now that they're leaving and replacing them, it kind of feels like an empty shell. I don't really know how this is giving back to the community. I'd like to keep things like that little store right there, the African store, places like Café Sazon, and that little Bolivian store over there, the Asian little store over there that sells tamales, like the Dama Ethiopian restaurant down there. If they took those away I'd be really hurt, just like I was hurt about Food Star being torn down. I don't want those places to go away, I want them to stay here. Special places should be kept intact, just for the sanctity of the culture."

Interview and photography by Lloyd Wolf.