Tuesday, October 30, 2018
"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.