Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Virginia Museum of History and Culture

The artists of the the Columbia Pike Documentary Project have numerous photographs and interview texts in a new exhibition at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. The work depicts the lives and culture of our vibrant and diverse community.

The work is presented in a long-term display about the Northern Virginia region of our state, consisting of a hands-on interactive digital feature and an introductory video.

The grand opening for the public is the weekend of May 14 and 15, 2022.

Thanks to Adam Scher, the museum's director, for his confidence in our work, and to the team of exhibition specialists who prepared our images and words.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Alison Munaylla

 Alison Munaylla, 19, is a biology major at Marymount University in Arlington. Originally from Peru, she has lived most of her life along Columbia Pike.
"I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but I was raised in Peru. I consider myself Peruvian because my whole family's Peruvian. I was about two or three years old when we came to America. When my dad, mom, and I first moved here we rented rooms on Columbia Pike. After they got divorced it was just me and my dad renting out rooms until we met my step-mom and brother. That was when we moved to Arbor Heights apartments. After that it was Westmont Gardens.
I went to Carlin Springs Elementary School, Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and then Wakefield High. Now I’m at Marymount University, studying biology with a minor in sustainability. It's mostly environmentalism work. What I'm really focusing on is conservation because I've had lot of work experience in conservation and it's something I really enjoy doing. I first found out about this field when I saw a position posted for the American Conservation Experience. I thought it would be just a nice summer job that I could have working outdoors, earn a little extra money. That was the summer of 2019 and it was the most memorable summer of my entire life so far. It was a lot of working outdoors with other people along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. We worked doing eradication of non-native species. It was just so much fun that I decided to apply to another conservation program called the Youth Conservation Corps, the YCC. It has become my area of study in college. it works for me so I'm deciding to keep pursuing it.

I wrote a piece about my life growing up on the Pike for a summer project that I was working on. We learned about Latin culture in the DC area. I wanted to express the knowledge gained from that course and decided to do my piece on Columbia Pike because it's my home, it's what I've known my whole life, my whole experience. I focused on the perspective of my parents because they're the ones who have had the most impact on me. They're the ones who took care of me when I was younger. We didn't have a lot of money, we didn't have a lot of friends, we didn't have a lot of family either in America. So they had to use what they could, the resources they were given, which was all along the Pike, to make friends, to be familiar with what they could do to get ahead in this country. It was very difficult growing up. My parents did a really good job at protecting me from things that come with going through the immigration process and how difficult it can be. They’ve tried their best to help me have a normal childhood with friends I could play with, with getting a good education and I really appreciate them for that.
My dad started off as a construction worker along the Pike and my mom was staying home in a room that we rented, taking care of me. Eventually they did get divorced because of, I guess, differences in what they wanted out of when they came to America. That was difficult for me because I was about four years old, still new to this country, and I didn't understand why if we moved somewhere so far, why did they have to get divorced and why couldn't they stick together through this very difficult time we were having? But eventually it's all right in the end. I'm living with my dad right now who remarried and it's consistent. It's fine. I guess the biggest thing that we struggled with was the living situation in because we didn't really have a lot of money. We would live with a variety of people as we moved around, because we could not afford to rent our own place. Some people were good, some of them were people you just wouldn't want to be with, but you really had no choice to live with. We were less fortunate than the other families around.
I believe the fact that when we came to Arlington that it was already a very diverse area helped me a lot. I don't run into a lot of racist encounters or discrimination. I think it's very fortunate that we moved here out of all places in America, because it really helped me grow up in a healthy environment.
When I was in high school, I was in a support group, United Minority Girls. It really helped me understand that there are other people just like me, because it's not easy to really connect with people just because they're minorities. I think it was a really good way to make friends, especially being a woman and pursuing an academic career in education, I think it does require support from other people and I'm really thankful for that. The program gave me a lot of support. Obviously there was the youth network and there was also a lot of encouragement from the staff. I remember there were many moments when us girls would just feel like giving up and really feel over-stimulated, overwhelmed by the process of getting into college but Mr. Beitler, Ms. Maitland, and Mr. Cotman would help us out and encourage us to keep going, encourage us to go against the odds, go against what other people were seeing about girls like us. We understood that as immigrants, it was not the easiest to get into college, especially if you're undocumented, which some girls were, but it is still possible. It's a very difficult process for some, more difficult than for others, but we were able to work hard, push through it, do our best.
I was encouraged by my family, especially my dad. He always cared about my education. He always prioritized it over everything and I don't think without him I would be where I am today, how I am today, or have the mindset I have about education today. Neither of my parents went to college. They didn’t have that opportunity. They did graduate high school; they had some education, and they saw it was important for me. 
When we were living at Westmont Gardens, my mom and my aunt, not really our biological aunt, but we consider her aunt, Tia, I remember me and my cousin, Emily, her daughter, would play in the two parks there. We would stroll around in our little carts, always fighting with each other, trying to gross each other out and it was so much fun. Just moments being a child, growing up and feeling unaware of the situation you're in, unaware of the stress your parents are going through and just creating those memories. I do remember a lot of happy times, especially with my family.
I had friends in school who were from other cultures, though a lot of my friends were Hispanic and Latina. That was very fun. Most of the memories I had of them were at school, on the playground, in class. Good memories. In Carlin Springs, we had talent shows. One time we did a fashion show and we would all have to rehearse during our after-school programs, and we'd wear these really crazy funny outfits, boa scarves and grass skirts. We would all just laugh and have fun. When it came time for the talent show, We would do our poses that we’d rehearsed, obviously forgetting things because we were children, but is was really fun. I didn't go to a lot of football games at Wakefield High School , but when I did the spirit was always there, the cheering. There were dances, homecoming, I've only been to one homecoming and that was my senior year, right before COVID hit so, I never got to have a graduation ceremony.

I never did have a Quinceañera and I regret it to this day. I think when you grow up and you're 14, 15, you don't want a lot of attention. You're kind of closed off, maybe a little insecure and I think that's what struck me. Also, I didn't want my parents to spend money because I know those are very expensive too. The struggles we had brought us closer together. My family is very supportive of me, especially my dad who has been there most of my life. He's always been just the constant in my life, always there for me.
He is now an electrician for a company and he did school after that, about four years of school of studying while taking care of me and my little brother. And I'm really proud of him, honestly, for coming such a long way from where he started.
It has been a change going to college in a way, but since I commute there, and I still live in the same place, but I think it's different than some other students. It's a little more lonely than high school. It’s not as easy to make friends because everyone is there to get an education and  it’s such a small school. The focus is really get your education, get these experiences, get these credits. So not super easy to make friends, but still...
I'm a US citizen now. I did speak Spanish at home, but it's kind of erased a little bit as I’ve continued my education here, which is unfortunate, so I'm trying to relearn it. I wasn't really connected to my Peruvian culture too much growing up because I felt my parents were already struggling to adapt to the environment here in America, to become American US citizens, so we didn't really have a lot of time for doing things like that. We also didn't have a lot of friends so we didn't immerse ourselves into the Peruvian community here. We were pretty alone for a very long time, but very close as family. If I have a family in the future, they will be the core, but not exactly in the way that I was growing up. I'd want them to explore the world and see what it is truly like, because I think that can prepare people better for the situations that they'll encounter out in the real world, the people they're going to meet, how to treat others who are different than you.
I would say if my regular diet is more Brazilian than anything because my stepmom is Brazilian and she does cook a lot of food for us. When we visit my cousins who are over in Sterling, we have really good Peruvian food because they really love the food there and wanted to keep that when they moved here. I really love ceviche. There's also these kernels of corn, canchitas, that we eat as appetizers before the entrees and chicha morada to drink. I had it a lot, it’s made from purple corn, spices, and fruit. When there was a Food Star grocery store where the Harris Teeter is now, we did our shopping there a lot. I miss that Food Star. I miss the giant Food Star sign I used to see over there. 
I didn't experience a lot of prejudice growing up. Thankfully I've never gone through something horrible like that, but I know the same can't be for other people here, because we all share different experiences of prejudice. When I was in the United Minority Girl group, other kids shared stories of hardships, including some from the Hispanic girls. For some of the people from other counties though, it would be harder for them. They did experience prejudice.
I have noticed things changing along Columbia Pike. New shops are popping up, there’s been some remodeling. One thing that hasn't really changed is the construction on the Pike. There's always been construction on the Pike. My dad would always complain about it. Ever since I moved here, there's always been construction, there's always been some potholes here. I found it very annoying, but I don't know when it will end. It may never end. I think the kind of people who are living here are pretty much the same as there has been my whole life. Maybe it attracts new people, now but it's still a very diverse area, which I'm thankful for. 
Home to me is somewhere where I've shared a lot of experiences with something familiar. It may not be the happiest experience or the best experiences always, but they're definitely memorable experiences that have helped shape me to be the person I am and the perceptions I have about the world today.
In ten years hopefully I will have completed some sort of higher education, get some job in the conservation field, hopefully live close to there. I do want to travel a lot before I maybe settle down for a job or a family. I've thought about where I will live in the future. If I did have to stay in Virginia, I would stay here right in northern Virginia close to DC on the Pike. It's a really wonderful community here. A lot different than places in south Virginia. I really like this place."

Interview and photography by Lloyd Wolf.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Nabela Rahman

I met Nabela through AHC Inc’s Teen College and Career Readiness program. She is the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, so we had a language in common as I am Bengali from India. At the end of the interview, she asked me if I spoke Bangla and I said I did. She said she spoke Bangla too, but it was bad. I told her, in Bangla, she could speak with me as mine was bad too after living in the U.S. for 23 years. She laughed and said, “Aamar shada manusher accent ache,” meaning I speak with a white person’s accent. We laughed, because she did! - Sushmita Mazumdar
Difference in Opportunities
“I have lived on Columbia Pike since 4th grade. For my freshman year of high-school I went to Wakefield but then transferred to Washington-Liberty to get better opportunities. There are more things W-L does, for example, the Virginia Junior Academy Science or VJAS. At Wakefield we didn’t have much support from teachers, no one talked about it or even knew what it was but I did VJAS since 7th grade so I was really good at that. I was the only freshman who did VJAS at Wakefield. In 10th grade, I asked to be transferred. When I moved here, it was so different. There were three teachers sponsoring VJAS and so many posters all over. They had more outreach. My friend Afrin and I just did a project on this problem. It’s a part of the systemic racism and how people of color first get lacking education, because of that, not the best jobs and don’t make much money. Those families then end up living in poorer neighborhoods and their kids grow up there and they get the same lacking education. It’s a never-ending cycle. It was a project for French class and the assignment was to make a news video. We three decided to ask students of color about Systemic Racism. We talked to a Black student, an Asian student, a Hispanic student, a White student and got their input on the issue. It was after I transferred to W-L I noticed all this.
Stories of Childhood
I really liked my childhood on The Pike. I went to Randolph Elementary as I live near there. All the kids from Barcroft Apartments, Quebec Apartments, Westmont Apartments, and Oakland Apartments go there.  We had no busses—we all walked to school. In 5th grade I was in the gifted program, and we did most of our classes on the stairs because it is such a small school and there was no space. But there was a lot of love in the school, and they spent a lot of money on field trips—at least one every month, sometimes two or three. I loved that very much. One field trip we went on was the Outdoor Lab. I remember I didn’t bring a coat and it was so cold. My tent-mate farted, and I peed my pants! And we found someone’s underwear in our tent, and it wasn’t any of ours! It was so chaotic and so funny!
From when I was a baby to age 7, we lived in Alexandria. After that we moved to three different buildings on The Pike. Me and my family we joke about how we moved 7 times in 7 years—for financial reasons perhaps. Me and my sister would talk at night about how small our house was getting and how it was getting more homier, as there was too little space to be independent. The Alexandria house was a bigger house and I only talked to my sister there. But when we moved to The Pike, we also had a baby sister so now there were three of us. Then we moved to a smaller apartment, and we were all devastated but now grateful for it as it brought my entire family and I closer. I remember being sad, though, as I stood in a corner of the empty apartment. It was smaller than our older place and my baby sister was really, really sad. Sometimes when you constantly move around, you don’t feel like you live anywhere and don’t want to get attached to your current living space.

Immigrant Life
My dad said he came here from Bangladesh by winning a lottery. He then brought my mom over a few years later after he built a life here. He was roommates with my friend Afrin’s dad. He and a lot of other immigrants from Bangladesh lived in Westmont Apartments on The Pike. You know the rule how four people can live in a two-bedroom apartment and six people in a three-bedroom apartment, but there were many immigrants illegally living together in a one room apartment. 
I am feeling all the emotions again as I tell you this! I felt like I was not appreciative. I guess I was a spoiled kid. When we moved and moved, I didn’t like being poor. Because we were rich when we lived at the Alexandria house but then later, if I wanted something my parents would say you can’t have this and you can’t have that because we were devastatingly poor. However, growing up, I became grateful for the small things, grateful even for showering, because you can really take that for granted when you live a privileged life. All those memories are coming back. I am learning so much about myself now, as I speak. I think I put all these feelings in a box and thew it away somewhere.

The Road Ahead
I don’t really have any idea of what I want to do after school, but I know I want to work with kids. My mom was a babysitter all my life and she couldn’t do that after I was in 6th grade. I am the middle child of three sisters and am really close with my baby sister. I enjoy being around kids. I don’t really know what I want to do but I want to live life. I don’t want to be disappointed by having too many expectations. I’ll just go with the flow. I don’t have a passion job or anything, but I want an education because that helps you go places. My parents are very much like “Be a Doctor, Be an Engineer!” Sometimes it can be stressful.
When I go to W-L, I stay more in the Ballston area than The Pike. I don’t really like that. The Pike feels more like home, more people look like you there. Here the people give off the vibe of click-click, do this, get this done, quick. The Pike is more calming, like take your time, and it’s so different. The downside is that other students think The Pike is like “ghetto.” One student just told me that he was once lost, his phone was dead, he was scared and telling me he was in danger. I thought he was in another country where he didn’t know anyone or maybe another state. But he was in South Arlington, one mile from his home! I was pissed off that people had that perception on my neighborhood.
I used to hate being Bengali/Bangladeshi. In W-L I’m in social anthropology class and the teacher really emphasizes culture and languages and I started enjoying it because so many of the other students, who are white, don’t have any of that. So, I started to embrace it."
Project Mother Tongue: April 12, 2022
The day of the photo shoot with Lloyd, Nabela told me a friend had dissed her because she didn’t know a second language. I told her I had an idea and asked if she would like to translate a few words or lines from her interview and learn to write it in Bangla. I said I could teach her because I had been re-learning how to write Bangla myself for a project of my own. She was excited and came to my Studio during Spring Break.
The first line she wanted to translate was the funny one. “I have a White person’s accent.” It was why she doesn’t really speak the language, she said. People laugh at her accent.
I tried to write it but when I got stuck on certain letters, I put in into Google Translate and saw the Bengali translation. The words weren’t the same as Nabela’s but we found key spellings and adjusted the sentence to be hers. 

আমার সাদা মানুষ er accent আছে
Then I showed her how to write those words forming shapes, finding similarities to other shapes she knew. She saw the Bangla letter Cha and found in it a lowercase B and the number 2. She tried it but was nervous saying she would mess it up. That’s when I brought out the sketch book and water-soluble graphite and crayons. When we can make writing our language into a fun art, it becomes different and we can enjoy it. 
Then she wrote the word White. In Bangla it is shaada. She added red and green—colors of the flag of Bangladesh. It looked beautiful and was totally readable and high-fived and clapped.  When we stepped back and looked at the word, she said she saw how it looked like the English letters S, M, and T! 

Then she wanted to write her name. I typed it, Nabela, into Google Translate and it asked: Did you mean Nabila? I ignored that as she spelled it Nabela. As she wrote it out, I asked her how her parents say her name. “They say it like it has two “e”s,” she said. “Uh oh. That changes the spelling,” I said. “Really?” she was surprised.
I clicked on Google’s suggestion: Nabila. I showed her how the spelling was different. “Yeah, somehow the English spelling of my name got changed and it lost an e,” she shrugged. I asked her what her name meant, and she shrugged. So, we looked it up. 
Nabila: a girl's name of Arabic origin meaning "honorable, noble, excellence".
She was overjoyed. She asked me if I knew what Rahman, her last name, meant. I didn’t. “Merciful,” she said. She colored the words in red and green again but in a different way, writing the meaning in English using the black crayon. Rahman: an Arabic origin surname meaning "gracious", "King", "merciful."
After that we looked for another funny bit in her interview. She picked the line where she says how she and her tent-mate found someone’s underwear in their tent in the Outdoor Lab. “My mom says Undie,” Nabela said. She couldn’t make the proper Bangla sentence, but I told her I didn’t care. We were just having fun. What she wrote was We Didn’t Have Undies. She made it colorful, the Bangla letters rolling off the end of her water-soluble crayons easily now. She had let go of her need to be perfect, something many good students—young or old—struggle with. “Our language and script are our heritage,” I told her. “It’s all somewhere inside us whether we use it or not.” “Yeah,” she said. “This is who I am, Bangladeshi, no matter what language I speak or what clothes I wear,” she said.

The artworks dried as we talked and shared many stories. It was a wonderful afternoon during Ramadan and I also got to learn some beautiful Arabic words and their meanings. 

Interview by Sushmita Mazumdar. Portrait photographs by Lloyd Wolf, studio photographs by Sushmita Mazumdar.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

ARLNow on the Columbia Pike Documentary Project

ArlNow, our community's main online local news source, his featuring an extensive article on the work of the Columbia Pike Documentary Project. 

View it here:

Thanks to reporter Matt Blitz for the coverage.


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

WETA_ "If You Lived Here"- CPDP photographers on the air

Columbia Pike Documentary Project photographers Dewey Tron and Lloyd Wolf were recently featured on WETA-TV's "If You Lived Here" segment on Columbia Pike.

Thanks to the crew at Leapfrog Productions.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Pike people - spring emergence

 Winter is ending, and life returns to the street.

Some of the faces and scenes encountered on a spring walk.

Guatemalan hat vendor

Guatemalan hat vendor

Guatemalan hat vendor

Thanks to Nicole Chavez for her help.

Photography by Lloyd Wolf.