Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Elda LaRue

Elda LaRue came to the Pike when she was expecting baby #2. “We moved in on Christmas Eve, Dec 2005. My in-laws were there and we ate Christmas dinner on the moving boxes—it was a mess! My second daughter was born January 22, 2006.

“But this house was where my husband, Mario, grew up. He came here when he was two. Our first house together was in Burke because Arlington was expensive. We lived there for two years and then Mario pressured me to move here because the schooling was way better here and because our oldest child has special needs. It's the best place for our family, he said.
And in the beginning I didn't like it. Burke was beautiful. Not like the other suburbs with cookie-cutter houses. The houses there were unique and we had a lake. But it was cold---no diversity or community. But then I came here and realized diversity scared me. The Pike looked run down I said. It has character and culture, Mario said. And I did get it, eventually, so I have to give him that. But I guess it came from my growing up everywhere. He said, What are you scared of? These are our people.
And its changing now, many people are moving---they are gentrifying or whatever you call it. I live next to the Food Star. I’m going to miss it. It used to be a real international market and now it will be a “supposedly” international market, a Harris Teeter. Many people are moving to Fairfax.

“Now that you ask me this I wonder why I didn’t like it at first. Maybe I didn't want to be with others like me? I don’t know. I was born in LA and grew up there ---lived there for 12 years. I was raised Mexican in a very Mexican-American environment with many Asians. My mother was Mexican but she didn’t come here for a need, she came here as a diplomat. Spanglish wasn’t my thing and I didn’t identify with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation people. And they told me I didn’t look Mexican.

Then we moved to Algeria. My mom and Ahmed separated as he was Iranian and refused to go with us. His dad had been a general in the Shah’s army in Iran. After the US trouble he had to flee Iran. His dad was in prison for years and tortured. He was let out later. But I remember Ahmed saying ‘Never again will I go back to a crazy Muslim country like that.’ So they separated and never connected again.

In Algeria I lost my language because I had to learn French in the French School. We spoke Spanish at home and I lost my English but loved the 43 nationalities in my school. When I came back to LA people asked You Went Where? Where is Algeria? But when we came back my mom was not posted there so she couldn’t work as she was illegal. But we owned our house and I went to school and she did that all for me! She made jewelry and sold it and I had two jobs in High School and we survived. She had savings but it was hard. We were on welfare too. I lived a total of 16 years in LA.

Then we moved to Belize. On the way there we stopped in Mexico. Now I got to be Mexican! I was in my element and fully immersed in culture and language. That was my identity. There I found out about my birth dad and learned that Ahmed was my step dad. I had always thought I was half Iranian and that’s why I looked different. But I had no idea he was my step dad. I called him Ahmed but it never struck me. My mom got all excited meeting him again but realized soon that Ahmed and her independence had been her real life.
I went back and did 4 years college there after living 2 years in Belize. But there were no jobs in Mexico. Meanwhile my mom was living in DC but I was not interested in being here. I came for vacation and met mom and thought OMG DC was amazing! I found a job in the Air and Space museum. That’s where I met Mario, just out of college. All the time I had wondered who is the right guy for me? If I am so multicultural and in Mexico everyone said I was American, then where did I fit?
Mario was from Guatemala but was totally American. So he got my “those jokes” and my “these jokes” as well. It was perfect. Our parents’ lives were similar too.

Mario was pulled away in the middle of the night from Guatemala and was brought to DC. He was two years old. His dad is American, the son of German Jewish and Belgian parents from El Salvador where they had lived for many generations. His father was from Kansas. The LaRues fled France as Protestants in the 1500s. My father in-law grew up in El Salvador but lived in Guatemala as his father worked there. He hated his conservative family and was more involved in Che and Castro. So he became a human rights defender. He fought for the rights of the indigenous people of Guatemala and was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Then the Americans got involved in Guatemala and things went downhill and he had to flee.
They came here directly and have lived on The Pike since Mario was 8 years old. And his dad helped his country, Guatemala, from here. It’s ironic how he hated his American side of the family but it’s thanks to them he could stay here and do his work.
And because I do the genealogy thing, I see things repeat…

My husband told me that when he was growing up Arlington was a mix of cultures. When you went to parties in homes and schools it was a very small community and we still bump into each other even today. It’s a big world in a small community. But not all of Arlington is like that now. There are parts of Arlington where it is 99.9% white and then Carlin Springs Elementary I hear is 98% non white. Claremont is a mix because people choose to be there. So what’s good about The Pike? Its diversity and not just 1st and 2nd generation—not like LA—but people authentically here from another culture.

But now people are leaving as they gentrify. It’s becoming a different socio economic level as well. The new buildings are expensive. What kind of families will come there? It will change everything, including the schools. In LA I felt the others were my enemies, they didn't know the struggle of the grandparents who came here back then. And they push the newcomers down. There is a resentment—I don’t know what it is. It’s worse in Texas where the Republicans and conservative people of Mexican descent live. You don't see that here. Here they are looking to survive."

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

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