Mount Pleasant Residents say Latino Community is Strong

Photo by Nina Zafar / Gabriella Lujan says creating the altar for Mount Pleasant’s Day of the Dead is a long process. She spends months creating unique pieces for the intricate display. But for Lujan, it’s worth all the hard work to orchestrate events that bring the Latino community together.

Photo by Nina Zafar / Gabriella Lujan says creating the altar for Mount Pleasant’s Day of the Dead is a long process. She spends months creating unique pieces for the intricate display. But for Lujan, it’s worth all the hard work to orchestrate events that bring the Latino community together.

By Nina Zafar and Devan Kaney

Mount Pleasant has been one of Washington, D.C.’s longtime Latino centers, but the neighborhood has changed drastically over the past 20 years.

In the 1970s Mount Pleasant and Adams Morgan were recognized as the heart of the Latino community in D.C. Seemingly, in recent years as housing prices rise, many of those who came here in the 1970s and 80s are opting for Virginia and Maryland suburbs as reasonably priced alternatives.

Quique Aviles grew up between Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant and is now a one of the neighborhood’s prominent members when it comes to keeping the Latino influence alive.

“I’ve been involved in the community for 35 years, I grew up here. We don’t live here in Mount Pleasant anymore because we got basically gentrified out. It got too expensive to live here,” Aviles said. “But this is our hub; you know it’s our community.

Aviles says he’s able to maintain a presence by putting on neighborhood events that highlight the diversity in the area. For several years he, along with a few local artists, has been organizing a Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration in Lamont Park every year on Nov. 1. Aviles explains that the event always starts out small. But throughout the day, passersby and residents make their way to the small park to check out the festivities.

Gabriella Lujan is one of the artists that lends her time and effort to making the event a success. Like Aviles, she was born and raised in Adams Morgan. She moved to San Francisco to pursue her art career. It wasn’t long before she made her way back to her tight-knit community in D.C. She connected with Aviles again in planning Latino events.

“It’s a community thing which I find I need,” Lujan explains. “That’s what drove me to continue to do this every year, so we could build a community and a presence.”

While Mount Pleasant has lost more than 2,000 Latinos over the past decade, the percentage of Latinos in D.C. as a whole has actually significantly increased by about 21 percent. According to the D.C. Office of Planning, the jump in the city’s Latino population is due to an increase in Latino births.

Gentrification may be happening in Mount Pleasant, but there is still a strong cohort that believe the Latino community here is actually getting stronger.

The community presence that Lujan refers to is what so many Latinos find attractive about Mount Pleasant. Andrew Gonzalez is the owner of Lezo’s Taqueria, which he recently opened in the neighborhood with his mother. The family is originally from Mexico, but has been in Mount Pleasant for more than 20 years now. He says that Virginia and Maryland don’t have the same appeal as D.C. Latino communities there are growing, but many people miss the city feel.

“Of course you know, you have everything around here, all the stores. A lot people that I know had moved out, they’ve gone to either Virginia or Maryland, now a lot of people are starting to come back.”

Gonzalez says that his family’s business is just one of many that have opened in recent years. The area has gotten safer and big businesses, such as Target, have strengthened the appeal of the area.

Edwin Donis came to Mount Pleasant from Guatemala six years ago and now works at El Progreso, an international food market on Mount Pleasant Street. He echoes Gonzalez’s view that although Virginia and Maryland may be cheaper alternatives that many people vie for, D.C. is still an attractive option, particularly for business owners.

“The Hispanic community is getting bigger now. They’re important to the economy,” he says. “Some people prefer to stay here because they have their own business. You know, Washington is multicultural so here you will find Salvadorian, Mexican, South American people so it’s very flexible to have a business for this community.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the zip code encompassing Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, 20010, is among those across the country that have seen the highest increase in white residents over the last decade, jumping by 24.7 percent. Despite this number, some Latino residents, like Lujan, Gonzalez and Donis, are confident that small businesses and community events will continue to strengthen Mount Pleasant’s reputation as a Latino hub.




Ukrainian Americans remember their roots

Ukrainian transplants reflect on their cultural roots while acclimating to life in the U.S.

| By Edward Graham |

Kat Savchyn was 10 years old when her family emigrated from L’viv, Ukraine for the United States. Along with her sister and her mother, the family eventually settled in Alexandria, Va.

Now 25 years old and working as a data scientist for a consultant firm in Washington, D.C., Savchyn said she was too young at the time to grasp the full magnitude of their move, but she was able to adapt relatively quickly to her new surroundings.

“I didn’t really have a good understanding of what was going on, but when I went to school I acclimated really quickly,” said Savchyn, who attended the Alexandria City Public Schools. “There were a lot of foreign kids in school with me, so I guess I organically adapted to the culture and the people and the language.”

Although the D.C. region does not rank among U.S. cities with the largest Ukrainian populations—data from the U.S. census shows that New York City has the highest total of Ukrainians in the country—the region nevertheless boasts a proud Ukrainian heritage.

According to data from the Center for Demographic and Socio-Economic Research of Ukrainians in the United States, just over 18,000 people of Ukrainian heritage live in the metropolitan D.C. area. The majority of this population—close to 13,000 people—were born in the U.S.

Savchyn says her mother remains in touch with the Ukrainian community through church in D.C., but that she isn’t as in tune with the local community. While she still maintains a slight accent, Savchyn is perfectly fluent in English and can also speak Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, often drifting between all four languages when speaking with her mother or sister.

“I met a few Slavic people when I was in school, and they helped me acclimate in the sense that being around them made me feel more at home, and also to gradually transition [to living in the U.S.],” Savchyn said. “But I wouldn’t say we knew a lot of Ukrainians when we came here, or were in touch with a network.”

Ukrainian diaspora remains visible and vigilant in D.C.

As the nation’s capitol, the District is home to a number of international organizations geared towards representing Ukrainian interests, both abroad and in the U.S.

D.C. boasts several such organizations, including the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, which also maintains an office in Kiev, Ukraine. The non-profit foundation works on strengthening ties between the two countries, with a larger push over the last year for the U.S. to take a larger role in combatting Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula.

The region is also home to three Ukrainian churches, including the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in northeast D.C. The church publishes a duel church bulletin in both English and Ukrainian, and also holds liturgies in both languages.

Perhaps the most visual sign of the Ukrainian diaspora’s direct impact on the D.C.-area is the recent construction and dedication of the Holodomor memorial in downtown Washington, D.C.

The memorial commemorates the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine, which historians estimate to have killed between 16 percent to 25 percent of the total population of Ukraine—perhaps 7 million to 10 million total people.

Known today as “the terror famine,” the man-made famine was enforced by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as a means of crushing the brewing Ukrainian independence movement. Soviet soldiers, often through force, took the majority of Ukrainian harvests and shipped them back to modern-day Russia, starving the majority of the region’s population.

The Holodomor memorial, located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue Northwest and North Capitol Street Northwest, just outside of Union station, received congressional authorization for construction in 2006 and was built with private donations.

The memorial’s dedication ceremony included several thousand Ukrainians who traveled from across the U.S. to attend, the first lady of Ukraine and several U.S. congressional representatives. Crowds of people braved dreary and rainy conditions to memorialize the victims of the famine.

But the ceremony only represented one aspect of D.C.-based events commemorating the Holodomor. A two-week long exhibition, called the “National Holodomor—Genocide by Famine” was also placed inside Union Station to tell the story of the famine’s impact on Ukrainians. Several concerts, exhibits and other artistic performances were also planned around the memorial’s dedication.

The memorial, a bronze wall embossed with a wheat field, is dedicated “in memory of the millions of innocent victims of a man-made famine in Ukraine engineered and implemented by Stalin’s totalitarian regime.”

When I visited the memorial on a Thursday afternoon, several wreaths, candles and flags adorned the memorial wall. It was a quiet day, and most people seemed to walk past the memorial without noticing. A homeless man was asleep in the shade cast by the back side of the memorial.

When I asked a passerby, Alyssa Kinney, about the memorial, she said that she wasn’t that familiar with it.

“I didn’t even notice it until you said something,” Kinney said, noting that she didn’t visit the area that often.

When asked about the Holodomor, Kinney was also equally unfamiliar.

“No idea,” she said.

Kinney’s confusion isn’t exactly surprising.

During Stalin’s rule, all mention of the famine were stricken from official records, and government officials were ordered to falsify findings about the role of the government and the staggering loss of like in Ukraine. It wasn’t until the last several decades that Western journalists began to uncover and write about the scope of the Ukrainian famine.

The goal of the memorial, U.S. and Ukrainian leaders and officials say, is to spread greater awareness about the Holodomor and to educate the public at large about one of the last century’s unwritten genocides. With Russia’s aggressive posturing in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Ukrainian leaders are quick to point a connection between the ongoing conflict and Russia’s longstanding denial of the Holodomor’s existence.

“The repercussions of the Holodomor are still being felt today,” said Daria Pishko-Komichak, executive secretary of the U.S. Holodomor Committee. “Russian-backed rebels who are fighting in Eastern Ukraine today pose a threat not only to the future of a unified Ukrainian state, but seek to re-write history as they deny the existence of the Holodomor.”

YouTube video of a portion of the Holodomor Memorial dedication ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, November 7.

Annandale’s Korean community: a unique cultural enclave in suburban Virginia

| By Mark Sakamoto |

Young-hee Lee, 73, first-generation immigrant and mother of Bandi Books ‘ Dong-hyun Lee, peruses a novel in the store. / Photo by Mark Sakamoto

Kay Kim tidies a rack of muted fall-colored cardigans, turning a few hangers to face in the proper direction. The glass door jingles as it swings open, and Kim pauses to politely greet a customer, a man looking to buy a scarf for his wife. She directs him to the right wall, where rows of neatly folded scarves lie on three wooden shelves, before returning to tending to her store.

“I don’t think I could run a business like this anywhere else,” said Kim, the impeccably dressed proprietor of CeCi Total Fashion in Annandale, Va. “The Korean community here is just so strong. So many people come to this store through personal connections, from hearing about it from members of our church, that kind of recommendation.”
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Worship, abandoned properties coexist in an up-and-coming neighborhood

Thomas Cowen, Minister of Social Justice at the Shiloh Baptist Church, said the church is trying to work through funding and church bureacracy to develop abandoned properties the church owns in Shaw. / Photo by Mary Bowerman

| By Mary Bowerman |

After a 150-year-old history that began during slavery and survived race riots and two fires, Shiloh Baptist Church faces a new obstacle: a congregation that can no longer afford to live in close proximity to the church.

Thomas Bowen, the social justice minister at Shiloh Baptist Church says as Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood has changed, many long-term residents who did not own homes have moved out of the city, others have struggled to pay rising rent.

“The community has changed,” Cowen said. “We believe that those coming into the community will find something of value. We also continue to find ways to meet the needs of those in our community.”
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Indonesian immigrants at Foggy Bottom deli demonstrate the power of informal networks

| By Brigitta Kinadi |

In the cramped and stuffy kitchen of Leo’s GW Delicatessen, Dian Nugraheni braces herself for the rush of students that will inevitably bombard the sandwich bar as soon as afternoon classes are dismissed. She puts on her transparent plastic gloves, and fixes the red patterned bandana on her head with resolve.

Within a few minutes, the deli buzzes with conversation as students from George Washington University place orders for BLT sandwiches and steak and cheese subs.

As more customers flow in, the kitchen becomes increasingly chaotic. Seven people work behind the sandwich bar. Each worker in the kitchen handles their own orders, but they collide and jostle in the small space. Nugraheni tries to avoid crashing into other workers as she heads to the counter with an order of a bacon, egg and cheese bagel wrapped in aluminum foil.

As she brushes past one of her co-workers, Nugraheni apologetically says “permisi,” “excuse me” in the Indonesian language. Nugraheni is one of five Indonesians working in the deli. Throughout the day, more snippets of Indonesian, a language most Americans are not accustomed to, are heard in the deli kitchen.
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Dance Place: Revitalization and gentrification of the Brookland community

| By Maya Kosover |

After being forced out of Adams Morgan by gentrification, Carla Perlo was left with no choice but to find an alternative home for her newly established organization, Dance Place. Her monthly rent quadrupled from $1,500 to $6,000 nearly overnight in 1986. Brookland in Northeast became her solution.

Student Denaise Seals moves swifty through the studio, smiling at each dancer that passes by her at her intermediate modern dance class. / Photo by Maya Kosover.

When attempting to find the Brookland neighborhood on a D.C. map almost 30 years ago, it was close to impossible – the map key covered it.

Now, in addition to Catholic University and the Washington Hospital Center, the area is full of developing real estate and cultural, creative spaces, including Dance Place. Continue reading

Voices from a changing neighborhood: An old church and new development

| By Rae Daniel |

After 150 years of change, one church still stands strong

Thomas Bowen, the social justice minister at Shiloh Baptist discusses the changes the church has experienced. Standing strong for 150 years, the church hasn’t traveled an easy road, Cowen says. Members of the congregation are no longer walking to the church, but rather driving from places outside of the Shaw community. Bowen says while he’s aware of the changes in the neighborhood, he wants the people to know that the church is still one of the community’s strongest advocates. The church continues to serve the needs of Shaw residents with many services, resources and events for residents. Bowen ensures that even with the changes happening, Shiloh Baptist is here to stay and to serve.

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Takoma Park councilman teams up with former gang leader to help city’s youth

Launchpad’s producer, Jerry Cowan, left, and creator, Councilman Terry Seamens, right, in the Takoma Park Community Center after a meeting with five young men as they prepare for their upcoming forum./ Photo by D’Ante Smith

| By D’Ante Smith |

It’s a clear, dark fall night. The streets are quiet, with no signs of anything or anyone. The audible sounds of doors slamming from the street echoes this sentiment. This is not the typical Saturday night in Ward 4 of Takoma Park.

“The Alternative: Crime, Prison and Death,” the first event organized by LaunchpadMaryland, a music concert headlined by local talent, could be contributing to this quiet. With 10 to 15 youth in the audience, that’s 10 to 15 fewer who could potentially be on the street corners making noise, and possibly getting into trouble.

This is a victory in the eyes of the program’s creator, Councilman Terry Seamens, and producer, Jerry Cowan. Continue reading