Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Visit to DC

Here I am, back in the U.S. After several years, I feel like a tourist in my own country. I appreciate that, as it offers me more opportunities to explore, learn and travel.

This weekend I went to DC to visit some friends. The growth of the immigrant population since I lived there a decade ago is very visible. In Annandale, we passed a very large house for sale, but instead of For Sale, it said Se Vende. I thought they were trying to attract a wealthy Hispanic family. “No,” my friend Larisa said. “They are going to get about 7-10 families together to buy the place and they will stuff everyone inside, breaking all housing laws.”

Since the northern Virginia area has the largest concentration of Bolivians in the U.S., as well as lots of other Hispanic immigrants, I asked if we could eat at a central American restaurant. It seemed we’d have a good chance of getting authentic food.

Larisa told us she’d take us to an area with a couple of places and we could choose one. We followed her and pulled up at a ratty El Salvadorian-Mexican place. Across the street was a much nicer looking place. However, this place had a couple of customers at the late hour of 3 p.m. Maybe the food was good.

We went in and the crowd of Hispanic men at the bar winked and smirked. There were two other pairs there, both Hispanic, seated at the plain tables. I didn’t get a good feeling, but at that point was too lazy to drive across the street. So we decided to stay, as long as we could sit far back, out of sight of the men at the bar.

Brightly colored El Salvadorian paintings lined the walls and the jukebox blared music in Spanish. We weren’t there five minutes before I started to notice regular traffic headed to the men’s room. Within a period of minutes, at least one male from every group had gone to the bathroom. There was something going on in there – we later theorized it was a drug drop site. Looking out the window, trying to ignore the men coming past us into the bathroom, I saw several stocky men loitering in front of the check cashing joint/Latino Laundromat across the street. We seemed to have showed up for lunch in gang central.

“This is the kind of place I can’t come and eat alone,” Larisa said.

I wondered why she brought us. Poor Mark was very uncomfortable. He’d just succeeded in getting me from South America to his own country. And within days, he was brought into a micro-El Salvador, right within the DC metropolitan area.

We paid a visit to a pleasant local park, took a riverboat cruise past the monuments, from one vibrant, café-filled area (Georgetown) to another (Old Town Alexandria), where the streets were filled with a variety of performances. And we paid a short visit to the Manassas National Battlefield, where we learned about the battle of July 21, 1862. Early in the war, it still attracted picnickers that came from Washington, DC to watch the fighting. However, over 6,000 soldiers died in what would eventually result as a Confederate victory. It was impressive to look out over the green hills, lined with trees, and imagine the people there on a hot summer day, dressed in woolen pants and long-sleeved jackets, marching miles upon miles, and fighting a battle for their lives.

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