Latinos in the US, Latinos in DC

If you listened to pollsters and product marketers, you might think there’s a vast, monolithic population group in this country called “Hispanics,” who share a common language, culture, lifestyle, and set of political and social views. As we know, that’s far from the truth. A housekeeper from Peru, a Cuban-born businessman, a Mexican farm worker, and a Puerto Rican university student—to cite just a few examples—may not have much in common beyond speaking Spanish. And even that varies widely from one generation to the next.

Nationwide, nearly two-thirds of the Latino population is of Mexican origin. The next nine groups—Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians, Hondurans, Ecuadorians, and Peruvians—together account for just a quarter of US Latinos.

Fiesta DC in Mt. Pleasant is a mere vestige of the big Latino festival that was held every year in DC in the 1980s. Gentrification has pushed many Latinos from Mt. Pleasant, and nowadays Latino families drive in from the suburbs for the festival. Photo by Mr. T in DC.

It’s different in DC. Compared to some other large US cities, we have relatively few Mexicans (though that’s changing). Instead, as a glance around our classrooms will reveal, the DC metropolitan area is home to hundreds of thousands of Central Americans from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. There are also many South Americans, especially from Colombia and Peru. The largest Latino group in the DC area, by a huge margin, is Salvadorans.

I moved to Mt. Pleasant in 1978, and over the next decade I saw the neighborhood turn steadily more Central American as Salvadorans surged into the city, fleeing the war. Mt. Pleasant and Adams Morgan were the core of the DC Latino community in the ’80s. Restaurants and bodegas sprang up, many named for immigrants’ hometowns in El Salvador.

El Nuevo Migueleno restaurant in Adams Morgan is one of several businesses in the area named for the department of San Miguel in El Salvador, where many DC residents have roots. Photo by Daniel Lobo/Daquella manera.

Since then, gentrification has driven up housing costs in DC as large apartment buildings have been converted to pricey condos. There has been an exodus of Salvadorans and other Central Americans to the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. The neighborhood of Arlandria, on the border between Arlington and Alexandria, has been dubbed “Chirilagua” because so many immigrants from that Salvadoran city have made their home there.

Children enjoy a street festival in downtown Silver Spring, May 2010. Much of the area’s Latino population has moved to Maryland and Virginia. Photo by Michael Deangelis/Silver Spring Voice.

Scholarship Program for Immigrant Students

A blog reader has called our attention to this opportunity: the Esperanza Fund is offering $5,000 two-year scholarships and $10,000 four-year college scholarships to immigrant
students in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. High school seniors are eligible if they were born outside the US or both parents were born outside the US. Apply at

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One Response to Latinos in the US, Latinos in DC

  1. Carolyn says:

    Great post, Cathy! I never knew about Chirilagua. Thanks.

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