DC Latinos in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. are holding on. In the midst of luxury apartment buildings and large corporate shopping malls, they continue to demonstrate their cultural tenacity through small symbols that represent who they are. These are symbols that serve as a daily reminder of the vibrant Latino culture that has given Columbia Heights its unique character and vibe.
It is a breezy Sunday afternoon and Columbia Heights is buzzing. Restaurants are serving lunch, churches are preaching the word of the Lord, and coffee shops are hosting intriguing conversations. However, these are not just ordinary business or worship establishments. They are serving as a form of cultural expression for the residents of Columbia Heights. The storefronts are painted with the same bright, impacting colors that line the streets of Latin America. The smells of food flow out of restaurants like they do from the kitchens of our grandmothers. Families stroll hand in hand as mothers instill their cultural values and practices in their children. And, all signs communicate in both English and Spanish.
These are subtle and obvious symbols throughout Columbia Heights. They do not always evoke cultural tenacity, but with a second look they are symbols that are keeping the Latino culture alive. Signs, cars, and food all serve as symbols that may be frequently overlooked. Signs read “Los Hermanos” or “Los Primos” meaning the brothers or the cousins, respectively, demonstrating the strong family ties that exist within the Latino family. Restaurants are filled with food that is more commonly found in the Dominican Republic than in the local Safeway.
Church bells ring and families begin to make their way home. As they head home, some families are heading to the Gala Hispanic Theatre to see a performance of the “House of the Spirits”. The Gala Theatre houses the National Center for Latino Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Inside its walls, you hear words and music that define theatre in the Latino culture. Its walls have images that transport you to the theatres of Latin America where many of the performances originated. The Gala Hispanic Theatre serves as a symbol of the cultural tenacity of Latinos.
As families continue to grow and children assimilate more to American and DC culture alike, cultural symbols will become more important. They will continue to serve as a way for the community to display their cultural tenacity. The Gala Hispanic Theatre will continue to expose communities to the music and dance of Latinos. Restaurants like Los Hermanos will continue to serve home cooked meals from Latin America and churches will continue to bring together communities. Even mundane places like Laundromats, will continue to serve as symbols of culture by the sense of community that is cultivated within them.
Columbia Heights will continue to go through its transformation. Its demographic will change, but I can assure you that symbols of the Latino community will hold on. The children of today will be tomorrow’s adults, and their cultural tenacity will continue to exist. Latinos have made a significant cultural impact in Columbia Heights and their symbols will continue to stay alive.