Immigrants Give Md. Fountain a Global Reach

Rosa Orellana photographs Maribel Flores, left, Lilian Tejada and William Orellana at the Langley Park Plaza fountain. They are from El Salvador. Many immigrants send photos of themselves at the fountain to their homeland.
Rosa Orellana photographs Maribel Flores, left, Lilian Tejada and William Orellana at the Langley Park Plaza fountain. They are from El Salvador. Many immigrants send photos of themselves at the fountain to their homeland. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 22, 2006

A fountain by a Dollar City and a Western Union in a Prince George's County mall has become an unlikely shrine, with streams of people making pilgrimages there each weekend to take pictures that adorn living rooms across Central America.

It is hardly the White House, the Eiffel Tower or Times Square, but it's Langley Park's landmark, known by many as la fuente -- "the fountain" in Spanish. New immigrants who live nearby say it is the nicest vista in the city, a lovely setting to take a photograph to send home to Mom to let her know that even though you're far away, you're doing okay.

On weekends, dozens of people stop by the Langley Park Plaza mall. Sometimes, two or three groups pose at a time, clicking pictures from different angles of the fountain as it sprays streams of chlorinated water into the air.

"It tells my family that I'm here and that I'm fine and happy," said Mauricio Diaz, 21, a recent immigrant from Guatemala who was posing at the fountain with two friends on a recent Sunday. "It also shows them how it looks here. We don't have fountains like this in Guatemala."

The fountain has one tall, center plume and smaller arcs below. It is surrounded by leafy green artificial plants, blue and orange fluorescent lights, and a black iron gate. It rises in the middle of the small, nine-store indoor mall that has a gift shop, an urban clothing boutique and a bridal and fabric store, among others.

Diaz, a construction worker who lives in Arlington, said his parents hang the pictures on the walls of their home. They have several of him in front of la fuente.

Diaz was wearing a red baseball cap that he placed backward on his head for one photo, cocked it to the side for another and moved the brim to the front for a third. Then he curled his right arm and pulled up the sleeve of his white T-shirt to show off his bicep. He looked earnestly into the lens.

His friends teased him, but he didn't crack a smile until after the shutter clicked.

The fountain has become a stopping place in a neighborhood filled with stores, apartments, houses, restaurants and the bustle of hundreds of immigrant laborers looking for a day's work.

The community is rich with immigrants from throughout the world, but about two-thirds of residents are from Central America, said Langley Park activist Bill Hanna, a professor with the University of Maryland's Urban Studies and Planning Department.

He refers to the area as "Maryland's international corridor" because of the ethnic diversity, which includes people from places including Vietnam, Jamaica, Nigeria and Haiti. The 2000 Census said there are 16,000 residents in Langley Park, but Hanna puts the population closer to 20,000.

Most of the picture-takers at the fountain are from Central America, so most of the photographs are sent there. Some say they keep them and decorate their homes here.


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