A Stream From Ipala

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 9, 2008

His name is lost to history, not that history was paying attention. Who cared about a bean farmer, let's say, from a remote corner of Guatemala?

You can picture him, maybe 30 years ago, this bean farmer, this Founding Father, scratching the earth like so many others in a little place called Ipala. He's hoping for a better year. His mind ventures beyond the horizon, but the view from his hoe is filled by the local landmark, a dead volcano.

So he has the usual dream: Light out for America! El Norte!

But where, exactly, to go in that big rich country? How does the first immigrant from a place like Ipala make that decision, which will mean so much later on?

God or history or dumb luck intervenes. (Good luck? Bad?)

You'd like to imagine the plucky bean farmer unrolling a map, closing his eyes, throwing a dart.

The dart could have landed anywhere from sea to shining sea. But our hero touches down in:

Langley Park.

He disappears into one of those red-brick garden apartment complexes where, at the time, not much Spanish is spoken. In the next few decades, an estimated 5,000-plus Ipalans -- about a quarter of the town's current population -- would follow.

Historically speaking, the bean farmer's job is done.

* * *

Someone needs to write an ode to Langley Park, located in northwestern Prince George's County. There's a secondhand Ellis Island quality to the place. The indoor fountain next to the Western Union and the dollar store, on the ground floor of the former Kmart at University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, could stand in for the Statue of Liberty. Here is where many of the new immigrants proudly pose for snapshots to be sent back home, proof of having arrived.

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