The line of faces along the bar at Millie and Al's on 18th Street NW could not represent a more perfect racial-ethnic mix if customers had been ordered to drink there by a court decision in an integration case.
The faces are white, black and brown. The music from the juke box is a jumble of soul, rock and Mexican border ballads. Like many another place near the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road, Spanish is spoken there as frequently as English.
"The government is paying a lot of money trying to get blacks, whites and Latinos to live and work together," said Pedro Lujan of the Council of Hispanic Community and Agencies. "The Admas-Morgan, Mount Pleasant area is the only part of the city where this happens naturally, without a penny from the government."
The problem is that, like other neighborhoods, near the center of town, this amiable community of laborers, welfare recipients, hangers-on from the nearby Fields of Plenty grocery cooperative and young professionals is tilting in favor of the people with more money.
Change is coming rapidly. The neighborhood's heavy dash of cultural salse is becoming diluted. Lujan fears "the whole flavor is going to disappear." Latin American community leaders say the District of Columbia government is ignoring the situation, hoping low-income Latinos and others will be forced out to the suburbs before the government has to act.
Although District officials strongly deny it, Lujan said, "They're trying to gain time, stall, stall, stall." Lujan, who heads the housing committee of the Council of Hispanic Community and Agencies, said the city government "knows exactly that too many people from outside are moving into Adams-Morgan, and there will be a time when no Latinos live here."
Members of the Hispanic Council complain that a "Latin Quarter Comprehensive Development Plan" to preserve Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant has been shelved since it was submitted in January 1977 to the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) through the District Office of Latino Affairs.
They say previous development proposals for the area have been ignored. Meanwhile, they say the area is not getting Community Development Block Grant funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Roy Priest, head of the DHCD Office of Policy Planning, said the idea that the D.C. government is stalling in hopes Hispanos would be forced out to the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia is "unmitigated nonsense."
He said, "I won't even honor that with an answer. We are trying to work out a definition of what the (Adams-Morgan, Mount Pleasant) population is, and then work with them on a specific program."
Priest added, "I think the problem is that (the Hispanos) are a group within the city that feels, probably legitimately, that there has been no concentrated effort to help them. They don't see any solution being applied, and they are complaining about it."
A major stumbling block to efforts on behalf of the Latin American community is the 1970 census. Latino leaders claim there are 50,000 persons of Spanish origin in the District of Columbia, most of them in Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant.
But the 1970 census counted only 15,108.A sample survey in 1976 estimated no more than 19,000. Hispanic groups throughout the United States say 1970 counts were far below what they should have been.
But Priest said the District cannot embark on elaborate neighborhood development programs "unless we know whether the population is 20,000 or 200,000."
We have often received the excuse that 'we don't know how many of you there are, so we won't be able to give you money," said Eva Guevara-Erb, director of the Hispanic Council, which represents 17 Hispanic religious, educational and social service organizations. "We have been a year and a half negotiating with HUD to get them to recognize the needs of the community."
The council wrote a letter to HUD in June 1977 complaining of discrimination by the District. HUD spokesmen said the council was advised of proper procedures of filing a formal discrimination complaint but that the council has not yet followed through.
Priest said the District government has set up an Office of Latino Affairs, and the mayor has appointed a Commission on Latino Community Development.
"This is clear acknowledgement of the District that the Latino community exists," he said, "I don't think there is any omission of them at all from planning or anything else that goes on in this city."
Formulators say the "Latin Quarter" proposal, which includes a study of everything in the neighborhood from soil condition to police protection, would cost $265,000. Priest said, "We have been talking in the neighborhood of $125,000 for neighborhood planning the entire city."
Carlos Rosario, acting director of the D.C. Latino Affairs Office said the District recently decided to pay $75,000 to conduct a population survey of the Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant area. The survey will be used as a basis for further community development plans.
Hispanic community leaders are willing to go along with the survey as long as it involves no more delay for community development.
Rosario denied the D.C. government is dawdling while lower income citizens are forced out by economic change.
"No, that's not true," Rosario said, "We will start with the survey, and from the survey will come money for follow-up programs.
Lujan said community concern stemmed in part from a November 1977 letter from DHCD Director Lorenzo Jacobs to Rosario that expressed support for "concerns, problems and needs of the Spanish speaking community." But the letter also said, "Since the Adams-Morgan, Mount Pleasant area is changing rapidly there is a very real question as to whether the benefit of the proposal will in fact accrue to the present residents."
The letter also noted that the proposal "goes well beyond the normal neighborhood planning and housing programs that are within the traditional purview of DHCD" and expressed concern that it was "initiated by a particular group in a community with a population whose composition is very diverse."
The Hispanic Council's proposal, however, emphasizes a desire to preserve the "rich ethnic mix (which) few areas of the city offer."
So does Lujan. He pointed out proudly that children of all skin colors play and study together in his neighborhood.
"Our children are growing up in a way that they don't care about color," he said.