When Ana Maria de Molina walks from her Arlington home to the Clarendon subway station, she never runs into a familiar face.
Her children, Juan, Jose and Ana Maria, like many of their Spanish-speaking classmates, leave Washington-Lee High School at the end of the day and immediately return home.
They have few American friends at school, they say. And to the de Molinas, who were used to meeting friends on the street and playing soccer in the neighborhood parks of their native Guatemala, they say it is odd to feel apart from community and school life.
Leaders in Arlington's Hispanic community realized that Latin American immigrants such as the de Molinas need a way to overcome the sense of isolation that lingers even after they have found a school, a job and a place to live. So the Latin American Parents and Students Association of Arlington held a workshop for about 45 adults and students as a catalyst for organizing the Hispanic community in the county, which the 1980 census estimates at 8,781 persons.
This workshop, and similar ones in the past, have helped Spanish-speaking persons to understand American ways while they retain the traditional values of their Latin American societies, said association president Ana Maria Kane, who emigrated from Honduras 20 years ago.
The result is increased confidence among Latin parents and students in taking roles in school organizations, Kane said.
The six-week Intercultural Leadership Training workshop provided explanations for the customs and life styles of Americans that often baffle Latin Americans. Workshop teacher Eduardo Berton, a native of Argentina, said that the parents association wants to draw more people into a communitywide information network to help newcomers adjust to American life.
"There is no sense of community here. In Latin America they have clubs, where you can play cards, bocci ball or soccer. You have friendships, opportunities to talk," Berton said. "Here you have a library or a recreation center, but it's impersonalized. You go to a recreation center and have to work out alone."
"Latin Americans are more group-oriented," Berton said.
Juan de Molina, 17, and his brother Jose, 16, both juniors at Washington-Lee, attended the workshop. They said that they hope to persuade Spanish-speaking students to participate in school activities, starting with soccer. The de Molina brothers and their sister Ana Maria, 14, are among the participants in the workshop who will form a student committee to start cultural and sports activities for Arlington's Spanish-speaking students.
Athough it is often because they are not confident of their English that Hispanic students "go to school, go to class and at two o'clock, just go home," it is partly because of the more reserved attitude of Americans, Juan said.
Between leaving Guatemala and coming to Arlington about a year and a half ago, the de Molina family lived in Costa Rica for two years. In Guatemala everybody in the school knew everyone else, and after only three days in a Costa Rican high school, the de Molinas said, they had a few friends. The Latin American tradition is to welcome new students -- everybody wants to meet you, said the de Molinas.
Parents also can have difficulties understanding the school system.
Berton said that Hispanic parents face the problems of coming from countries that do not have groups such as the PTA and civic associations, so they lack much of the experience that is useful for participating in the Arlington schools. Sometimes the whole concept of influencing the government is foreign to people from Latin America, he said.
"The governments are authoritarian; the church is paternalistic. So in Latin America, people wait for the word of the government. In the States, the government waits for public opinion. You have to participate and influence the government," said Berton.
Danielle Diaz-Guryansky, a spokeswoman for the Latin American Parents and Students Association, said that the workshop, which was developed in the Hispanic community, gives parents enough information about Arlington and the American people so they can work within the system of local government.
As a result of the workshop, the association hopes to establish Latin American committees in many of the Arlington schools that have a large numbers of Hispanic children. Key Elementary School is the only school in the area with a continuing program to orient parents to American culture and the workings of the school system. As participants in the workshop recruit more members, similar cross-cultural adjustment programs will be held, according to Diaz-Guryansky.
During the workshop, members of several Arlington County agencies, including outgoing Superintendent Charles Nunley, his successor Arthur Gosling, School Board members, the director of the Arlington County Library, and extension service and PTA representatives, met with participants and answered questions. Funds for the workshop were provided by the county's English for Speakers of Other Languages office.
"I was immediately impressed with their enthusiasm. A lot of people come to the school system with problems, expecting us to solve them. Here was a group that had worked something out," said School Board member Dorothy Stambaugh