I spent almost a year in Guatemala, so the neighborhood around Mt. Pleasant and Lamont all seems vaguely familiar to me. You hear the same tearful Duranguense music coming from cell phone ring tones and passing cars. And while Salvadoran tortillas smell just a little bit different than Guatemalan tortillas, you still take in lot of the same scents as you pass by the many Central American take-outs, with the odd Chinese take-out thrown in for good measure.
The thing that stood out about Mt. Pleasant is that it really does feel like a small town. And not just in the, “Hey, we’re a ‘village in the city,’ come gentrify us,” kind of way. There are bulletin boards where people post announcements, not just in coffee shops, but free-standing ones on the sidewalk. There’s a café called Dos Gringos whose walls are lined with pictures of kids from nearby schools. There’s even an underground pirate radio station lurking somewhere in the neighborhood, Radio CPR, whose DJ’s emerge from their secret station to play requests for birthday girls at Haydee’s, the local Mexican restaurant.
But there are also signs that everything isn’t quite right. From talking to some of the day laborers outside of the 7-11 like Luis Figueroa and looking at the Census data, it’s obvious that the cost of living in the neighborhood has been driving out many of the Central American immigrants who give the neighborhood its character. There’s an entire four-story apartment complex that’s sat empty for almost four years. The building had a long history of code violations. It was destroyed by a fire in 2008 — some residents believe the D.C. Fire Department didn’t respond fast enough -- and the charred skeleton stands as an ugly reminder. Since then the former tenants have been able to purchase the property and plan to turn it into much-needed affordable housing, but the project has stalled.
In short, there are many stories waiting to be teased out of Mt. Pleasant if you take the time to listen to people.
This story is part of a partnership between The Washington Post and students from American University. To read more stories from this collaboration, click here.