Bolivians in Virginia (Part I)

Jokingly they refer to Arlington, VA as “Arlibamba” in reference to the huge number of Bolivian immigrants, especially those from Cochabamba who headed the first wave of mass movement twenty years ago. I’ve only been the area for less than a year, but my wish is to get more involved with the Bolivian community in the Metro DC area. Throughout my post-college life I’ve gravitated towards the Latino immigrant community in Omaha. However, that community was exclusively Mexican and Salvadoran. This was my chance to make some connections and see how I can contribute to a Bolivian community.

The U.S. subsidiary Los Tiempos USA of the Cochabamba newspaper of the same name had printed an open invitation to Bolivian immigrants to a meeting with members of the Diplomatic staff from the Bolivian embassy and consulate. Center stage would be a dialogue about immigration issues and an update on the progress towards the issuance of a Matrícular Consular, a card that all Bolivian immigrants could obtain as a form of identification much like their Mexican counterparts.

By the time the start time of 7 p.m. had arrived, only a small handful of people were anxiously waiting in the offices of the Centro de Justicia in Falls Church. I took a seat near the back, which was a perfect spot to sit back and observe and listen to what would take place over the next three hours.

As people waited for the program to start and as more people would wander in according to Latino time, complete strangers would find a common bond. As their fellow strangers in a strange land, the Bolivian immigrants would swap stories. The first question asked was always “how long have you been here?” with the average length of time being around three years. The next query would be about their hometown back in Bolivia. As usual, most were from Cochabamba, with Paceños and Cruceños also in the room.

The informal conversation over the next 15 minutes while everyone waited for the room to fill, would range from criticisms towards immigrants who now were residents or citizens, how they rarely care about those who recently arrived to the whole autonomy issue raging on back in Bolivia. Naturally I wanted to jump in to the conversation, but I decided to just listen.

In spite of the differences of hometown, length of stay in the country or whether or not they were in the country legally, most of the people who came out on a cold Thursday night had something in common: they were all looking for a better life for themselves and their families within the context of a lingering cloud of uncertainty that weighs heavily. No one knows what the future holds, especially for the tens of thousands of undocumented Bolivian immigrants living in the immediate area.

To be continued.


5 thoughts on “Bolivians in Virginia (Part I)

  1. I enjoyed your article, and was inquiring if you were going to host another meeting. I am interested in transnational identities, specifically with Bolivian-Americans. Also, I will travel to Cochabamba on May 14 for seven weeks, so I would be glad/honored to be a medium of sorts for anyone trying to get in touch with their families, wanting to send items home, etc.
    -Kathleen Bobbio-
    Master’s Candidate;
    Department of Geography;
    Virginia Tech

  2. Eduardo,
    I am currently working with a tv team from Bolivia. If you live in the DC area and would be interested in speaking with me please reply by email. tentative dates are May 16 through May 20.
    Alyson Curcio, Producer

  3. I liked your article as well, now i understand why my girlfriend’s family want to move to Virginia. Im from California, am a Mexican-American 18 year old male. My girlfriend came here to LA with her family in 2003 but they dont’nt find it home here. For me i taugh that California was the home for all immigrants from diffrent parts of central or south america, but when my girlfriend told me that she may move to Virginia and i have done a little reasearch my self now i know why. She is from Cochabamba as well, My main question is she is about to graduate from high school smart girl only A’s and B’s I got fair grades to but she is much smarter. But i can go to college beacuse i was born here and she is an immigrant. She gets alot of offers in mail or in the phone but when they ask for her social or status here in america they hang up on her. I really want to help her but i dont’nt know how? I know by getting marry with her is a start but we are both really young and want to explore other options before we make such a commitment. Please in your article you showed me you know alot about Bolivians and you showed alot of support and care alot. Please if u know of some method contact me at my email thanks for your help..

  4. Great story! I am doing some research about our Bolivian community in Arlington, VA, as I am getting ready to apply to different Law Schools around the VA and MD area. I feel that your letter will help me write my personal statement, which is required by most Law School programs. I came to the USA on a scholarship, awarded to me by “Tahuichi,” to play soccer and learn English at Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, NY in 1993, at the age of 14. I did the four years of High Shool at SBP, then, was awarded an academic and athletic scholarship to Saint Francis University of Pennsylvania, where a obatined a (B.S.)Bachelor’s degree in Business Management. Now, I would like to become an Attorney at Law, specialized in immigration law to help the community, particularly our Bolivian community, just like my friend Dan Park, Attorney at Law who practices in Alexandria VA, does. Please feel free to email me if you have any comments or questions. Thank you.

    David Diaz

  5. Muchos saludos desde la Florida. No se si alguien me pudiera dar el telefono de Gloria Fuentes, pacena que vive muchos anos en Virginia.
    Yo la conoci en el ano 1980 creo. Me case con Freddy Ortiz quien era muy amigo de ella, y tengo que hablar con ella urgente.
    Si alguien al conoce o la tiene en alguna lista podrian por favor enviarme su numero??
    Mil gracias
    Rosario. muy boliviana!!!!

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