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.