Escuela Bolivia

I’m spoiled with the plethora of Bolivian restaurants, activities and events in the Washington DC metro area, which is the heart of the Bolivian community in the U.S. However, everything is so spread out as families continue to move to the south due to the insane housing prices and high cost of living. Unless you count Cecilia’s restaurant on Columbia Pike, the Bolivian community lacks a true center.

As of last month, my term began on the Board of Directors of the Escuela Bolivia, an Arlington-based organization that has the potential to be that center. This organization provides Saturday morning classes in English as a Second Language for immigrants, Spanish and Bolivian cultural lessons for their children, and Spanish classes for the wider community. The organization was formed partly to preserve some of the cultural traditions often lost as immigrant children grow up in the United States.

I am still rather new to the area and I am still learning my way through the nuances of this community. Besides knowing most of the Bolivian restaurants by heart and news gathered from Los Tiempos USA, I do not hold a vast knowledge of this community’s history.

A loosely related group of cultural organizations, small businesses and media outlets that cater to Bolivians provides this community with a link to their homelands. Yet, this lack of unifying force really emphasizes what is missing. That is where I see the Escuela’s vast potential for being this all inclusive organization. I may be actively taking over responsibility for the website, which could serve as a sort of virtual meeting place providing resources, links and up to date information for this community.

Yet, I am still puzzled by the large gap between recently arrived immigrants and Bolivian-Americans who may operate primarily in English. There has to be a way to bring those two groups together, by possibly providing lectures, Bolivian movie screenings, and other activities that cater to others like me (Bolivian-Americans). Any ideas?

: We are still looking for others in the area who are interested in serving on the Board. If you would like to be considered or would like more information, please email me: eduardo [at] barrioflores [dot] net

Update 2: I have been getting some really good emails from Bolivians in the area who share that they too would like to get involved in general with the community. Please write me an email or leave a comment, on what you would like to see in the community or what information would help you feel part of it all.


11 thoughts on “Escuela Bolivia

  1. Interesting dilemma. I wonder whether more assimilated families might agree to sponsor newly arrived families? I don’t mean sponsor in the Dept. of Immigration sense, but committing to help the newcomers acclimatize and learn the ropes. In our situation (the family is from Peru) that process happened within our extended family, with my mother taking my cousins under her wing when they arrived some 20 years after she did. Just a thought!

  2. The Bolivian community in the larger metro area VA-DC-MD is a small version of the Bolivia in South America.

    As I have been part of this community for over 15 years, I’d say it is somewhat connected. It is very funny. It sort of seems everybody knows everybody, or at least you know someone who knows some other person.

    The entire community usually comes together on the celebrations of August 6, la virgen de Urkupina pilgrimages, the Bolivian soccer league (I and some friends founded The Strongest) and other parties organized by Bolivians.

    However, you are right when you say there is a gigantic gap between the younger Bolivian-American people and the older Bolivian folks. The usual barrier is the language.

    Also, Bolivian restaurants take the role to bring this community somewhat toghether. Every time I used to go to eat saltenas, for sure I met someone I knew. 🙂

  3. Can’t help you out, since I don’t live in the DC area. But you might contact some other communities, like the Cuban-Americans, who face similar problems (recent immigrants contrast to third-generation English-speakers). See what kinds of things worked for them.

    But movie series seem like a good idea. Perhaps also some other celebrations or events? Does the DC community have an entrada during carnival? That might be a good idea, and even bring in some tourist money. I know there’s a Bolivian entrada in some German town once a year, but I can’t remember which one. It could be sort of like the Puerto Rico Day event in Chicago.

  4. The Bolivian community in DC metro already works like an extended network, as Don mentions. What usually happens when a new commer arrives, he or she usually already has a contact in the area. It can be a causing or even a friend. I have seen countless of examples. I have seen some cochabambinos friends who arrive on, say Monday, and they go to work on Tuesday. I am not making this up. There is even regional networks like the uncienos, who have their own week of celebrations.

    But, of course, I am not trying to say all is perfect. I think the idea of the Escuela Bolivia is an excellent idea. If I remember right they started back in 2000? The work they do on trying to close that gap between American born Bolivians, on the one side and recently arrived immigrant children on the other, is an important one.

    How to integrate them? How about sports? That seems to always work fine with children and young people. Tennis tournaments, soccer, football, baseball, basketball, can be played on the grounds of the school. I know, I didn’t do as much sport as I wanted for the lack of places to go, when I was young.

    But, I would say, the most important thing to do, if success is the aim, would be to get sponsorship money. I doubt many Bolivians in the area would be able to afford to pay a monthly sum to get involved. Even a one time sum, I would think is something to think about. That is why sponsorship money would go a long way.

  5. One las comment. Sorry to keep bombarding you with comments.

    After school programs. Those are really a necessity in that area. Many children don’t have anywhere to go once school is over (around 2 pm). Be it American-Bolivian or Bolivian born, they are in the same situation. Parents working, empty house, nothing to do after school. BAD combination.

  6. MB – Unfortunately I have heard sad tales of other Bolivians duping other Bolivians for charity work. We have some grants to help defray the costs of things.

    I still think there is too much of a gap between recent immigrants and Bolivian-Americans who may have been born here. Just look at this blog, it is about Bolivia but written in English…that just shows that there is a such a wide range of “Bolivians”

  7. MC –

    6 de agosto is a pretty big deal here, but a bit pricey. As with any community, I think there are a lot of different groups doing the same thing. I have seen it in other communities that I have worked in, where there are a lot of territorial issues to deal with, sadly.

  8. Yes, you touched on one of the problems within the community. There are lots of “vivos” trying to make a quick buck. But I was talking more about corporate donations. When I (we, there were more of us) started The Strongest soccer club to play in the Bolivian soccer league in Arlington, which plays on Sundays, I wrote to several companies like Mobil on Gallows Rd., Fidelity on Tysons and Office Depot, to see if they could do something for the community. We had a couple of good initial contacts. Even though in the end we did not get anything, because our club went into crisis. But, I think the interest from the corporations is there. Especially when it gives them good publicity.

  9. I work for a company that deals with a lot of Car Dealerships all over the US. One thing that I know for sure is that the used car bussines is big and companies do everything to attract new bussines.
    Mobil, Office Depot and such are big corporations that have locations all over the US, investing in advertising for a few thousand people doesn’t make a difference in earnings at the end of the year.
    A local dealership however, will gladly pay good money for the same kind of traffic. Reason number one, newcomers don’t buy new cars, we know that and they know it too.

    With the mortgage rates staying low, Realtor offices, Mortgage offices and mortgage brokers are also a good option to attract some advertising money.

  10. Hello,

    Just wanted to pass on to you some information about other “groups” that would host bolivians.

    La Asociacion de Mujeres Bolivianas del Area Metropolitana, whose President this term is Gabriela Wilcox, welcomes anyone who would like to participate.

    If you direct me on how to attach more information I’d be happy to do it!

    Have a great day!
    Silvia M. Landers
    Centro Boliviano de Filantropia

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