Mount Pleasant's Energy Shifts As New Residents Move In (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Mount Pleasant's Energy Shifts As New Residents Move In

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:00:03
We're going to swing back into the District for our next story, which is about the energy of an entire neighborhood. The neighborhood in question is Mount Pleasant, and for decades it's been an enclave for Latino residents and businesses. But Mount Pleasant is changing. The most recent Census date for this part of the city shows that Latino residents have gradually begun moving out to the suburbs because of rising housing costs, and more affluent white residents are moving in. And as Kate Sheehy reports, these changing demographics mean the culture of Mount Pleasant is changing as well.

MS. KATE SHEEHY

00:00:40
Miram Ochoa and Rafael Rodriguez barely have time for a break during their 12-hour workday. They're the owners of D And S Accounting and Tax Services, on the corner of Irving and Mount Pleasant Streets, in northwest D.C. The business has been in Mount Pleasant since 1994, and they have lots of loyal customers.

MR. RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ

00:00:58
Most of my clients are Hispanic. I have a few non-speaking Spanish clients, which is about 20 percent, but back then was only less than 5 percent.

SHEEHY

00:01:10
Rodriguez is from the Dominican Republic and has lived in this community for 31 years. He says there used to be only African-Americans, Latinos and a few Asian people here, but now there's a little bit of everything, as he puts it. Rodriguez likes that Mount Pleasant is becoming more diverse, but he also worries that Latinos and whites are living side by side without understanding one another's cultures.

RODRIGUEZ

00:01:33
They will come in and they will not care. Like when they put their business, they just want to make money. They don't care whether you move out or move in. They don't care about the other people, which is something that bothers me. Yes, it bothers me when it comes to that. I like all of us to enjoy the growth of the Mount Pleasant community.

SHEEHY

00:01:51
His partner, Miram Ochoa, came to D.C. from El Salvador in 1980, when she was 15. Like many Central Americans in Mount Pleasant, she feels at home here. But she knows that demographic changes have made some feel unwelcome.

MS. MIRAM OCHOA

00:02:05
And like I hear comments here in my office, they are increasing the rent so high in Mount Pleasant because they want to kick us out of here.

SHEEHY

00:02:14
Ochoa says she likes trying new things and appreciates much of the progress made in her community. However, she fights back tears as she admits she has never felt accepted by her white neighbors.

OCHOA

00:02:25
And like when there's a lot of snow, many times, trying to make friendship, I clean the entire parking lot to see if, you know, if they will come out and try to join me, and they don't talk to me. So I do feel uncomfortable. I do feel that they don't want me here, and I have been here since '94.

SHEEHY

00:02:53
Further up the street, next to the Latin Grocery store Progresso, is one example of how Mount Pleasant is changing. A new restaurant, Beau Thai, opened here just a few weeks ago, and it has been busy. Co-owner Ralph Brabham says the neighborhood just felt right for his business.

MR. RALPH BRABHAM

00:03:10
We loved walking down the street and seeing people selling flowers or people selling bananas. It just has a unique feel to it that is incomparable throughout the rest of D.C.

SHEEHY

00:03:21
Brabham says he hasn't seen many Latinos come to the restaurant so far. He plans to post a menu in Spanish in hopes of bringing in more Latino customers. Whether that will be enough to lure them in, is still an open question.

SHEEHY

00:03:37
A few buildings down from Beau Thai, people get off the 42 bus in front of a 7-Eleven. It's a hang out spot for many Latino men when they get off work. They drink coffee and talk.

RICARDO

00:03:48
(Speaks foreign language)

SHEEHY

00:03:50
Ricardo is from Nicaragua and has lived in Mount Pleasant for 16 years. He says he won't eat at the Thai restaurant.

RICARDO

00:03:57
(Through translator) No. It's very expensive. My wife sent me to buy food there, but it was too expensive. It's not for us. It's for people who have money.

SHEEHY

00:04:06
But his friend José, from El Salvador, says he's curious and wants to try the food. Both men agree that the neighborhood has become safer as it's become more affluent. But life in Mount Pleasant is more difficult for them than it used to be. Not only the cost of living, but they say the police harass them for congregating outside the 7-Eleven.

RICARDO

00:04:26
(Through translator) This is how we are. Here nobody is selling drugs or drinking, after work we meet here.

SHEEHY

00:04:37
Another neighborhood meeting spot is Haydee's Salvadoran Restaurant, across the street from Miram Ochoa and Rafael Rodriguez's accounting firm. Haydee's has long been popular with Latinos, but many white residents also come here.

SHEEHY

00:04:53
Judy Byron is one of them. She's lived here since the early 1970s, and witnessed the wave of Central Americans who arrived here in the 1980s. Byron says one of the things she loves most about living in Mount Pleasant is the Latin flavor, but she's not sure Latinos feel the same way about the growing white influence.

MS. JUDY BYRON

00:05:10
I don't think the Latin American population puts their feet in the waters of sort of basically white middle class run places in the same way the white middle class that's moved in, enjoys the texture of places like Progresso or Haydee's.

SHEEHY

00:05:31
Haydee Vanegas opened this restaurant in 1990, and at the time, she says, most of her customers were Latino. Now her clientele is 80 percent white, but that doesn't bother her.

MS. HAYDEE VANEGAS

00:05:41
I want to have a customer, it don't matter what. It could be Latino, White, African, Asian, I love everyone. And like I say, my Latinos, they remember me and they come back on the special days, and I appreciate that.

SHEEHY

00:05:55
Perhaps it's been easier for Vanegas to adapt to the loss of Latino customers because, well, she's still busy. This is exactly what her neighbors across the street, Miriam Ochoa and Rafael Rodriguez, worry about. The community will accept change and move on, with or without Latinos. I'm Kate Sheehy.
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