Ever since I listened to an NPR clip about the changing demographics of D.C’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood a few months ago, I’ve been intrigued. According to the article, Mount Pleasant, once an enclave for newly arrived Central American and Caribbean immigrants, is losing its Latin flavor as more white residents move in. What this means for a lot of Latino entrepreneurs is that it’s getting more and more expensive to do business in Mount Pleasant and many have started thinking about leaving the neighborhood in search of cheaper rents. The neighborhood is probably most famous for the riots of May 1991, when community members rioted over what they perceived as police brutality. A disorderly, intoxicated Salvadoran man was shot by a young, African-American cop after refusing to put his alcohol away. According to the police report, the man pulled a knife on the officer, but community members say the man simply unbuckled his belt and the shooting was a case of police brutality. Nowadays, Mount Pleasant is a quiet, laid-back community with a small town, residential feel and few signs of its turbulent history.
I first came here on a date about two weeks ago, but by the time I got to the neighborhood it was dark and my pictures didn’t turn out very well. This past Saturday I made my way back to Mount Pleasant and I’ll be honest…. I was expecting to find Sabor latino intenso but only found Latin flavor light. Aside from a few restaurants and businesses on Mount Pleasant Street, the main commercial drag, I didn’t really pick up a distinctly Latin vibe here. The Culmore and Springfield neighborhoods where I work have a much more pronounced Latin feel than Mount Pleasant. I did a little research and found out that Mount Pleasant has always been a very diverse community and Latinos were never the majority. However, like adjacent Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights, the neighborhood began attracting Salvadoran and Central American immigrants in the 1960s. Since then, all three neighborhoods have become signficantly gentrified, but all still retain at least somewhat of their earlier Latin influences.
In 1990, the neighborhood was 35% white, 36% black, 26% Hispanic, and 3% Asian. In 2010 those numbers were 50% white, 19% black, 25% Hispanic and 5.6% Asian. The percentage of Hispanics spiked briefly to 31% around 2000, but as seems to be the case in many D.C neighborhood, Hispanic and black D.C residents, who tend to earn less on average than white residents, are being pushed into the suburbs (most notably Prince George’s County — In 2000, Prince George’s was 62% black, 27% white, 7% Hispanic and 4% Asian; as of 2011, Prince George’s is 65% black, 15% Hispanic, 15% white and a little over 4% Asian). This is definitely a trend in the D.C suburbs, where newly arrived immigrants are building strong, close-knit communities while D.C becomes whiter (Koreans in Centreville, Indians in Herndon, Salvadorans in Woodbridge, Ethiopians and Somalians in Eastern Fairfax and Arlington, etc).
I suppose Mount Pleasant Street is the most “Latin” part of the neighborhood. Here you’ll find several Latin restaurants and businesses, including El Progresso, A Latin-American grocery store. Lamont Park has what looks like an Aztec-inspired archway and is a popular hangout for Latino community members. The Mount Pleasant Farmer’s Market is held at Lamont Park every Saturday between 9am and 1pm April through December.
I had dinner at Don Juan’s (pictured above) on a date a couple of weeks ago. It was reasonably priced if not particularly memorable. That said, they do have a lovely patio if you are looking for outdoor dining. When I went it seemed like the outdoor patio was popular with yuppies while the inside was more popular with Latino community members. They serve mostly Mexican and Salvadoran-inspired dishes.
Haydee’s Restaurant is probably the best known Latin restaurant in the neighborhood and was featured on the NPR clip I mentioned above. Over the last 2o years, the owner has seen her clientele change from mostly Latino to mostly white. My date and I tried to have dinner here a few weeks ago but there was a private party going on. I definitely want to try it out in the near future!
This restaurant reminded me of the corrientazo places in Colombia. I didn’t go in but if you’re looking for a simple, traditional Latin American meal, Marleny’s looks like a good option: A no frills, down-to-business type of eatery.
I was intrigued by the Marx Cafe from the moment I laid eyes on it. It promised “revolutionary cuisine” so I convinced my dad we just had to go in. I was expecting a menu chock full of Soviet and Cuban inspired cuisine but was sorely disappointed. Yes, it was good and reasonably priced, but bruschetta, cobb salad and calamari fritti? Would we really call that revolutionary? I think not. On the plus side, their coffee was only $2!
A place that sells flowers on the street? That’s a place with character. I wish the suburbs had a more active “street” life. Street vendors and street performers bring a lot of character and depth to a place.
One of the things I miss about living in Latin America is how alive the streets and sidewalks were with people talking, communicating, meeting, performing, selling, hanging out and existing as an integral and unique part of the community. In the U.S, even in urban areas, people seem to mostly congregate at restaurants, bars or cafes and the streets and sidewalks are used mostly for getting to and from places. I guess this is in large part due to the fact that people in the U.S can actually afford to buy coffee and sit in a cafe, but I think we also lack those happy “community connectedness” feelings found in the developing world. Can you imagine a group of white dudes just hanging out at the local 7-Eleven?
Interested in moving to Mount Pleasant? According to this Washington Post neighborhood profile, an average rental will set you back about $1,915 a month. Looking to buy? Single family homes are selling between $505,000 and $1.25 million and condos between $218,000 and $624,000. The Mount Pleasant neighborhood dates back to the early 1700s and was originally marketed to middle to upper-middle class folks as a D.C suburb. You can read a thorough history of the neighborhood here. Although now definitely a D.C urban neighborhood well-connected to Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights , Mount Pleasant does retain a strong residential, suburban feel. As you move away from the main street, you’ll find stately homes with attractive porches and nice yards. I think one of the nicest things about this neighborhood is that you get the perks of the the city (it’s walking distance to the vibrant restaurant, commercial and nightlife scenes of Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights) but it also feels quite suburban, thanks to its shady, tree-lined residential streets and its proximity to Rock Creek Park.
I talked to my friend Roxie, a Mount Pleasant resident who co-owns Punch Rock DC, a collaborative social entrepreneurship company in nearby Adams Morgan, to find out how she feels about her hood. Roxie said, “I really like the friendliness of everyone. It’s one of the rare neighborhoods in DC where people will ask if you need help carrying something from your car to your house. Also, everyone leaves boxes out front with stuff that they’re getting rid of for grabs. On the first warm day this spring, everyone was on their porch and one house had a live jazz trio playing. The kids play together ([below] is a swing in between the sidewalk and street. People play movies off of other people’s houses. The farmer’s market is a favorite of many too…it’s green, lots of trees and plants. It’s along Rock Creek Parkway (the fastest way to get into the middle of DC by car), [and] it’s diverse.” The two pictures below are courtesy of Roxie.
To read more about D.C neighborhoods click here.