The Avenue, Quick Loan Joints, Corrientazos and Ugl(ier) Duplexes

A couple of days ago I posted some pictures of my neighborhood’s “downtown” area near Mount Vernon Avenue. I stuck mostly to the southern part of Del Ray, which consists almost entirely of midrange cafes, restaurants and shops catering to the young professional/young family crowd. Today, I’ll be posting some pictures of North Mount Vernon Avenue from the Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood just a couple blocks from Del Ray.  I’m not sure if Chirilagua and Del Ray are one and the same or if Chirilagua is its own separate neighborhood, but because they share the same main street and are just a few blocks apart, it’s hard to see them as entirely different entities.

As I indicated in my previous post, the southern portion of Mount Vernon Avenue is the kind of place where not one, not two but THREE yoga studios can survive within a three block stretch. And of course, there’s also a Pilates studio, gym, dance studio and Tai-Chi place. It’s the kind of place where young families are willing and able to pay upwards of $700,000 for a relatively small, World War II era bungalow, middle-aged ladies hold book club meetings at one of the local cafés over organic, soy milk cappuccinos and, and perhaps, most shocking of all, the kind of place where purchasing a $12 handmade lavender bar of soup at one of the local boutique shops is a perfectly routine event.

But the northern portion of Mount Vernon Avenue is a little bit different. If Mount Vernon Avenue South is a tribute to the America of yesteryear (as so many main streets are) Mount Vernon Avenue North is a nod to the constantly changing demographics of the American suburb. This area of Alexandria is nicknamed Chirilagua because so many of its inhabitants originally came from Chirilagua, a small, Pacific city in the San Miguel Province of El Salvador. Nowadays, Guatemalan, Honduran and Vietnamese communities and not-so-well compensated professionals also live here, but I’d say the neighborhood still has a very strong Latin flavor. Like the vast majority of working class Latino neighborhoods all over the world, Chirilagua is not a particularly aesthetic type of place. But to me, it’s at least an interesting place because it’s not really trying to glorify the America that was (and probably never will be again); instead, it fully embraces where this particular community is at this very moment in time. This predominantly Latino mid-to-low income neighborhood (at least by D.C Metro standards) is home to a couple dozen Latino and Asian businesses, large garden-style apartment complexes, car wash places, panaderias and no-frills breakfast and lunch spots. Plus, there are at least two grocery stores selling exotic fruit (I even found lulo!), Colombian-style hot chocolate, yucca, arepa/tortilla flour any other Latin-American cooking materials you might need. If ever I want to feel like I’m strolling down the moderately dodgy, utilitarian streets of Chapinero, my old Bogotá neighborhood, I need simply  to walk down the hill where my apartment complex sits (incidentally, at the border of Del Ray and Chirilagua) and voila, I’ve arrived in a generic,  vaguely familiar-looking Latin American neighborhood, complete with old-model cars, pedestrians, more barber shops and beauty salons than seem necessary, unimpressive concrete structures and budget supermarkets (minus Mom’s Organic Market, which, strangely enough, is located in the Mount Vernon Ave. North neighborhood…things ARE always changing…).Here are some pictures from a recent Sunday morning walk.

Houses/homes of Chirilagua…

Chirilagua 13

George Washington Apartment complex right off Mount Vernon Avenue. I don’t know if this complex is officially considered low-income housing, but I’d say the George Washington is home to mostly blue-collar workers and recent Latino immigrants.

Chirilagua 12

Another view of the George Washington. This is a pretty large apartment development and it makes me feel like I’m walking through a Georgian college campus!

Chirilagua 8

Not so secret entrance to Chirilagua duplex development.

Chirilagua 6

Duplexes of Chirilagua.

Chirilagua 3

Duplexes and old model cars.

Chirilagua 2

Fences and trashcan wind casualities.

Busineseses of Chirilagua

Chirilagua 20

Car wash joint.

Chirilagua 19

El Paisa Grocery store, which also doubles as a lunch joint where you can buy yourself a cheap corrientazo. This small shop is like a 7-Eleven of Latino food.

Chirilagua 18

Sr. Chicken, for all your Latin chicken needs.

Chirilagua 16

Businesses of Mount Vernon Avenue.

Chirilagua 15

Beauty salon and barber shop.

Chirilagua 14

Beard designs for the gentleman who wants something a little more creative than a trim or shave. Also, take care of all your cellphone related needs while you’re getting your beard designs.

Chirilagua 4

If you are ever in need of white rice, pan fried beef or chicken and beans, this looks like a good spot.

Chirilagua 9

A little Latin Market.

chirilagua 5

Another hair salon/barber.

Chirilagua 11

The Waffle Shop. This tiny narrow place is always packed when I walk by. I guess it’s a Waffle House knockoff?

Chirilagua 10

Strip mall, Chirilagua style?

Misclelaneous Chirilagua…

Chirilagua 7

The Birchmere, a well-known (mostly) country music hall in the D.C area.

Chirilagua 17

During my Sunday morning walk, I found a bunch of these cards all over the sidewalk. Typical Latin American fusion of the spiritual, mythical occult and preposterous.


Categories: Observations, Suburbs, The Urban Anthropologist Files, Virginia

Tags: , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Señor Chicken is quite dapper!

    And I’ll give Sara a call the next time I’m troubled by bad luck or “unknown evils”.

  2. Would you please let me know where specifically
    did you find Lulo the Ande’s fruit, I would love to make some juice, I’m craving for it. I’m Colombian from the city of Medellín, and also live close to Chirilagua.

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