Businesses in El Barrio

Mount Pleasant Street, 18th Street, and Columbia Road’s layered histories involve Hispanic-owned businesses, cultural expression, and community identity.

“Mt. Pleasant was the place to go on the weekends if you worked, for example. I remember Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Road were the corridor to walk. A lot of folks would come out. We used to think it was la plaza. In our countries, you used to go, especially on Sundays because there is a Mass ... And that's what I remember happening, also. It used to be kind of the same feeling because on Sundays, Sacred Heart Church, it would get packed. After Sacred Heart Church, people would walk through Mt. Pleasant, through Columbia Road. That's how I remember it: that feeling of you are among folks from your countries. Because you could buy, I don't know, your pupusas, atole, and only at those locations, mainly.” Jose “Chico” Diaz, interview by Patrick Scallen (December 15, 2017)

In the 1960s, businesses and shops catering to Hispanic and immigrant customers developed alongside the Latino presence in Washington, building in the former streetcar suburb and creating new cultural spaces. In 1962 DC’s first bodega, Casa Dilone, opened on Mount Pleasant Street—run by Francisca Marrero Dilone and Felix Dilone who had immigrated to DC in the 1940s from Puerto Rico (Francisca) and the Dominican Republic (Felix). The couple lived above the store with their six children, and ran their neighborhood business until 1998, selling goods that were familiar to the growing numbers of Latin American immigrants throughout the 1970s and 80s.  

Numerous businesses along Mount Pleasant Street and Columbia Road serviced this growing need for Latin American products and became hubs of socialization and network creation for new immigrants. In Adams Morgan as well as Mount Pleasant, new grocers, restaurants, barbershops, and shoe repair stores became spaces where Spanish was the dominant language and individuals could connect with others who shared similar cultural experiences. These spaces were essential to establishing a strong Latino community in the District—the prominence of these businesses also contributed to an external sense of the neighborhood as a Latin American space, and drew new immigrants to the area. 

The shared social space provided by these businesses generated kinship networks, strengthened community ties, and allowed for expressions of cultural heritage in a new country. Today, numerous restaurants and shops continue to serve the Latin populations in Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan, and Columbia Heights. While gentrification and decreasing numbers of Hispanic residents continue to affect the economic landscape of the neighborhood, many Latin businesses remain active in serving the community. 

SOURCES

Scallen, Patrick. (2019). "The Bombs That Drop in El Salvador Explode in Mount Pleasant": From Cold War Conflagration to Immigrant Struggles in Washington, DC, 1970–1995 (Order No. 27670053). Available from ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

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Businesses in El Barrio: Audio
Source: Written and Recorded by Shae Corey
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Mount Pleasant Road, Columbia Road, 18th Street