Local Commentary

Our Man In Arlington

The Spanish word for “Reunion” is “Reencuentro.” That was the catchword at Central Library on Oct. 16 among celebrants at the first annual “Latinos in Arlington” gathering of speakers, musicians and Latin-flavored offerings via food truck.


Passionate panelists in the auditorium assembled—for the first time—Arlington’s five (past and present) Latino elected officials.


One-time immigrants who carved out careers in Arlington Public Schools described the challenges of their early years (applauded from the audience by school superintendent Francisco Durán and predecessor Robert Smith).


And at the event staged as part of Arlington’s (pandemic-delayed) marking of the 100th anniversary of its name change, Library Director Diane Kresh announced that her Center for Local History’s Community Archives is soliciting donations of photos to “present a full picture” of Arlington’s Latino population “not just for today, not just for us, but for future generations and scholars.”


“In Arlington, I have met someone from every country that represents Latin America,” said “Maestra of Ceremonies” Tannia Talento, former school board member (replaced by Puerto Rican Christina Diaz-Torres). “The Latin community was under-recognized, but has a deep history.” Raised in D.C. by Guatemalan immigrants, the bilingual Talento—who mentioned she dropped out of high school—bemoaned an “opportunity gap.”


State Del. Alfonso Lopez thanked his late mother Carol, a language instructor at Washington-Liberty High, regretting she didn’t live to see the Dream Act passed. Lopez’s father, who grew up in Venezuela “in abject poverty,” came to the States as a busboy and waiter. The English courses his father took at George Mason University meant he graduated a month before Lopez finished high school. “Only in America.”


Former county board chair Walter Tejada, now chair of the Virginia Latino Leaders Council, described his move from D.C. to Arlington to be with the world’s third-largest population of Salvadorans. The key to leadership, Tejada said, “is participation.” He defined two tracks, one the conventional working your way up via advisory commissions, and the other “working with your own.”


He tapped into soccer leagues and organized ethnic festivals. When county board chair Charles Monroe died suddenly in 2003, Tejada was encouraged to run by board stalwarts Jim Hunter, Al Eisenberg, Ellen Bozman and Mary Margaret Whipple. “But it is not the establishment, but whoever gets involved.”


Emma Violand-Sanchez, former school board chair, who conceived of this month’s Reencuentro, said when she arrived from Bolivia in 1976, “I didn’t want to be a foreigner,” but “hoped her children would continue learning Spanish and identify with their country of origin.” She recounted the 2011 founding in her living room of the Dream Project, which has raised scholarships for Latinos.


Moderator David Bearinger, of the grants program at Virginia Humanities, said, “These pioneers will be heard of 100 years from now.”


Dozens of Arlington stalwarts filled a tent at Penrose Square Oct. 14 to celebrate over three decades of development work by the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization. Politicians (state Sen. Barbara Favola, former County Board member Chris Zimmerman), housing activists, Chamber of Commerce officers and Pike preservationists such as photographer Lloyd Wolf.


The nonprofit’s director Kim Klingler announced a new name for the group, the less cumbersome Columbia Pike Partnership. “After 35 years of dedication to the Columbia Pike community,” she said, “we felt it was time to update the organization’s name to better reflect the work we do.”


Old home week at the Oct. 13 Arlington Sports Hall of Fame inductions:


I attended to honor my Yorktown High football coaches, the late Jesse Meeks and Chuck Harris, (though Meeks molded athletes equally in gymnastics and Harris in wrestling). Honorees present included broadcaster Steve Buckhantz and Bishop O’Connell High’s softball firebrand Kristy Burch Bergmann, who, with the late baseball mentor Al Burch, makes the hall’s only father-daughter combo.


Boxer Jimmy Lange was inducted. His father, plumbing supplier Johnny Lange, when reminded of the “Jimmy Lange Fight” signs long seen on medians of Lee Highway, said mischievously, “I wonder who put them there.”