A Saltena Circuit in the Heart of Washington’s Bolivian Community

Immigrants within the United States are often viewed in the context of a one-size fits all narrative, which is unfortunate and inaccurate. Latino groups are the largest ethnic minorities in the U.S. today, but they are in no way homogenous and have a long, complex history.[1] We see this population sensationalized across the news as a recent phenomenon with mainly negative and false anecdotes. Many Bolivians immigrated to the U.S., thinking it to be a place of opportunity if they worked hard. To them, the U.S. would be a “reward in return for effort and enterprise.”[2] There are many accounts of Bolivians overcoming adversity and hardship, seeking the promise of a better life in the U.S., as narrated by Tom Gjelten in,  A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (2015). Bolivians are certainly persons of optimism and enterprise, reclaiming their identities and creating their own unique spaces in Washington, D.C.

Image via Tomgjelten.com

Image via Tomgjelten.com


One of the ways that Bolivians create a space for themselves is through the establishment of restaurants that offer Bolivian dishes within their local communities. These restaurants also sponsor the Bolivian soccer leagues, another huge community unifier, where they sell homemade saltenas and other items.[3] Saltenas, a staple food, is a labor-intensive, savory pastry filled with chicken or beef stew, consisting of potatoes, peas, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and raisins. They are potato-sized and defined mainly by their savory soup inside with their sweet pastry crust. Eating them takes skill, and while they are served with a spoon, most prefer to eat them with one hand like an egg roll. Bolivians like their saltenas with llajua, which is a bright green jalapeno sauce.[4]

Photo courtesy of Luzmila's Cuisine

Photo courtesy of Luzmila’s Cuisine

Photo courtesy of Bakery, Bread & Grill

Photo courtesy of Bakery, Bread & Grill


Llajua jalepeno sauce, photo courtesy of tumblr


Food is certainly a way in which Bolivians feel at home in Washington, D.C. by carving out places for themselves. On weekends, they pack into the many local saltena restaurants for the weekly feast. By the 2000s, Douglas Hanks for the Washington Post and a local foodie website described a saltena circuit, which according to census data runs through the heart of northern Virginia’s Bolivian American community.[5] My Bakery & Cafe, Inc. is located in Alexandria, Virginia, and likewise there are several other restaurants that serve Bolivian food items.[6] It is with little doubt that Bolivians have worked hard and showed great resolve in forging a path for themselves, while reclaiming their own positive narrative, aiding one another and adding beautifully to the tapestry of the area.

[1] Daniel D. Arreola, Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places: Community and Cultural Diversity in Contemporary America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), 174.

[2] Tom Gjelten, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), 5.

[3] Arreola, 181.

[4] “Bolivian Salteñas,” ‘DCFoodies.com’ January 22, 2008, http://www.dcfoodies.com/2008/01/bolivian-salten.html; Douglas Hanks, III, “The Saltena Circuit,” Washington Post, April 25, 2001, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/food/2001/04/25/the-saltena-circuit.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “My Bakery & Cafe, Inc.,” http://www.mybakerycafe.com/.

Ethiopian Ethos

Dr. Elizabeth Chacko argues in “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area” that, by the 1990’s, Ethiopian immigrants formed the largest subset from Africa in the region, accounting for nearly 24% of all immigrants from the continent.[1] Once settled into new neighborhoods, Ethiopians have gone to great lengths carving out places for themselves, creating a density of businesses, stores, and restaurants. Such pursuits ensure jobs while serving as cultural and communal gathering places.[2] Food is central to the Ethiopian ethos in terms of hospitality, celebration of holidays, and preservation of culture. It is a complex culinary art that is centuries old, handed down like family heirlooms.[3] Principles concerning treatment of guests dictate that anyone who enters the home is invited to sit and eat.[4] When conducting my research for this class, I experienced this hospitality first hand by being invited into an Ethiopian home to enjoy delicious injera and doro wat.

Photo courtesy of Flicker C. Ellie https://www.flickr.com/

Photo courtesy of Flicker C. Ellie

Photo courtesy of Flickr - Sylvie https://www.flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Flickr – Sylvie


Injera is a thin and spongy pancake like bread, which is made from teff flour, water, and a starter called ersho, which is a portion taken from previously fermented bread. [5] Josh Weil, writing for the New York Times says that, “to Ethiopians in America, bread is a taste of home.”  Ethiopian immigrant and New York grocer, Frehiwot Reta says that she grew up with the bread, and it is undoubtedly central to the culture.[6] At some point, the grain became expensive to import from Africa, making it difficult for restaurants and families to cook the bread. Now Ethiopian Americans are increasingly able to buy teff from American farmers who recognize the niche market. [7]

Another food important to the Ethiopian ethos is doro wat, which is a rich stew made of chicken and boiled eggs, prepared traditionally for Christmas and Easter. It is a dish that takes almost 8 hours when prepared correctly, which involves cutting up a full chicken into 12 pieces, caramelizing onions, and adding the berbere spice. Berbere spice is a mixture of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain (like celery seed), nigella (called black cumin), and fenugreek (similar to clover). It is the key ingredient in the cuisines of Ethiopia.[8]

Photo courtesy of Flickr Pearl Pirie https://www.flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Flickr
Pearl Pirie


Rhoda Worku discusses doro wat in her interview conducted by the Office of Historic Alexandria in Virginia. Worku explains that the dish is very traditional and tied to important holidays, such as Christmas and Easter.[9] Quite endearingly, she mentions how labor intensive the dish is and therefore you will want everyone to show up.[10] Worku, who was born in Ethiopia, was the first in her family to migrate to the U.S. on a tourist visa and then sought asylum.[11] She quite beautifully discusses that the “American Dream” for her is defined as starting with nothing and working hard to achieve home ownership and owning a small business.[12] Most importantly, however, is being able to eventually bring her family over with her. [13]



Ethiopian Festival, Courtesy of Flickr, Northern Gateway Portrait. https://www.flickr.com


Ethiopians bring strong networks of kinship with them to the United States, which is integral to the vitality of the immigrant family.[14] It is more than a social unit; it is one of production, whereby the contributions of its members raise the standard of living for all. Group goals and collective needs are emphasized over individual expectations. This model is often used to help one another invest in starting of businesses, buying homes, and with educational needs. It is therefore with little doubt that Ethiopians remain each other’s greatest source of survival and success within the U.S.

We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.”   ~ Haile Selassie. [15]


[1] Elizabeth Chacko, “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area,” Journal of Cultural Geography 20, no. 2 (2003): 27.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mohammed, Jemal et al., “Revisit to Ethiopian traditional barley-based food,” Journal of Ethnic Foods, 3, no. 2 (June 2016): 135-141.

[4] Laura Hammond, This Place Will Become Home: Refugee Repatriation to Ethiopia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), 109.

[5] Mohammed, Jemal et al., “Revisit to Ethiopian traditional barley-based food,” Journal of Ethnic Foods, 3, no. 2 (June 2016): 135-141.

[6] Josh Weil, “To Ethiopians in America, Bread is a Taste of Home,” New York Times, Aug 01, 2007.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Harry Kloman, “Exploring Doro Wot,” Ethiopian Food Mesob Across America, August 27, 2015; accessed November 01, 2016, https://ethiopianfood.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/exploring-doro-wot/.

[9] City of Alexandria Archaeological Standards (Alexandria, VA: Alexandria Archaeology, Office of Historic Alexandria, 2015), Interview 2, pg. 7 (http://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/info/default.aspx?id=29562#RhodaWorku).

[10] Ibid, page 8.

[11] City of Alexandria Archaeological Standards (Alexandria, VA: Alexandria Archaeology, Office of Historic Alexandria, 2015), Interview 1, pg. 5.

[12] Ibid, page 7.

[13] Ibid.

[14] John A. Arthur, Invisible Sojourners: African Immigrant Diaspora in the United States (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000), 96.

[15] “Address to the United Nations,” Address to the United Nations, accessed October 27, 2016, http://www.ethiopiancrown.org/address.

Domenico Oresto Colangelo

Reading Donna R. Gabaccia’s Italy’s Many Diasporas motivated me to reconsider my former ideas about the ways in which people migrate and the complexities of their movement. This great migration of people occurred from 1871 to 1921, whereby  16.6 million inhabitants departed Italy.[1] Italians came from all parts of the peninsula, with some staying permanently in the U.S., while others traveled back and forth, and still others gradually returned home. Gabaccia suggests that, to understand the migration further, one must look to the wider world and consider the anti-imperialist revolutions in the Americas during this time. This created sparsely populated states along with millions of jobs for artisanal and industrial workers.[2] It was the global market fulfilling the needs of peasant families (and vice versa) with humble skills looking for work. Perhaps this is precisely why Domenico Oresto Colangelo appears on the passenger list of the Duca degli Abruzzi whereby he arrived on April 16, 1920 in New York City, with plans to go to Pittsburgh, PA. [3]

Pittsburgh, PA., Manifest of Alien Passengers bound for the United States courtesy of ancestry.com.

Manifest of Alien Passengers bound for New York City.  Courtesy of ancestry.com.


Domenico was born February 2, 1901, to Felice and Angela, in Abruzzo, Italy, in the village of Ateleta. He traveled to the U.S. on April 16, 1920, searching for work and settled ultimately in Alexandria, Virginia. He appears on the 1940 U.S. Census along with his wife, Virginia, and children. The census records indicate a total of 4 daughters and 3 sons residing in the household at 308 Cameron Street.[4] The records likewise show Domenico working in construction for a steam shovel company originally.  By 1959,  the local city directory confirms his upward mobility to President of Anco Builders Incorporated. [5] On November 20, 1955, The Washington Post announces the purchase of a large land tract by Anco, adjoining the Belle Haven Country Club for the building of new homes.[6]


Alexandria City Directory for 1959. Photo courtesy of ancestry.com


 See more regarding Anco and the purchase of land for Belle Haven in Alexandria, VA:


When migrating, many Italians turned to familiar faces for information and advice. They depended on other migrants who returned home to Italy to help them navigate their own journey. This may have very well been the case with Domenico, as his own father, Felice, once traveled to the United States in 1893 as a laborer.[7] It was with certainty that Domenico asked his father’s advice when making his own personal journey 22 years later.


Manifest of Alien Passengers Bound for New York City for March 3, 1893. Photo is courtesy of ancestry.com.


Domenico married Virginia Giammittorio, who was born on December 24, 1906 in Lynchburg, Virginia to David and Rosina. Both of Virginia’s parents were Italian immigrants who came to the U.S. in June 1906, just 6 months prior to Virginia’s birth.[8] David Giammittorio applied for naturalization September 19, 1921, and took the oath of allegiance becoming a U.S. citizen on January 4, 1922.[9] Interesting as well, the 1940 U.S. Census confirms that Virginia’s parents lived at 313 Calvert Street, just a few doors down from their daughter and her family.


U.S. Naturalization Records for David Giammittoro. Courtesy of ancestry.com.


Cultural and personal identities of Italian migrants are uniquely defined and vary among those individuals– Italian migration was not a one size fits all. Some Italians returned home like Domenico’s father while others made new and permanent lives in the U.S. Often, Italian families who made a permanent home in the U.S. stayed close by one another, as was the case with the Colangelos and Giammittorios. It is special to know that Domenico Colangelo played a part in building up the city of Alexandria as evidenced in the Belle Haven community, which still stands today. This is the case with many Italians who aided in building this country and by making it great.


[1] Donna R. Gabaccia, Italy’s Many Diasporas (Seattle: University of Washington, 2000), 58.

[2] Ibid., 59.

[3] Pittsburgh, PA., Passenger Lists 1820-1957, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestory.com.

[4] 1940 United States Federal Census, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestroy.com.

[5] U.S. City Directories, 1822 -1995, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com.

[6] “Bellehaven Tract Sold.” The Washington Post and Times Herald, Nov 20, 1955.

[7] New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 for Felice Colangelo, 1897, sheet no 52 of 677, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com.

[8] U.S., Naturalization Records, 1840-1957 for David Giammittoro, Alexandria City Directory, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com

[9] U.S., Naturalization Records, 1840-1957 for David Giammittoro, Alexandria City Directory, accessed October 10, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com


English Immigration: James Green’s Mansion House

The prevailing image of immigrants to the United States in the 19th-century has often been one of people fleeing poverty and tyranny in Europe and seeking opportunity in the U.S. After studying detailed U.S. census data, English immigrant James Green of Alexandria, Virginia emerged as someone I wanted to investigate further. Green’s wealth and property made him an outlier among his fellow English immigrants, many of whom wanted to buy land and pursue farming in the Midwest.  They were not poor, but did not have the assets that Green had.


Andrew J. Russell’s photo of Mansion House Hospital (n.d.). City of Alexandria, VA. Alexandria City Hall, 03 Feb. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

James Green was born in the city of Sheffield in southern Yorkshire, England to William and Mary Green on November 24, 1801.  We know nothing about his childhood or how he came to reside in the United States.  In 1823, he appears in the City of Alexandria according to records on Ancestry.com at the age of 22. Soon, he married Jane Muir on November 21, 1825 in the District of Columbia. Presumably, the Green’s were a hard working, close-knit, family consisting of James and Jane along with nine children (their daughter Alice Green died on March 17, 1860, at the age of fourteen).[1]

In 1847, James Green purchased three-quarters of an acre from the estate of a Scottish merchant, John Carlyle, sold by his heirs after his death. Green completed the sale with the purchase of the actual Carlyle home in 1848, converting it to the Mansion House Hotel, one of the largest and most luxurious hotels on the East Coast. In consulting Charlotte Erickson’s Invisible Immigrants, Green fits the last of the three groups that she analyzes–professionals and artisans.[2] Union troops occupied the City of Alexandria in May of 1861 and took possession of the Green’s hotel for a hospital, evicting the family by November.[3] The Union Army  offered him a sizable rent for his property, but only if Green agreed to take the Oath of Allegiance to pledge his loyalty to the Union.[4] Green never appears on the loyalty oath list and to date the rent remains unpaid. [5]

Don Debat’s website, Voting Viva Voce, shows that prior to Union occupation the hotel was teeming with energy. In addition to the family members, there were a number of borders, domestic servants, and slaves housed there. Slave schedules provided by ancestry.com confirm Green owned one slave and fifteen others were rented by him to do the work of the hotel. [6]

The marriage of James and Jane lasted 54 years until her passing on March of 1880.  James died six months thereafter. The two rest peacefully together in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia.


Photo courtesy Ancestory.com

By relative James Green residing in Georgia, shared 21 December 2014. [10]

Researching English immigration has expanded the narrative away from the one-size fits all model that is often viewed through the lens of American exceptionalism. In the case of English immigrants, they were looking to improve their economic situation by coming to the United States as opposed to fleeing tyranny or poverty.

[1] Voting Viva Voce | Social Logic. Accessed September 28, 2016. http://sociallogic.iath.virginia.edu/

[2] Charlotte Erickson, Invisible Immigrants: The Adaptation of English and Scottish Immigrants in Nineteenth-Century America   (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1972), 7.

[3] Henry B. Whittington Diary, Accession #11, Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections. Alexandria, VA.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Voting Viva Voce | Social Logic. Accessed September 28, 2016. http://sociallogic.iath.virginia.edu/; 1860 U.S. Federal Census (Slave Schedule), Provo, UT, USA, James Green, lines 1-18 digital image accessed September 27, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[7] 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Provo, UT, USA, James Green, lines 1-18 digital image accessed September 27, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.