Voice of America has posted a video profile of Columbia Pike and the work of the Columbia Pike Documentary Project. Thanks to reporter/producer June Soh for her sensitive piece.

VOA screenshot

During the current presidential campaign, anti-immigrant sentiment seems to have grown in the U.S. But for one community outside the nation’s capital, home to more than 130 ethnic groups, diversity is not a problem but an asset.

A team of photographers has documented the evolving life of people and places in a community billed as “the world in a ZIP code.”

At first glance, the six-kilometer stretch of road doesn’t seem very different from other urban streets. But take a closer look, and you begin to notice the many different ethnic businesses side by side along the corridor known as Columbia Pike in Arlington, Virginia.

Photographer Lloyd Wolf has lived much of his life near the Pike, a road built in 1810 as the main route into Washington from Virginia. Since the 1970s, he said, it has been a magnet for immigrants from every corner of the globe.

‘Worth recording’

“Columbia Pike has become more and more interesting,” he said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of ethnicities, people from different countries along the Pike and living in relative harmony. This is something we felt was worth recording.”

So Wolf and four other photographers who call the area home — Duy Tran, Paula Endo, Xang Mimi Ho and Aleksandra Lagkueva — spent 10 years capturing the life of the people who make up the corridor.

Claudia Camacho owns a Bolivian restaurant on the Pike. She likes the community and has lived nearby for 23 years.

“It is really hard to move out from this area,” she said. “There are a lot of people from different places of the world. You get to know different cultures, and it is really good.”

Mohammed Mohammed settled in the area 25 years ago. His shop sells imported Ethiopian products.

“I have been successful running a business here,” he said. “White, African-Americans, Hispanic people, Asians, Arabs, Africans combined in diversity. So we know each other, we share” elements of culture and language. “We are happy. So I am so happy.”

No separation

Although the historic corridor has been one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the nation — and perhaps in the world — for decades, Wolf points out there is no ethnic enclave.

“Here, everybody’s pretty mixed up,” he said. “There’s no one area that’s all Vietnamese or all Arab or all Somalian, et cetera. Everyone is sort of living and working amongst each other in a blend. And it’s a nice blend. It works.”

Frequent ethnic festivals offer a blend of cultural experiences.

“Bangladeshis have their festival here,” Wolf said. “We have over 30 Bolivian dance troupes in the county that perform [during the] Oruro festival every year. Three thousand of them come up to Columbia Pike. It is beautiful to see.”

The photographers have compiled their extensive collection of images into a book, Living Diversity: The Columbia Pike Documentary Project.

“I think this is something we want to share with the world,” Wolf said. “I use a phrase a lot: This is what peace looks like. People get along. This is how we should be.”

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