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December 6, 2000

Cultural Identity Two

Dear Identifiers:

You've submitted a lot of good answers to the question about what constitutes Washington's cultural identity, but we haven't exhausted the subject. Keep them coming.

Gary Imhoff


One Conundrum Solution
Kamilah O. Martin,

Well, the cultural identity of Washington, DC, seems to be a conundrum because we cannot seem to put it into words; it is more or less something you feel. However I think I will try. Being a young black female born and raised in Washington, DC I think being a Washingtonian is a combination of the following things: knowing who Chuck Brown is; remembering your first GO-GO; eating at Ben's Chili bowl, before the Fox 5 news team did their best restaurants in DC Expo; going to the Turkey Bowl in High School; the Hispanic Parade in Mont. Pleasant; shopping in Georgetown after school; giving tourists directions; expressing subway etiquette: stand to right, walk to the left; supporting the Redskins despite the politically incorrect name, from the Superbowls through the scandals; hand dancing at the Eclipse; Halloween in Georgetown, and the Drag Race in Dupont Circle; only going to Capitol Hill for a class trip; Georgia Avenue Day; the Unifest; being the home of some of the most prominent universities and HBCU's in the nation; picnics under the Cherry Blossoms; 365-day access to some of the most amazing works of art in the world, via the Smithsonian. All these things are what our identity is wrapped up in and more. However, our cultural identity can be summed up in the most important thing: knowing and loving the fact that though this is the Nation's Capitol but we are a nation unto ourselves. And for all of you transplanted out-of-towners who feel that they have “gotten no real sense of a cultural identity from Washington, DC,” I feel extremely sorry for you, but maybe it's simply not meant for you.

PS: Specifics: however I do not think that any city's identity is made up in a dance, or a food. DC food: anything that tastes good, from steak, to four wings fried rice with Mambo sauce at the carry out, to Crabs from the Wharf. DC music: Go-Go and those 70's hand dance classics. DC Dance: for the young people “Spotlight” — Go-Go, for all else I guess I would have to agree with the Electric Slide. These are all suggestions because DC is something you feel, not something you eat or dance.


DC as a Foreign Country?
David Sobelsohn,

My sister moved to England 20 years ago. She still identifies as an American and votes absentee (although not in Florida!). themail subscriber John Whiteside moved to DC from Boston four years ago and identifies as “a Bostonian who lives in the District.” I moved here from Michigan and still — at least to some extent — think of Detroit as “home” (contrary to Peter Luger's report, my Detroit-area friends ALWAYS say they're from “Detroit” even when they're really from a suburb (except Ann Arbor)). Why should my sister, who doesn't even live in the United States, have more representation in the US Congress than we do? So: what's the likelihood we could get foreign status for DC and let us all vote absentee in our origin states? At least we'd have the right to vote for someone!


Look, I Live Here
Rob Pegoraro,

I think I mentally moved into D.C. at the start of my junior year of college, when I cam back from a horrifically boring summer in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. I was never so happy before to see the spires of Georgetown swing into view from the GW Parkway — the view told me I was coming home.

I identify far more with this area than with my ancestral homeland of New Jersey. I may have a near-complete set of Springsteen's work, but he's far outnumbered by the local artists in the CD rack — Fugazi, the Kennedys, Danny Gatton, Last Train Home, Tsunami, Velocity Girl, Alice Despard, the Dismemberment Plan, Smart Went Crazy and a few more I can't recall. Likewise, I've got four of George Pelecanos' books lined up next to Edward P. Jones' Lost in the City and Christopher Buckley's Thank You For Smoking. If I lived elsewhere, I never would have heard of half this stuff.

Yes, the pizza situation here could be better, and the cannoli availability is just deplorable compared to NYC or Boston. But I bet the burritos here could hold their own against anything in those two cities. And can you order all-you-can-eat steamed hardshells there? I don't think so.

When I'm returning from a trip, I still gawk at the landmarks that tell me I'm home. If I'm rolling into Union Station, I have to walk through that beautiful hall before getting on Metro. If I'm landing at Dulles, I'll trace the paths of the highways or the W&OD Trail; at National, I'm glued to the window from the moment I can spot the high-rises in Rockville and Bethesda, and I can usually pick out old apartment buildings and friends' houses in the moments before touching down. Then I know I got on the right plane.


Cultural Identity of DC
Michael Bindner,

Cultural identify is a multiple choice questions, as there are four or five at present, although hopefully in time one will predominate. As with every issue, this one has race at the core. There are the “native Washingtonians” who are both black and white who have several common memories like how the town reacted when JFK was shot, how they couldn't vote until the 23rd Amendment, how segregation effected everything, from lunch counters to church, how the Commission ran things — or didn't run things. There is the African-American subculture of this group that remembers the U Street era where the best and the brightest came and entertained a thriving black middle class. There are the “Barry haters” in the white community who remember life before integration and how “their Washington” was ruined. There is the current hip-hop culture among the youth, which is not necessarily only black. There is the east of the river welfare culture, who think Ward 3 gets all the services.

One aspect of Washington culture is that an assistant secretary or congressional staffer (or congressman) may be your next door neighbor or a member of your church. It is the feeling of ownership of national and world affairs — what my fiancee describes as the national news being the local news. (the “inside the beltway” culture which was formally just the Washington culture as former city residents have moved out to the burbs) Of course, some of us take it too far and deal with the federal government and regional congressional delegation rather than our own local government, when that would be more appropriate (the elite culture of Washington which is antithetical to statehood). Finally, there is the progressive culture, which celebrates life and politics across racial lines — some of which is included in the democracy movement and the statehood green party and the democratic state committee, and various District-wide civic groups. You could call this the small town DC culture, which at its core supports self-government, the empowerment of the poor and the unity of the city. Hopefully, that is the part that will grow with time and become the dominant culture.


Got Soul?
Dru Sefton,

Oh! Speaking of cultural identity, did you guys read that right now some chamber of commerce-type group is attempting to overthrow Wisconsin's cultural identity? Really. They're peeved that Wisconsin is identified with those rubbery cheesehead hats and the Packalope — well, unless you're a Packers fan that one's too hard to explain. But, come on, Wisconsinites know exactly who they are! They are cheeseheads, thank you very much! And let's hear it for them. Woo woo!

Anyhow, as a relative newcomer (here seventeen months now) I have pondered D.C.'s cultural identity a lot. I'm originally from Chicagoland (deep-dish pizza, Al Capone, Lake Shore Drive, permanent-underdog Cubs) and spent the last 10 years in Kansas City, Mo. (great barbecue, jazz, a big and friendly cow-town). As we mulled the move from K.C., a colleague who had lived in D.C. issued this stern warning: “D.C. is not a city. It's an activity center. It has no soul, no identity.”

I've come to disagree with that. Our identity, our soul, is power. But what's happened is, “The Government” has come to have such a lousy reputation over the years, that D.C. shies away from claiming that as its identity. Hell, we're the seat of power for the entire free world! That's who we are! And hurray for us, by the way. Not to mention all the cool international stuff/food/people here. Embassy Row kicks ass!

So, personally, I think that's who we are: People coming together from around the country and around the world to run, well, everything. Which is why we don't have, for instance, “a food.” We have food from all over the world; we don't have “a song” or “a dance,” we have dozens if not hundreds of them. My suggestion: Let's take a lesson from those cheeseheads and start wearing Styrofoam hats of the Capitol dome!


The Other Culture
Danilo Pelletiere,

The feeling that D.C. has no culture and identity is closely related to the feeling that D.C. is not a “real city.” Most often I hear these sentiments from White, well educated folks, and they refer to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or even Baltimore as the counter examples. Clearly, D.C.'s non-industrial heritage make it a very different city, but this is not all. The biggest difference is that the working class culture they want to see (but not actually be a part of) that does exist in this city is African American. When I was a recently arrived high school student here, a lot of kids wore “It's a DC Thang, You wouldn't understand” T-shirts. The shirt was full front and back of things I didn't understand then, and probably would understand only a few more now.

How many times have I been in the Florida Farmers Market and seen yuppies looking around confused because instead of the Polish and Italian Sausages and other European ethnic cuisine they expect in a central market? Instead, they find North Carolina sausage, pigs feet and greens. Hand dancing, GoGo, the Butt, half smokes and collard greens, they are all a big part of the city's culture, but a lot of us don't feel as comfortable with these things as we do among Boston's Irish or Philly's Italians. So we're a small city with much more recent -- and suburban -- immigration and that makes us different. Black and White we are also very white collar, on average more highly educated, and certainly more “bureaucratic” than our counterparts in other cities. But we are also a Southern city still, with a resident largely Black culture and a transient population (largely White) that brings their culture with them and leaves with it again.


Transplants to DC
Joan Eisenstodt,

I have thought about what DC's culture/identity is and I am as hard-pressed to find it as I was when I lived in Dayton, Ohio, where I was born and spent most of my life. When I said I was from Dayton, I would say, "You know, the birthplace of the Wright Brothers? Jonathan Winters?" Dayton was called the “Gem City” for reasons I forget. Now when I say I'm from DC, I can call up the monuments, stately buildings, historic neighborhoods, and interesting things that happen here, in and outside politics. Is that who we are?


Cultural Identity
Dave Bosserman,

What makes us Washingtonians is our cultural diversity, not cultural homogeneity.


Identity of DC
Wanda Avila,

Regarding the question as to whether we have an identity that makes us Washingtonians: last year, I tried to spell out that identity for businesses at least. See “Washington, DC — From A to Z” at (This was written for the DC Chamber of Commerce.)


I Love DC from Tennessee
Jerry Hachison,

I love WDC. However, I am speaking as a new Memphian (6 months), after 25 years in WDC and a bit of the 'boibs. We've retired and moved on . . . and up. Yes, there is a WDC culture. It is closely knit neighborhoods with neighbors who watch out for each other. It is religious communities and places of hope which reach out to each other and work for a higher and better good. It is a place where some racial tension can be overcome by working together, but there is a hard tone of racial animosity which has not been alleviated by the changing years. It is a place where food pretensions (and costs of both buying and eating out) can overrun mere mortals who try to live in the ordinary world and improve it (even with the Washingtonian's 100 best and cheapest).

HOWEVER, It is also a general streak of nastiness and a tendency for disdain for anyone not of your class or group. It is a place segregated by political affiliation, visions of self worth and self importance. It is a place where meetings and greetings can unfortunately revolve around who you work for and know rather than who you are and can be. It is a place of inflated property values which far exceeds the worth of the areas and which enforce enclusivity of a variety of types. It is a whirling maelstrom of fears, hopes, anger, class hatred, and, yes, love.

And, there could be lots more said — on both sides of the question.


DC’s Official Dish
Kerry Jo Richards,

I seem to remember that Washington Post article on Washington DC's favorite food. After a very scattered race, it came down to the half smoke! What a dish.

[Steve Fehr,, adds that the dish was the half smoke “as served by Ben's Chili Bowl.” — Gary Imhoff]


Washington County, DC
Richard Bartel,

The DC Surveyor has confirmed that Washington County still exists north of Florida Avenue (old Boundary). Can we get voting representation in Congress for Washington County, DC, residents (who will continue to pay taxes), and make the City of Washington tax-free below Florida Avenue?


Dems and Reps and DC
Matthew Gilmore,

I would disagree with some things David Sobelsohn said in the last themail (Sun, 03 December 2000). Call me naive, but invective against Republicans simply seems foolish. While there aren't many in the DC voting population, they do control Congress and probably the presidency for at least the next four years. I would contend that Republicans have been far greater friends to the District, historically and of late, than have Democrats. Work with Congressional Republicans to come to a governance solution for the District. Or build a coalition out of Republicans and Democrats. Dismissing them out of hand and hoping Democrats will come back into power and will make DC governance a priority seems wishful at best.


We Deserve It
Ed T. Barron,

In spite of a very rational plan for D.C. General Hospital, put forth by Mayor Williams almost two years ago, the hemorrhaging of money at that poorly managed facility continues due to bickering by the city council over how to get that situation under control. Coupled with the inability of some of the city's major departments to control spending and to live within their budgets (notably D.C. General and our very own ineffective Police Department) we are well on the way to earning another stint by the Control Board. And, we deserve it.


Holiday Party Idea
Sue Bell,

Here's an idea for a festive and socially-conscious holiday gathering. The idea is simple: invite a bunch of kids (and/or adults) for a holiday get-together. The focus of the party is that each guest is asked to bring a new unwrapped gift for at least one child. Then, at the party, each person wraps their gift, makes a card and puts a note on the package noting the age and gender best suited for the gift. Then, the host gathers all the presents and delivers them to a local place of worship or local shelter for distribution. A slightly more complicated variation is to call the shelter or place of worship first (or DC Housing Authority) and get a list of first names, gender and ages of the kids. (They won't provide last names or addresses for security reasons.) The benefit to this second plan is that the guests can purchase gifts with a specific child in mind and the cards can be personalized.



Climb Every Mountain
David Sobelsohn,

Footlights — DC's only modern drama discussion group — meets monthly to discuss plays from the modern theater. Participation is free. On Wednesday, December 20, we'll discuss Patrick Meyers's “K2” (1982). “Thrilling” (The New Yorker) and “inspiring” (New York Times), “K2” depicts two friends, clinging to an icy ledge atop the world's second tallest mountain, who stay alert by sharing stories of their lives. Our discussion takes place 7:30-9:30 p.m. (dinner at 6:30) at Luna Books, 1633 P St., NW, three blocks east of Dupont Circle. It will feature “K2” director Wendy Goldberg. To make reservations for our discussion E-mail or call 638-0444. For discount tickets ($28 orchestra, $24.50 balcony) to the Tuesday January 2 7:30 p.m. performance at Arena Stage, E-mail or call 301-897-9314. You can join us for the discussion December 20, the performance January 2, or both. For general information about Footlights, visit


David Jamieson Art Exhibit
Peter Stebbins,

On Sunday, December 10, from 2:00 p. m., there will be a reception at the Studio House at Walbridge, 3229 Walbridge Place, N. W., celebrating the loan of artworks by David Bethuel Jamieson (1963-1992) to the Art in Embassies Program.

A special exhibition organized for newly appointed Ambassador to Mauritania John W. Limbert and his wife Parvaneh, Landscapes, Abstractions, and Seascapes by David Bethuel Jamieson (1963-1992) includes Flowers, 1989 and Flowers at Burlington, Vt., FALL, 1991 selected by the Limberts for loan through the Art in Embassies Program, U. S. Department of State. During the period of this loan, these selections may be viewed at The Studio House at Walbridge is pleased to offer the public complimentary reproductions of Flowers at Burlington, Vt., FALL, 1991 in celebration of this event. The Studio House at Walbridge is located in Mount Pleasant, between Adams Mill and Park Roads. For more information or to RSVP, please contact Peter John Stebbins at 319-7656.


Open House
Andrea Carlson,

Discover a new public education option for Grades Pre-K through 6th at Capital City Public Charter School, 3029 14th St., NW (across from the Columbia Heights Metro) on Wednesday, December 13, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. See the smashing new space, learn more about the school's model program, meet our highly trained and dedicated staff, and observe students at work. For more info, call 387-0309.


Christmas Tree Sale at John Eaton
Leila Afzal,

Beginning this weekend and next, the John Eaton Elementary School is sponsoring its annual Christmas Tree and Wreath Sale. We will be open Friday the 8th from 3-5 p.m., Sat. 9-5, and Sun. 10-5 and again the following weekend. Come buy your tree from Eaton and support the Home and School Associations enrichment programs for the children. The school is located at 34th and Lowell Streets, NW.


Stories, Schtick and Songs
Robert Revere,

This Saturday, Washington Storytellers Theater presents “This Ain't Your Bubbe's Yiddish Theater,” a vibrant and joyful celebration of life that will warm hearts, tickle funny bones, and stir memories for Bubbes and Zaydes and all members of the human family. This husband-and-wife team — Renee is a storyteller and juggler; Mark is a cantor and musician — blends ancient arts to bring you an evening that evokes the feel of old time Yiddish theater, while bringing wit and wisdom to the daily dramas and dilemmas of modern-day life.

Tickets cost $12 ($9 for WST members, seniors and students). The performance takes place at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church, 4700 Whitehaven Parkway, NW, between Foxhall Road and MacArthur Blvd. The performance begins at 8 p.m. Please call 301-891-1129 for tickets.


Cultural Identity and Voting Rights in Congress
Amy Whitcomb Slemmer,

I am very interested in the conversation about the symbols of being a resident of the District of Columbia. Obviously we at DC Vote are working hard to change one of the unique characteristics -- no voting representation in Congress. To that end, DC Vote is organizing a welcoming effort for the members of the 107th Congress. We have already written to each member, and are now planning to go to the Hill on Wednesday, January 3, 2001, to welcome them in person. Our plan is to have as many families from the District as possible join us at the Capitol at noon on Wednesday the 3rd. We hope to provide the members of the 107th with welcome baskets full of symbols of DC and useful information, like neighborhood maps, and personal stories of the residents their votes will affect.

I welcome your thoughts about items for these baskets. (I thank you in advance for the suggestion of tea -- pleased stay tuned to April for a tea related event!) We want to start a cordial relationship with the 107th, and hope to personalize our disenfranchisement. We expect that relations will grow contentious fairly quickly, but we want to extend our best wishes at the outset. Please visit our web site if you would like to read the introductory letter that was sent to the Hill, In addition, anyone who would like to help us plan for January 3rd is welcome to come to a committee meeting on Monday, December 11, at 5:00 p.m. in the DC Vote offices at 1500 U Street, N.W. I look forward to your suggestions, and hope that as many people as possible will join us on January 3rd.



Bookkeeper Needed at Local Literary Agency
Jessica Lee,

Literary and Creative Artists, a local Literary Agency, is seeking a part-time (equivalent to one day per week) bookkeeper. We are located in the Van Ness area, and are open to inquiries from retirees, students, and stay-at-home moms/dads that would be able to commit to a few hours per week. Visit our web site,, for details about the agency; fax cover letter and resume to 362-8875.


Volunteers Needed: Children’s Section of Mount Pleasant Library
Peg Blechman,

The Children's Section on the second floor of the Mount Pleasant Library is truly a gem of a children's library and a wonderful place for kids to go. They have a great selection of books, a beautiful, large reading area, three or four computers, and two beautiful alcoves for kids to sit and read in. But there's only one Children's Librarian there on Saturdays, so she could use some help with a variety of tasks. Even if you only can spare one hour a month, I know it would be appreciated. Contact the Children's Librarian for more info. I'm sure that they would appreciate any help you could give.



Rental or House-Sit Needed
Sue Bell,

My family of four needs a place to stay from February through May. We are looking to rent a small house, sublet an apartment, or house sit for someone on an extended vacation. Please call or E-mail if you have any ideas. We don't have pets and our two kids are elementary schoolers. Ideally, we would like to stay in the district or somewhere near Tenleytown close to school and work. Call 244-4595 or E-mail



Referral Directory Listing for Non-Profits
Norah Lovato,

Attention nonprofits, service providers, government agencies, and all the like: make sure your agency is included in the next edition of “The Referral Directory: Free and Low Cost Services in Metropolitan Washington,” due out early next year. This human services resource directory is the most comprehensive directory of its kind in the region. The upcoming 15th edition of “The Referral Directory” will have expanded categories and full range of programs including housing, food and clothing, mental health, senior citizens, financial assistance, parenting, HIV/AIDS, alcohol and drugs, and employment, to name a few.

This edition has been expanded to include more than 1000 programs. Information was sent to many of your agencies to update your current entries or to inform us of new programs for the next edition. If your agency has not returned your entries, it is not too late -- or if you would like for your agency to be included in the next edition, please call 223-0020 to receive a entry form. Listing your agency is a free service to your organization and helps to increase awareness of your organization and become part of a much valued and important community resource.



Roofer Recommendations
Gabriel Wiest,

Would appreciate any recommendations for a reputable roofer. I just moved to Capitol Hill and need to replace a small flat tar roof.


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
JARVIS JIVE: The District hasn't met a failed politician it couldn't celebrate. When, after at least two resurrections, Mayor-For-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. finally left office, he received a shameless sendoff at the MCI Center lauding the first few successful years of his political career. Nobody mentioned the fact that he had nearly driven the city to bankruptcy.
Rose-colored glasses also were handed out at the goodbye soiree for 80-something At-Large D.C. Councilmember Hilda Mason. Harry Thomas -- God rest his soul -- got a street and a recreation center named after him, although there were times during the tenure of that councilmember when it was hard to discern whether he was punch-drunk or simply drunk on the dais in the council chamber.
Now comes the big hooha on Thursday, Dec. 7 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel for defeated Ward 4 councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis.
Read the entire Loose Lips column here:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
Saturday: Basset Caroling. Dogs (of any breed) and their owners are invited to don their gay apparel and howl Yuletide carols. At noon in Dupont Circle Park, Dupont Circle NW. Free.
Tuesday: “The Pulitzer Prize Photographs: Capture the Moment,” on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Newseum, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Free.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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