Cultural heritage in (northwest) Washington, DC

Voices Across Borders

The Blog of the Race and Resistance Research Network at TORCH

Posted by: Priya Parrotta

Date: 3 June 2015

Cultural heritage in (northwest) Washington, DC

Network member Priya Parrotta, who is currently living in DC, shares some impressions of life in that city.

Washington, DC (the capital of the US) is a city with a rich and diverse cultural history. Today, the DC metropolitan area is home to people from all of the country’s the major demographic groups—until very recently, over fifty percent of residents in the city itself self-identified as African American. Additionally, people from all over the world visit and move to DC, undoubtedly for the professional opportunities and personal benefits that are part and parcel of living in a place that is a crucial hub for domestic and international goings-on.

However, in spite of its diversity, Washington, DC can hardly be described as a place where equality of opportunity and its close cousin, harmonious civic life, are paramount. Local historians and activists remind us that while the northwest quadrant of the city (where most political activity on a national scale takes place) operates quite smoothly, the rest of the city (where the majority of DC residents live) is all too often neglected by politicians charged with the task of providing necessary services to these neighborhoods. New arrivals to the city readily discuss how rare it is to see spontaneous expressions of individuality, culture and community on the city streets. And pacifists in the US and all over the world watch in dismay as aggressive foreign policies continue to be approved from within the Capitol’s walls.

Though I have been living in DC for quite a while and appreciate much of what it has to offer (i.e. the learning opportunities provided by such institutions as the Smithsonian), I agree with all of the above statements. I too wish that in DC, the practice of understanding others and celebrating diverse ways of life wasn’t made so fraught by the persistent realities of neglect, aggression and/or general apathy.

Fortunately, there are some people and places in northwest DC who facilitate casual interaction between people from different cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Though their numbers are small in comparison to the more disinterested mainstream, they are making tremendous contributions to the city’s public life.

For instance, the weekly drum circle at Meridian Hill Park (, bring high-quality collective music to a beautiful and historic green space. Busboys and Poets (which is owned by an Iraqi American) ( has many sterling qualities, not the least of which is an exceptional collection of books related to social and environmental justice. And during the weekends, the empty lots outside Eastern Market ( transform into a grassroots marketplace where browsing is a joy and conversation is easy.

Such initiatives affirm sustainability, diversity and spontaneity in DC’s public spaces. Many other examples exist, and wherever they do they must be supported. In addition to enlivening DC’s streets, they serve to bring the city’s many dualities—i.e. black and white, rich and poor, local and global—into dialogue with one another. And dialogue, of course, is crucial for collaboration and inspired social action.  

Priya Parrotta is an aspiring writer and graduate student at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. She enjoys probing the cultural and spiritual dimensions of contemporary environmental issues.


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The viewpoints expressed in Voices Across Borders are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Oxford.


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meridian hill park