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A Multi-Ethnic Park - 2002-11-06

English Feature #7-35243 Broadcast September 10, 2001

As summer segues into fall, the many public parks in the Washington area continue to hum with activity. In the evenings and on weekends people gather to play baseball or soccer, to exercise on the fitness trails, or simply to picnic on the grass with friends. We visited one local park and found that its clientele is as ethnically diverse as the Washington area itself.

Several groups of boys of various shapes, sizes and colors are playing basketball on a cement court in Mason District Park on the outskirts of Washington. One group consists of a couple of American-born teenagers - one black, one white, two boys from Sudan, two teen-aged Ethiopian brothers, and 19-year-old Julio Abrantes from Rostov-na-Donu in Russia. Julio, whose father left Portugal to study in Russia and remained there, has been in the United States for three years now, and likes it here.

"I have, like, friends from all over the world here, and they speak all different languages, and I learn a lot from them, like from their cultures and their countries. It's just fun here. I like this country very much. Good people, I like the schools here, good colleges, good atmosphere in general."

Like most of the boys on the basketball court, Julio is a regular at the park.

"I usually come here five or six times a week to play basketball. That's the main reason I'm here."

Not far from the basketball courts is a soccer field, where the players are mostly Latin American - immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru.

One of the soccer players is Jaime Xavier, who came to the United States from El Salvador ten years ago, when he was 20. In his first years he worked two or even three jobs at once, to be able to support himself and send money to his family in El Salvador. Now Mr. Xavier, who is married and has two small children, works for a landscaping company, pruning trees, planting flower beds, manicuring lawns.

"About America, what I like is I always have a job, and that's the most important for me and my family. That's the reason why I like America."

Jaime Xavier works hard, and then comes to Mason District Park to relax and be with friends.

"This park, I have a lot of fun playing soccer. And about Washington - I've been living here for ten years, but I like this place. Here is really a good area, quiet, it's a great area to live and raise a family."

The 300-hectare Mason District Park was opened in 1977. It has something for everyone -- two baseball diamonds, two soccer fields, a basketball court and six tennis courts, all lighted so that they can be also used at night. There are hiking trails, an amphitheatre for summer concerts, and a small concession stand selling hot dogs, french fries and soda.

The park's picnic areas are a favorite meeting place for Arabic families - the women, watching their children play, often covered head to toe in black, the men sitting apart and conversing in small groups. On this day, the three men talking together at a picnic table are Muslims from Sudan. 41-year-old Abdulhamed Ahman has been here for three and a half years. He works two jobs, as a translator for the embassy of Saudi Arabia and as a security officer. He also attends Northern Virginia Community College, working towards a masters' degree in English.

"It's a tough life, you have to work too much so you can… because I have my family here, also, I have my wife and four children, I'm facing difficulties, yes… But actually, I like the freedom here. The great values you have here. You find many opportunities to develop yourself in this country, yes. So I think it's a good country for serious people."

One of Mr. Ahmad's companions on this late-summer evening, is a sixty-one-year old carpenter, Mohammad Ali, dressed in flowing white robes and a white skullcap, who came from Sudan just seven months ago to live with his daughter. The other is Osman Alalla, an agricultural specialist who now works as a security guard. Mason District Park has a special meaning for him.

"Yeah, I like this park because three years ago my daughter - we have a custom that when we have kids, within a week we get to slaughter a sheep so as to name (them). So I invite the people here, to this park. My daughter, her name is Abral - call this Abral Park. All the time I come over here, my friends come here."

Mr. Alalla's daughter, a beautiful little girl with enormous black eyes, plays next to a group of women sitting on blankets on the grass. They all wear long black abayas decorated with golden embroidery, and black headscarves. One of the women is Hiba Ahmed, a lawyer with a degree from a Sudanese university. Here she stays at home to care for her two children. After three and a half years, she is slowly getting adjusted to life in the United States.

"Here the learning is good, but the culture is very different, not like my country. We are Muslim, here are different religions. In my country I have my family with me, but here I don't have family. I miss everything in Sudan. I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss everything. Here the money is good, not like in Sudan, yah, but I miss something, yeah."

The tennis courts are up a hill past the picnic areas and the children's playground. These seem to be the special destination of the area's Asian-Americans. Often all six courts are occupied by Korean players. Today, the players are mostly Vietnamese. One of them is a slender twenty-six-year-old nurse, Christine Duong. She comes to the park every day.

"At first I just came out to play, but eventually you get to know everyone that's here. Almost everybody that I know comes to this park. This is where we hang out."

A typical late-summer evening in a Washington-area park frequented by typical Washington-area Americans.