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Bolivians have chosen Northern Virginia as a second home November 27, 2009

Posted by miguelsouza in 5584.

It is not clear how many Bolivians live in the area. According to the Census Bureau, there are approximately 24,000, but some Bolivians authorities believe there are more than 200,000. They are among the largest foreign-born population from South America.

By Miguel Souza

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Saúl Góngora came to the United States in 1999. Last September, he became one of the first Bolivians living in Virginia who was registered to vote in the next Bolivian presidential election.

“Justice is being done. As immigrants, we send money to our country to support our families. We have the right to decide who will be our leaders,” said Góngora, a former journalist who lives in Falls Church,  outside Washington, D.C.

Approximately 4 million Bolivians will vote in the December presidential election. For the first time, citizens living outside of the country will be able to be part of the voting. According to the Bolivian Electoral Law, only Bolivians immigrants in Argentina, Brazil, Spain and the United States will be registered.

In the United States, the registration will be held in the states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.


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Virginia stands out because it has more Bolivian immigrants  than any other state.

According to the 2000 Census, there were 15,599 Bolivians in  Virginia. Since then, that number has grown by more than 50 percent, to about 24,000, according to the 2006-08 American Community Survey, the Census Bureau’s latest estimate.

The state with the second-highest number of Bolivians was California, with about 10,000. Nationwide, about 70,000 people from Bolivia live in the United States, the American Community Survey said.

In Virginia, Bolivians made up about a third of all immigrants from South America – more than any other South American country.

Most of the Bolivians live in Northern Virginia. Fairfax (13,878) and Arlington (3,495) counties have the largest  number of Bolivian-born immigrants.


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But the figures are not so clear for Bolivian authorities. Some of them say there are about 200,000 Bolivians living in Virginia. For instance, the National Electoral Court (Corte Nacional Electoral) expects to register about 36,461 people in the area for the presidential election.

“We have 21 registration locations in Northern Virginia. We do not have figures, but we assume that most of our fellows live in this area,” said Rodolfo Henrich, who works in Washington, D.C., as a representative of the National Electoral Court.

The figures are also confusing for Osvaldo Cuevas, the general Bolivian consul in Washington.

“I would not dare to say how many Bolivians are in Virginia. We have figures given by the U.S. Census, the media and different nonprofit organizations. All of them have different figures,” said Cuevas, who has been in charge of the consulate for seven years.

Nevertheless, Cuevas said that the estimate of 24,000 from the  American Community Survey is not related to the reality.

“Some Bolivians who are in the United States as illegal aliens do not want to say they are from Bolivia. They are afraid of being deported to the country. They prefer to say that they are from Mexico. In case they are caught, they will be sent to Mexico and will have more chances to return to the United States crossing the border,” said Cuevas.

In spite of the figures, it is obvious that Northern Virginia is the favorite place for Bolivians who come to the United State. For instance, cities like Annandale and Alexandria have neighborhoods with a strong presence of Bolivians. There are restaurants and stores that provide supplies to the community.

In Arlington County, there is a Bolivian Soccer League. It was created in 1994 and now has 20 teams. Most of the players are from Bolivia or are from Bolivian descent.

“Even though this area is much more expensive than others, there are more chances to get a job. That is why Bolivians come to Northern Virginia,” Cuevas said.

Betty Valverde came to the United States 17 years ago. She lives in Annandale along with her family.

“Many people who use to live in New York, New Jersey and other cities decided to come to Northern Virginia not only because of the job offer, but also because they feel better living in the area. Here they can find food and many friends for Bolivia. In such a way, they feel as if they were at home,” said Valverde.



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