Why can't the world see you through this Mother's eyes and not the media's eyes? Rather than rappers and drive-bys, they'd see redwoods and Scenic Drives through our acres of hillside forests, overlooking a shimmering Bay. Rather than the murder rate, they'd see the marriage rate – people of every race, nationality and sexual orientation creating beautiful families founded on love. Rather than seeing angry Raiders fans in the Black Hole, they'd see joyful families on the sunny knolls surrounding Lake Merritt and discovering wonder at our parks, Zoo, Chabot Space Center and Children's Fairyland.
I begrudgingly admit that the media isn't entirely wrong about you, Oakland. Your mean streets exist and produce the scrappy likes of Clint Eastwood, Bruce Lee, Too Short, the Black Panthers and Hells Angels. Your mean streets have taken far too many children from their mothers' arms. But you are trying, Oakland, to turn it around. Violent Sideshows yielding to peaceful Turfing Dance Battles; graffiti tags yielding to Art Murmur's gallery crawls. Urban decay yielding to the Art Deco splendor of Uptown's Fox Theater, Transit Villages and, thanks to Jerry Brown, Jack London Waterfront Warehouse Lofts.
To outsiders, you're a survivor – race riots of the 70's, crack epidemic of the 80's, Loma Prieta earthquake of '89, Firestorm of '91. Of course you survived -- you're guarded by the giant crane-horses of our sea port! Invaders beware! To me, you're a sunny day in February in Dimond Park, watching my kids wade barefoot in Sausal Creek with other kids speaking Spanish, Cantonese and Farsi, looking out on the daffodils planted by community volunteers. You're Chicken & Waffles in the morning, a Bakesale Betty's fried chicken sandwich in the afternoon, Shan Dong dumplings for dinner, and Mexacali Rose enchiladas late at night (but only if it's too cold to sit out at the taco truck on International & 22nd).
I'm a Festival at the Lake kid, raising Art & Soul babies. Thank you Oakland, for raising me right. For helping me raise my children to have compassionate, accepting hearts; for embracing us with sophisticated urban cultural and peaceful natural beauty. Thank you Oakland, for raising me to be a better mother to all your children. I love you and will never leave you
Oakland Native, Mother, and newest elected member of the Oakland City Council
You are textured and gritty, multilayered, fun and friendly and real and rich in your
peoples' strength and resilience.
The Fruitvale neighborhood where I reside is the most ethnically diverse in the nation (2nd only to Queens, I hear) —welcoming recent immigrants from around the world and holding on to families who have lived here for generations. The sounds from Hmong ceremonies, chanting, bells ringing, conch shells blowing intermix with the shouts of children as the piñatas tease them at their birthday parties, laughter in the bouncy houses. Day of the Dead festival — silent altars to our ancestors. Malcolm X Jazz Festival —
local music and art, spoken word, a sunny day in San Antonio park.
Your legacy of racial and class uprisings supports us now in these continuing struggles. The Black Panthers Breakfast for Children program has spurred groups like Peoples Grocery to lead the way in the food justice movement and urban farming – bringing healthy food to underserved neighborhood of West Oakland. You were the scene of the great labor strike and your unions are still active and progressive and make stands against war and injustice.
Oakland, your people have led the way in empowering people to fight for justice and you are now a stronghold of social justice activism.
If it weren't for your people coming together on the streets to hold the cop accountable for killing Oscar Grant, he would never have stood trial. Your communities come together in love and support to heal the frustration of injustice.
Oakland, your people are innovative and creative, instilling leadership and empowering your youth, doing so much with so little. Your art community is thriving and vibrant.
Chicano artists from the Fruitvale put powerful political art into the hands of the people as they march for immigrant rights. Art centers like the East Side Arts Alliance, bring color, music and light to little-known neighborhoods. From the grungy artists warehouses of East and West Oakland, to the hopping Art Murmur, you inspire people to create and explore.
Your people are your strength, Oakland. We greet each other with smiles while
walking around Lake Merritt, or at any of the local farmers' markets, or walking down International Blvd, or at the Grand Lake Cinema.
Your people are your strength.
February 17, 2011
In the very early morning, there is the faint bellow of the ships then the chugging
and whistle-blowing of the trains moving the containers from your port becoming
a soothing lullaby.
Later in the morning, the swishing of the cars, SUVs and trailer trucks rumble along the 880 Freeway become a jarring reminder that times have changed. That the appearance of those overpasses caused the crush and sweeping away of a neighborhood and its occupants.
Blocks upon blocks of Victorian homes were torn down, Jefferson Square Park became devoid of children, and residents whose names have so many syllables, contained accents or ended in vowels simply disappeared. Shops, movie theaters, dance halls and finally the Housewives Food Center closed and were demolished.
Unlike many of the families who were displaced and moved away decades ago, mine moved just down the street once again waiting for the new day. We kept our business moved twice by your planners and it continues to stand its ground ongoing for sixty-six years.
Each decade with your planning, demolishing and rebuilding, you erase then build new landmarks while allowing just a handful to remain standing from a time long forgotten by many but not all. The park, Old Saint Mary's Church and our restaurant, La Borinqueña, are sometimes the only pieces of your fractured streetscape still recognizable to those who return to visit.
The old neighborhood is recounted in stories heard in our shop day after day, year after year, and when strung together sound like sweet melancholy love song. The singers look around attempting to pick up the shattered and stepped on shards of broken hearts and memories scattered along your streets surrounding us. I am the "young one" who keeps the melody, who cannot reminisce yet repeats the lyrics on queue.
As I walk up and around 7th Street, like my mother and my grandmother did before me, I search for glimpses from your past in the current facades. The promises you made us a half a century ago are finally becoming realized.
Condos, restaurants, new businesses and a renovated park now exist. Yet credit
will be given where credit is due and unfortunately most of it does not belong to
you. It belongs to your proud, hard-working, and loyal citizens. We are creating the community we wish for in spite of you. Respect us, work with us. Since together, we are the true Oakland.
Dear Oakland, my city, Oakland.
We have a date soon, we're meeting for the Marathon, and I can't wait to see
That day I'll be so proud of you, so proud to be seen with you.
That day I'll be so glad I've known you my whole life.
You are beautiful, your redwood forested hills, your shimmering lake, your sunset view of one of the world's great harbors and the ocean beyond. You are beautiful, your perfect Mediterranean climate--the very best weather in the nation. You spoil me.
You are beautiful, your peoples from all over the world. Here, no one has ever even once asked me where I am from-can they tell I could not be from
anywhere but you?
You are beautiful, my Oakland, you and your friends: Tacoma, Newark, Baltimore, Long Beach, and every other fine city that has to put up with some noisy, self-important neighbor.
We spend every day together, but the Marathon will be our special date. Every street, every block will be filled with your story and our story. We'll pass by Bruce Lee's first martial arts studio, and Clint Eastwood's high school. We'll pass near where Jessica Mitford championed the living and the dead, and where Julia Morgan built for the ages.
We'll pass by the Native American Health Center and the Peralta Hacienda. We'll
pass by firestorm houses and the Cypress Structure earthquake memories. We'll pass by so many houses of faith, from the Cathedral of Christ the Light to Temple Sinai, from Ascension Orthodox to my church family at New Hope Covenant.
My Oakland, I know it has not all been good. Have we made up yet for the European empires that imagined claims to you, and the American squatters who
sold you off?
Yet how can I begrudge them for creating a destination of hope and
opportunity for my ancestors?
You did not waste your gifts. You gave the world the University of California, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Jack La Lane and the modern health club; the passenger bus; the rubber squeegee; the Wave and Dot Racing.
And now I teach my kids to tell others proudly, "I'm from Oakland!"
My city, Oakland, I can't wait to spend that day with you.
From the starting line to the finish line, you are mine, and I am yours.
Though I'm not Oakland born, I was "born" here. We lived in San Francisco, in the Ingleside, fog-scrubbed, treeless Ingleside, in a tidy stucco glued to its identical neighbor on either side, when a wartime job offer in Oakland brought us across the bay. It was 1943; I was 2. My mother considered Piedmont, a tony enclave encapsulated within your borders, but in her typically eccentric thought process, concluded that it was better to live in an interesting house, in a less prestigious neighborhood (Oakland, near downtown), than live in an uninteresting house (all that we could afford) in a "nice" neighborhood (Piedmont). Our new house, an eccentric brown shingle, sat in a fascinating neighborhood that included creeks, vacant lots, and body and fender shops. The neighborhood was rich in old ladies, and wonderful old houses, both fallen on hard times. The first time I saw our new home, it was summer, and the air was warm, aromatic and flower-scented. My brother and I walked around the side of the house, which was overgrown and looked to me like the Garden of Eden. In the backyard was a creek; across the street was another creek. It was paradise.
After the war was over, many who had a reliable car and a little money moved out "through the tunnel" to newly built homes in Contra Costa County. We stayed. Any fantasies we had about improving our lot never included moving. We were home.
What do I treasure most about my old Oakland neighborhood of the 1940's? What a gift it was to have neighbors who were varied in age, circumstance, and race. Because it wasn't a "desirable" neighborhood, people of all sorts, who would not have been welcomed in more elegant neighborhoods, lived there. How blessed we were.
And, Oakland, this is the quality that characterizes you to this day.
When I married (a boy who lived a block from me), we rented a house in the neighborhood, and when we bought a house of our own, it was in the neighborhood. When my older brother and his wife bought a house, it was in the neighborhood. When my younger brother bought a house, it was in the neighborhood. Oakland, I'm still here, and I'll be here.
With love and appreciation,
Jean Carlos Juarez
I love you but I hate you sometimes. Sometimes I wake up and look at you and say I love you but there are days were I look up at you and say why do I live in you? There are one so many great things about you like the kindness and how everyone knows each other, the weather, your nice fresh water, your air is so nice you could taste the good air, my friends live here, some of my family lives here, I attend school here, there is always something to do here and the town is so alive. However there are many bad things about you too like the gang violence, the death rates, I can not go down the street peacefully, the I got to watch my back everywhere I go mentality, the fighting everywhere I go, the I must shoot first or I will die, Oakland can be a bad place to live in and hard place to live in but you are my hometown and I love you.i always look at the good side of Oakland, but it is hard to stay positive because one day I know my mom will get that horrible call and say your son has been killed. I love the people with, but hate the people I live around because half of them i am against. i love the deep side of you because it is were I am at and were I hang out at. All of my friends live in the deep part of you so that explains why I am there instead where I lay my head at. I lay my head on 35th and i hate it because it is were the rival gangs live and I can never walk down my house without being jumped. Another reason why you are a great place to live in is the sports fans, and the spirits that are in you. i do not want to live in you forever but I can truly say I would not want to grow up no where else but in you Oakland.
Jean Carlos Juarez
Remember me? I was the one looking out for the elder population. We've met a few times at mixers. Heck the new mayor even came over to let us know, here at Stagebridge, one of the nation's first theater companies devoted to healthy aging through the arts, that we could count on her, if we cast our ballots that way.
Hey Oakland: Are you getting old? Are you getting forgetful? Early stages of those dreaded forgetful diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer's setting in? Well, we're here for you! Yes! The arts! We want to heal you. They call it preventative medicine. Alternative. Therapy. Hmmm. Sometimes it's just plain fun: letting you dance to some Jazz that you helped create. Or, letting you see nature and write about it in haikus, which you brought to America all the way from Japan.
You must've been tipsy at that mixer because, you don't seem to remember us. We're the loyal ones. We've stayed here and sent you nice holiday greetings and birthday cards with cash every tax day (don't spend it all in one place). But, it seems you're forgetting about all those folks living around the edges of Lake Merritt looking down on Children's Fairyland and the migratory birds in the first wildlife refuge in America and wondering if they can still fly or, if, you, once a lover, have forgotten about them.
Did you? We still love you is all. We still think you're attractive and we'll wait patiently for you to look our way again. We'd like to gussy you up and make you feel proud again. Remind you of jazz and poetry and Isadora Duncan. Are you there? Can you show us that there is a there, there?
I dream that you won't forget me when I retire. I hope you'll give me reasons to stay young at heart. I learned about you through the Arts. Watching Patti Labelle at the Paramount. I came to work in a church over 100 years old. We need to look out for aging cities. We don't forget you. Don't forget us. We're still here.
SO… come take a class with us! Dance, sing, act, write your way back to health. We'll nurture you and love you back to health.
Stagebridge Senior Theater
Dear, darling Oakland:
How long has it been, this relationship of ours? Forty years now? I've grown up with you and watched you grow, too, in fits and starts. I've watched with wonder and frustration as your charms and potential go ignored. I've watched with pride as you've achieved great commercial, athletic, and artistic high marks. And I've been saddened at how you've been brought down low by a persistent, negative reputation. Still, you're a tough ole girl. I've watched you endure all the slights and broken engagements with good grace. At 159 years old, you must be tired of trying to prove yourself, tired of hearing how great youused to be. But do not fret.
One day the stars with align and you will find a fine suitor—maybe a great set of suitors—who will dance you out of the shadows. With them you will surrender your wallflower card and come into the spotlight. Then everyone will see the sublime beauty of your lush green hills, the industry of your commercial strips, the enthusiasms fostered in your schools, the fellowship in your neighborhoods, and the creativity that blossoms in unexpected places.
Don't ever accept that assigned role as ugly stepsister or the stories that you can't do better because of your poverty, crime, and complexion. It's a tale propagated by people who don't know you and are afraid to approach for fear that their long-held prejudices will be dashed. Stay positive and focused on your goals. Let people in your life who are offering you positive change and energy, my friend. Don't allow yourself to be used by the silken-tongued opportunists. Ignore the negative press.
I hope one day you find that troubadour, a chorus of troubadours, who will sing your praises and spread your song around the world. Until then, remember, I have your back. I'll keep telling your story because now I understand, in a way I hadn't before, that it's my story, too. So keep being your big-shouldered, wide-hipped, proud, eclectic, enterprising, fun, workaday self. I love you!
Librarian, Oakland History Room
Oakland Public Library
Today is the day I finally get to tell you how I feel for the first time in my life. I love you but at the same time you fill me with disappointment. You have given me great memories; I remember playing at Clinton Park and buying Tweety ice cream from the carts being pushed around. I have even had memories as I have gotten older: meeting my best friends here and having fun family gatherings. I love how you are so diverse compared to others. I have the opportunities to meet all different kinds of people and learn things that others don't usually learn. I cherish you so much because you have taught me to be mature and open-minded. No matter where I am or where I go, you will always be my home. Even though I love you, I am so disappointed with you. Deep down inside. you have beauty that only a few realize because it is hidden behind what you are notorious for. You can't continue to let this happen. You can't let all this crime, violence, and hate fill people and let it outweigh the good. There are more people here who want to change things than let the crime and violence go on. Oakland, please help them make a difference, please help me. Be the place that you truly are.
Catherine LW Darwish
When I was little, I used to look out my window and try to imagine how you looked before buildings and roads. My family's house was a little above the flatlands, but certainly not in the hills. One of the gentle hills that lead up to the foothills and then ultimately to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
I used to try to imagine all of the different people who had come one by one or in waves to you, not quite San Francisco and not quite Berkeley. We're always seen as, "Not quite..." other places. But there is so much here. I used to imagine the Native American camp fires and then villages, the Spanish settlers and the French and German and Chinese gold miners and workers. Then the wild cowboys and the crazy writers and poets coming and ending up, unknowingly, in the area.
The African-American workers and then the Mexican migrants and then the hub of the settlers of so many peoples. The center of the train yards for cargo and people, mentioned in "Around the World in 80 Days," "The Maltese Falcon" and "Big Machine" as well as a thousand other lesser known works. A literary gem. Photographs and art done from your shores capturing San Francisco. "There is no there there." Maybe not, but perhaps one has to go to Oakland to see that.
The layers of people continued for generations, into the 60s and 70s with the Vietnamese immigrants and the Black Panther devotees, the Hmong, Cambodian, Thai and Mien peoples in the 80s and the Bosnian groups in the 90s. Now the people from Yemen and Afghanistan coming. Pipelines from all over the world into this quilt of humanity called Oakland. One family, many pieces. We have so many stories and so many ways of telling our stories, but we all have one common thread, and that thread starts at the bay and ends all the way up near the sky.
Oakland is foster mother to us all, outcasts or transplants, artists or writers, musicians or dancers. What a fascinating city! Maybe there is a there...
I hecka <3 Oakland!
Catherine LW Darwish
Ok, I know you get these fan letters all the time, but I am literally your biggest fan. I'm not a stalker or anything, I just think you are really, really awesome. It's funny because for the longest time I didn't even really notice you. You know, living in San Francisco, hiking in Marin; you were like the under-the-radar friend to some pretty glamorous neighbors. But then, one day, it was like "boom": love.
I think you first really got my attention one night when I met a friend for dinner in Montclair. The food was good, but what I really remember was looking around that dining room and seeing the crowd. It was a neighborhood place, but what a group of neighbors. There were gay, lesbian, mixed race couples, young, old, white, black, asian and latino. I thought, wow what a rare sight! I was to learn that this is the kind of crowd you often find in Oakland. I started to think of San Francisco's diversity as being kind of a nine to five thing: when all the working folks go back home, well, the diversity kind of recedes.
When my husband and I decided to buy a single family home, we looked around the Bay Area and were amazed at your beautiful, affordable neighborhoods. We picked Glenview when we realized it wasn't a fluke that we kept seeing neighbors out on the sidewalks talking to each other when we visited open houses.
One of our friends had to warn us, when we moved here, that the neighbors would come over to bring treats, greet and welcome us. He said, don't be freaked out or offended..they are just being friendly. I had to learn to welcome our neighbors to our home, to let folks cross in the crosswalk in front of my car, and to let folks park..because there is always another parking space.
Oakland, I love you the way little girls love Justin Bieber. I love to see folks from every walk of life running, walking, and biking around Lake Merritt. I love to drive 10 minutes from my home to a quiet and secluded redwood grove. I love your vegan Filipino, vegan Soul Food, all kinds of vegan food. I love having potlucks with my neighbors. I love your inclusive, welcoming spirit. Thanks for teaching me how to be a neighbor.