Erick, Tortas and East Oakland

Erick Chavarria

Hey y’all! I am very excited to announce that I will be one of the bloggers writing about East Oakland and wanted to tell you a little about myself. I’m originally from Chihuahua (yes, like the dog), Mexico, and after growing up in the southwestern desert, I made my way over to the much greener East Bay in 2012. I currently reside in East Oakland, and ever since I set foot here, it’s felt like home as it reflects the largely Latino community I grew up in.

I work full-time at Centro Legal de la Raza where I support an amazing team of staff that fights every day to secure justice for the Latino and immigrant communities of the Fruitvale area and beyond. These days, when I’m not working, I like to read fiction on Bart, ride my bike around Oakland, and take Reggeaton and Haitian dance classes in San Francisco.

I’m also on a quest to find the best torta in the Bay—right now, the top spot goes to Tacos El Paisa on International and High Street (request a side of the cebollitas when you go, it’s free!). I view eating as a form of meditation: when I’m eating, my whole body smiles and I become, at that moment, immersed in the present. It’s the only time no thoughts about the past or the future enter my mind.

This is one of the many reasons East Oakland and I get along so well; the variety and quality of food here is amazing!

I’m excited for the opportunity, through East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, to write and communicate to others about the beauty of East Oakland. I love the unique communities that are found in Oakland. For example, the Maya Mam community, direct descendants from the indigenous Maya tribes of Central America. A lot of them fled their home countries due to the political and ethnic persecution they suffered in the 90s.

Most recently, a second wave of them have been forced to immigrate to the Bay, since a lot of the gangs that were deported from the United States to Central America regrouped and began persecuting them in their home countries. The first wave of Maya Mam immigrants were afraid to walk around International Boulevard in their bright traditional clothing because they were often the targets of ICE or crime, but they’ve since formed strong support systems amongst themselves and the community.

Now, the new wave of Maya Mam immigrants as well as the first wave are able to walk down International proudly and unafraid in their traditional clothing. East Oakland holds one of the largest Maya Mam communities outside of Central America, yet people are often surprised when I tell them this. If you walk on International past High Street, you’ll see a lot of Maya Mam shops that sell amazing products imported from Central America.

I want to talk about these and other communities, leaders, organizations that are in the shadows of the violent narrative that is commonly believed about East Oakland.

To me, East Oakland has all the makings of a sustainable and healthy community. The violence so often portrayed by the media is often exacerbated, and not enough light is shed on the people and organizations that are agents of change and support for its residents. This is directly related to lack of diversity in the media, and as such, a lack of the cultural and linguistic sensitivities needed to understand these communities. Instead, media often only identifies the loud physical factors: gunshots, fire and blood. To be able to talk about the things that aren’t physically evident or heard, one must be able to understand the community, be part of it. 

This past year, after finishing a fellowship with the Oakland Tribune called Oakland Voices, I realized the power that my voice and keyboard can have in changing perspectives. I hope, through this platform, to be able to communicate stories and pieces that change the way people see and treat East Oakland. Because when you hear all the positive things going on in your community you start to feel like you live in a healthy community.

CATEGORIES: Blog, Narrative Change