The Bay Area: This Beautiful Land, My Home
Lately I have been hearing lots of negative comments about The Bay – all from folks who don’t have deep roots here. Sweeping generalizations. Rising costs, ridiculous rents and negative personality traits shared by all of us.
I listen and remind/inform them that The Bay culture has changed partially because of the new residents – including them.
My family arrived in the South Bay. I don’t call it by that other stupid name. December of 1974, I was all of 8.5 months old.
Mountain View before Google, was overall good. Decent homes with cheap rent (we paid $500 a month for a house with a big ole yard), good jobs (my dad was part of a union for many years) and great schools that had plenty of grass to play on during recess and lunch breaks. Rengstorff Park with its magnolia trees, its public pool that includes a kids pool, its abundance of climbing trees and grass to lay, about was literally 2 blocks from my house.
My home life pretty much sucked. The undocumented status we had until I was 13 years old and my dad’s violence made fear and anxiety my constant companions.
I am mindful that my surroundings enabled my resiliency. I am eternally grateful for those trees and every other grounding force that kept me from totally falling apart.
I moved to Oakland after a mostly dramatic and life changing 2 and a half year stint in Arizona. March of 1999 brought me to the town with the bad ass reputation.
I came to Oakland all of one time as a South Bay kid. My friends and I snuck away in middle school to attend a New Kids on the Block concert at the arena.
I knew I needed to leave the South Bay in 1999 as it had changed too damn much. It hurt.
My homie got us a cheap spot in North Oakland. We each paid about $500 a month. I was like “Oakland is beautiful” and I began to fall in love with this land.
Then I got my first job working at Melrose School back when it was on 53rd and International/E 14th St. East Oakland and North Oakland are fraternal twins – born at the same time and that’s it.
When I was given a tour of the school I wondered “where is the grass for kids to play on?” There ain’t none in most Oakland schools. The absence of trees and presence of run down parks woke my brown self up to the whole landscape of this town. For real.
I worked in schools for 12 years mostly in Oakland and each of those kids helped me grow into who I am now. Their resilience in this rough concrete, abundant part of this land, inspires me on the daily.
I had my trees. They have very little nature. Or they do, yet don’t or can’t access it. My summer intern, raised in the Fruitvale, had never been to Redwood Regional which takes 15 minutes in a car to get to. She commented on the cleaner air and was in awe of the amazing trees.
I live in the Fruitvale today and pay $466 for my share of rent. I am surrounded by neighbors from all over the world.
I now am on staff with East Oakland Building Healthy Communities (East Oakland BHC). I started as part of a work group, Economic Opportunities, then moved on to serve on the Leadership Council where we re-structured into what we hope is a sustainable and healing initiative. When we hired Renato and he offered me a job I decided to take the plunge.
East Oakland, home of the Black Panthers, is amazing and resilient. I am honored to be serving this community that has been glaringly ignored and blatantly disinvested.
Oakland has made me a more spiritual, humble and grounded brown mestiza Purepecha person. I consider myself a healer and a mindful person.
The black folks with the indigenous land protectors, the Ohlone, have laid down the seeds on this land so that we can honor its past, present and next 7 generations.
That honoring must begin with its land and all its relatives. When we lead from there everyone wins!
Written by Patricia Contreras-Flores