I love living in Oakland, California, the most racially diverse city in the nation. This is where political activists from the 60s, the Black Panthers rose up in social revolution, Oakland is their birthplace. I remember them not as the violent revolutionaries that they are portrayed as, I acknowledge the social work that they implemented, like free breakfasts for hungry school children and after school programs. They cared for and wanted to protect their harassed community, I applaud their mission of equality and justice.
Oakland was the ideal urban setting for the graphic novel Black Panther, which inspired the first black superhero’s inclusion into the Marvel movie franchise. It’s also the setting for the true story, “Fruitvale Station” about the tragic murder of Oscar Grant by Bart police. Two new films, “Blindsided” and “Sorry to Bother You” are set here too. The SF Bay Area attracts many film crews because of it’s beautiful landmarks and ideal climate but Oakland represents the black rights movement both presently and historically. Black Lives Matter co-founder, Alicia Garza lives here too.
Locals know why it’s a hidden gem, we have pride in our gorgeously sunny city, with it’s casual and friendly vibe, with hand written storefront signs, it still has the handprint charm of a pre-digital world. Here residents sit by the steps in front of their apt building homes and say hello to neighbors as they pass by, well it’s mostly the older generation that’s polite, the young millennials just scoot by electrically without a word. What’s wrong with those guys?
Black Panthers movement flyer
Oakland Chinatown is where I briefly met the legendary Master, Wong Jack Man, who famously fought Bruce Lee during the height of his career, they say the results of that fight changed the pathway that Bruce Lee was on and caused him to develop his own new style of wing chun. The film, Birth of the Dragon describes their epic spar more accurately than the previous film version of their feuding story. According to my friend, David T. (who studied with him for years), the fight was a fair one, unlike the villainous portrayal of Wong Jack Man in Dragon, the Bruce Lee Story. Coincidentally, twenty years later, I worked at the Asian branch (which is located in the plaza where I originally met the famous martial artist), in Chinatown on 9th street. One day, I checked in a book, returned by someone with his same name. Could it have been him? I looked aimlessly for his silhouette in the sunset, but he was mysteriously gone. See why I love Oakland?
Even George Lucas is a Bay Area resident too (I’m not a fan, read my Racism of Star Wars article if you dare! Truth is, it’s Not your fault that Lucas hypnotized you, I’m Asian and it took me awhile to decode the illusion) anyway, trivia note for Star Wars fans, his inspiration for AT-AT walkers, came from the white giant shipping container cranes in the port of Oakland, although Lucas denies it.
Oakland is often mistakenly judged as being crime-ridden and full of “thugs” as my ignorant white male friend phrased the suggestion that all black men in Oakland were “thugs”. I quickly responded that I’ve lived in Oakland for decades and I’ve felt safe here all this time because I treat people with respect and they respect me back. People can sense the energy you send them, you don’t have to say a word. If you judge someone by skin color it’s pretty obvious, your hate shows up in your fear. That’s really what it comes from, pointless fear. Fear of difference, fear that if someone doesn’t validate who you are by looking just like you/acting just like you, that they or you, is innately wrong. That’s fear-based racism and the root of religious fanaticism. Oakland is about community co-existing with respect for diversity.
There’s an energy here that has a unique signature, it’s soulful, friendly, culturally diverse, which means there’s a variety of authentic ethnic cuisines co-existing and intermingling = yum, Oakland has the best weather in the Bay Area, it’s consistently sunny but not unbearably hot.
It’s also home to Children’s Fairyland which inspired Walt Disney’s knockoff Disneyland. Frank Oz and his parents were puppeteers at Fairyland back in the day. Inside are fairytale structures for children to climb inside and imagine new stories. My son had Fairyland as his backyard, lucky little guy, we rode the Jolly Trolley endlessly braving the lines, through the western town with a tiny jail that kids could squeeze through.
The twinkling lights around Lake Merritt make our neighborhood a kingdom at night. It’s like a miniature, Bellagio water display of lit lights, cascading glistening reflections on the windless water. The intricate necklace of fairy lights lit all year round makes Lake Merritt not only the first natural bird sanctuary in the United States, it makes it a living dream, an urban Camelot.
There’s a definite magic here. I’m not talking about wiccans, although the Bay Area has it’s fair share of them too. A lot of us mystics, love crystals here, I’ll just speak for my nouveau hippie crew, not the totality of Oakland residents. But when I say magic, I mean that here, we live in a suspended disbelief of what’s normal, we live in a relative space, full of possibilities. There’s movement and flow here; an unusually intelligent vortex of chaos and hope.
A lot of geniuses and unfortunately cult leaders have come from the Bay Area, and it’s not by accident! This place vibrates outside of the usual frequency perhaps, maybe we live in a possible future or a parallel plane? I haven’t even mentioned quirky Berkeley yet. I’ve witnessed so many fantastically serendipitous events, miracles of detailed coincidence, synchronization of people, timing and coincidental experiences that I can’t explain away easily. I blame it on this entrancing place.
This was once sacred Ohlone Native American land, (and it still is in spirit). It’s a place you can feel with your soul. It’s a place that will heal you, if you let it, and healing takes time. I found shelter here when I ran away from trauma. I moved here in 1993. I had basically nothing, $70, two suitcases and the sandals on my feet, but strangers welcomed me here. This is where I came to write and be a poet. This is where I resonate. This is where I found a home.