In a recent interview promoting the film Blindspotting, Oakland native, actor, and rapper Daveed Diggs called on native Oaklanders who remain rooted in the Town: “We need you to tell the story of this place,” he said. “It becomes harder to tear something down when it’s in the national consciousness.”
Following Diggs’ plea, the Express reached out to an array of Town Biz folks to talk about their stories: How are they able to remain rooted in Oakland? Do they think that there is a way to co-exist with newcomers? What do they think about the efforts by the local government to prevent the displacement of people of color?
Melina and Emmanuel Leon
Siblings Melina and Emmanuel Leon were raised in the “Dubbs,” a neighborhood that has begun to get gentrified. When the Leons tried to buy a home, they were discouraged to learn that they were not able to afford a place in the neighborhood they grew up in. “We bought the house at the right time, so we don’t have to leave Oakland,” Melina said. “But seeing and hearing how others can’t afford to live here anymore, it’s disheartening. What is going on with the city I love?”
The changes on the streets and the people they encounter every day is a vivid reminder of how much Oakland is changing. “It’s a love-hate relationship,” Emmanuel said. “You see the changes, you can’t cruise down E-1-4 no more. You see the improvements, especially in the Dubbs, but you see how the liquor store I used to go to is not there no more, the food spot I used to eat at is gone.” For the Leons, the rapid wave of gentrification — and how transplants see Oakland as a “trendy” place to live — signifies a lack of respect from newcomers toward longtime residents. “People are trying to use our slang and pretend they are from here,” Melina said. They say newcomers are “Columbusing” Oakland — appropriating the city without any regard for the people who were here building community long before Oakland was the “it” place to move to. ” “Respect us if you want to be respected,” Emmanuel said.
The Leons also say local government has done little to avoid displacement and provide resources to longtime residents who are of color. “They [local government] are welcoming gentrification because it is making them money,” Melina said. “It’s getting them elected into office. When are you going to look at the people who have been here forever and start doing more for them?”
Philip Stevenson Lang
Lakeshore and MacArthur
Philip Stevenson Lang calls himself “a fortunate motherfucker”: His family purchased real estate in the ’70s, allowing him to remain in the neighborhood where he grew up. “My family was able to buy back when Oakland was an abandoned city,” he said. “It was when the white population was decreasing and the Black population was increasing. There wasn’t a demand to buy here.” Lang’s family has been in residing in Oakland since the ’40s.
“On a personal level, it is very disheartening to know that I came from an abandoned city, and now seeing all the resources that are being pumped on to the city right now,” Lang said. “There’s a lot of cool, hip stuff, but it wasn’t for you.”
He views the opening of new businesses and infrastructure improvements as not for him and those he grew up with but rather for the influx of wealthy people who now call Oakland home. “You didn’t put a bike lane for my safety,” he said.
In his neighborhood, which he acknowledged has always had lots of homeowners, he sees a distinction in the type of cars people drive. “I was used to seeing Toyotas, Subarus, and now you are starting to see Porsches, Maseratis,” he said. “You can see that the value of a dollar of those moving in is different than those who raised their kids and sent them to public schools. The jobs people used to have to get into the neighborhood wouldn’t cut it now.”
He also sees a difference in how newcomers interact with the community. “It’s interesting to see how communal Oakland is, and how non-communal the new residents have been seeming to be,” Lang said. “Is that co-existing if you’re part of the community, and you don’t act like the other exists?”
For Mike Davie, a hard-core A’s fan, gentrification manifests in the way local bars and restaurants prefer to show Giants games on their screens versus an A’s game. The appeal, of course, is that the Giants have always been perceived as the better, more lucrative team, with the top-of-the-line waterfront stadium. “It’s almost like, ‘Hey, I know you came from San Francisco, but here in the East Bay we have always watched the A’s on the screen,'” Davie said.
“I hold on to the bits and pieces of the Oakland I grew up with,” he said. Davie is fortunate to live in a rent-controlled apartment in Adams Point, and he is aware of the importance of staying up-to-date with local politics, and how local officials are dealing with the homelessness crisis and the displacement of longtime residents.
Davie thinks that local government could be doing more to prevent displacement. “We need to allow for more density, provided that [new construction] has more affordable housing,” he said.
His message for newcomers? “Welcome to Oakland, however, please respect the people and culture that have existed for many [generations] before you moved here.”
As a kid, Peter Delgado attended Oakland public schools until he went to Bishop O’Dowd High School. Now, Delgado works as a principal at local public school and lives in North Oakland. “I now live in Ice City,” he said. Delgado sees no other choice but to remain rooted in the Town. He and his wife, who is a teacher, were able to buy a home 9 years ago. “If I was 10 years younger right now, I wouldn’t have been able to so,” he said.
Delgado sees the demographics changing not only in his neighborhood but also at the school where he works. “Cleveland Elementary is [the neighborhood] where many Cantonese-speaking families were first able to buy,” he said. “That generation is now older and selling their houses, which in turn are getting bought by people outside their immediate families.”
Delgado said it’s crucial for those who work at public schools to emphasize inclusiveness as schools also get gentrified, and to make sure that disadvantaged immigrant families who are longtime residents get enough resources to navigate the school system.
In his North Oakland neighborhood, he has also seen the changes in the demographics compared to when he first moved in: “I was the only white guy in the neighborhood,” Delgado recalled. He wants to see local government do more as the displacement of longtime residents continues. “Locals are losing their ability to stay in the community,” he said. “It seems like [gentrification] just happened so fast.”
Xiomara Blanco’s story begins with her parents, who met in San Francisco’s Mission District, and his dad buying a house in West Oakland. The house is no longer in the family, and Blanco has seen it change hands many times throughout the years. Blanco doesn’t see all newcomers as inherently bad. “We are all kind of transplants in a way,” she said. Instead, she’s more concerned with how residents are engaging with the community. “What are you bringing to the community? How are you uplifting the youth? If you are not, then, what are you doing here [in Oakland]?”
In 2009, Blanco landed a job in San Francisco, which allowed her to move into a rent-controlled unit in SOMA. Now, she has lived equal parts in the East Bay and San Francisco, leading to an inner conflict — or “niche identity questions,” as she called it. “Am I now an East Bay poser?”
Blanco wants local politicians to make sure that local residents get jobs whenever a tech company moves to Oakland. “It’s about ensuring that the local residents can get a job,” she said. “It’s really a no-brainer.”
Like Blanco, Aquis Bryant doesn’t resent newcomers. For his family, the American Dream meant getting out of Oakland to the suburbs, and he spent a great deal of time in Vallejo only to come back to Oakland to live in the hills. Bryant described himself as a hustler in his younger years, and spent some time locked up. It was this time away that shaped his views on what he wanted to do when he got out. Since buying his first home in Sacramento, Bryant has bought and flipped countless properties in Oakland and San Francisco. “People like to complain about gentrification, but at the end of the day, if you’re not Native American, you’re a gentrifier,” Bryant said.
As a landlord, Bryant sees his rentals as a business: “I will rent to whoever is going to be able to pay the rent,” he said. He also believes that city officials are doing more for tenants than homeowners and landlords. landlords are at a disadvantage in not being able to raise rents to market-rate in a reasonable amount of time.