community

OAKLAND

My hood.

I am a homeowner in the city of Oakland.

When we purchased our house in 2012, we knew that it had been broken into 3 times within the previous 6 months. The minute we heard our realtor reading the disclosure to us—he was also reading it for the first time—I thought, “Nope. No, no, no. No way.”

But it had been a long day and we were on a tight deadline, and we had so much to consider overall… So, tired and exasperated, I said, “You know what- email it to me so I can read through it more closely later and we’ll get back to you.”

I’ll never forget reading it later that night and thinking “this sounds more like a problem with the tenants rather than the actual neighborhood. Something seems fishy…”. We also cross-referenced this information by looking up police reports filed by people in the area for car break-ins, thefts, residential break-ins, etc.. There were maybe a couple of other car break-ins in the immediate area, but nothing else. It really just looked like there was something wrong with this house, i.e. these particular residents, rather than the neighborhood itself. It just didn’t seem representative of the area as a whole. So we bought the house.

Little did I know what I would soon learn in my first semester of law school—never make any assumptions. Just look at the facts. Nothing more, nothing less.

*sigh*

We moved in on the 28th of June and our anniversary was just a couple of days later. We celebrated by adopting ‘his & her’s’ puppies—two 20lb hound pups.

The day we brought them home

Just a couple of days later we were broken into. Around 9am. While my husband was home.

My car had been parked in the driveway, but I had left for school, and it turned out the back door had been left open with only the metal security door closed, but unlocked. And our wooden fence/side gate area didn’t have a lock on it yet either (just one of those latches you commonly see on a side gate to one’s yard). So two young men walked right into our yard, opened our back door, and proceeded to *try* to come into our house (presumably to steal stuff). However the back door leads into a laundry room where there is yet another door that leads into the rest of the house. Our two 20lb pups immediately took action—barking and barking and barking and barking. The two young men grabbed a couple of 2x4s from the laundry room (soon to be constructed into shelving for the new house) and tried to push our pups back with it, but the little 16 week old pups held fast.

Husband, who was still in bed, groggily thought they were making a commotion because I had come home, but he soon realized the commotion was coming from the back of the house, not the front. My tall, tattooed husband sprang out of bed, still in his boxers, walked into the kitchen where he saw the two 2x4s poking through the door, and slowly walked toward the door. He then yanked the door open and yelled, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE.”

The two young boys bolted. Husband had clearly startled the shit out of them. They were probably expecting an empty house since my car had pulled out of the driveway only moments earlier. Husband said they couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18… 20 tops, but more than likely they were just teenagers.

He called the police, filed a report—feeling kind of shitty having to give the description “two young black males”—and we let all of our surrounding neighbors know what had happened.

Two things:

1. When Husband asked the officer what he recommended we do to increase our security, the OPD officer said “Well, we’re really not supposed to say this, but you should probably just get a gun.”

My husband and I are staunchly anti-gun. No thank you.

2. Upon talking to our neighbors we found out that everyone was stunned that someone had bought the house. It’s recent history was well-known, and furthermore, break-ins had been common in the area since around 2009/2010. (Gee, I wonder why…?) #economicmeltdown

So that was great to hear.

My hood again. Isn’t it cute?

Anyways, this happened when we first moved in and it’s been almost 2 years since without any issues except for the time one of our dogs got out, and the current issue of some decent-looking, yet insane, middle-aged man following my husband and I around just to harass us.

*Long story short: This man almost plowed into my mother-in-law’s car while she was taking us to the airport two weeks ago—he did not obey a stop sign and she was making a left turn. Husband gave him the middle finger. The guy ended up following us to the airport just to get out of his car and yell, “YOU GOT SOMETHING YOU WANNA SAY?!,” and try to take our picture. We got a picture of his license plate. Almost two weeks later this man somehow followed us to our HOUSE. As I was bringing in groceries, he stopped right in front of our house, made eye contact with Husband, then drove away. I called the police.

The issue of one of our dogs getting out was also a major concern for me. You see, I’m from Venice. (CA) When I was a kid I learned to always keep the car doors locked while you were in it because of car-jackings, and to keep a close eye on your dogs and people walking through your neighborhood because of a rash of dog poisonings. People just throwing rat bait or some shit over fences to kill dogs, for no apparent reason. In Oakland, I get to add to this the concern that someone may try to poison my dogs for an actual reason—to be able to break into my house and steal stuff. Not to mention, there is also the added concern of people stealing dogs to either use them for fighting, or as bait dogs. (Also, one neighbor claimed to have seen an almost full package of hot dogs right next to my fence the day my dog had gotten out—and right next to where he would have gotten out—so naturally that made me sick with worry) So, with all of that said, I really really really really worry about the safety of my dogs while living in Oakland. This was a nonissue in my former home of San Diego. Ah, how I miss the SoCal beach life sometimes… But I digress.

And now, the reason I’m telling you all of this…

As previously mentioned, my husband and I are homeowners. We actually have the privilege of owning a little piece of land and an actual house. It’s our property, our investment. We look forward to putting money into it, increasing it’s market value, and being a positive contributor to the overall economic growth of our little community. But it’s hard to stick with it—to stay here—with this kind of shit happening. And quite frankly, it makes me want to sell the place so we can take our investment money elsewhere.

Just yesterday Husband was talking to our next door neighbor who takes his dogs to the same nearby park we often take our dogs to, a short walk away from where we live. Apparently Neighbor was up there the other night when a lovely older lady was having a nighttime stroll and said, “yeah… this park didn’t used to be so nice. I once found a dead body up here. It’s much safer and nicer now, though, of course.” Apparently just then a ghettobird promptly appeared, shining a spotlight down on a house near them, and over the loudspeaker Neighbor heard something to the effect of “COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP. WE’VE GOT YOU SURROUNDED.” Add to this the fact that, believe it or not, I have never had to call 911 in my entire life, until living in Oakland. In just under two years I have called 911 five or six times now.

And so I repeat:

How are we—and other young professionals, and DINKs, and young families, and other perfectly nice people who just want to own property and live a nice, quiet, happy, secure life—supposed to want to buy property in Oakland and stay here? How are we supposed to contribute to the prosperity of this city’s economy if we are subjected to this madness? I suppose the answer lies, of course, in the question itself. Some of us have to stay here in order for the city to ever see it’s economy and community prosper. We 25-45 year olds are an essential component to just such a place thriving. But dammit, Oakland, why you gotta make it so hard…?

“Let’s Go Oakland” ?

 

 

 

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HAWAI’I: An Exploration of Relationships, Cultural Dissonance, & Catharsis

Hawai’i

(pronounced ha-vai-ee)

Hawai'i ("The Big Island")

A beach on the “Big Island”
Original photo taken by yours truly

As some of you may or may not know, one month ago I had my wedding reception, followed by a week of work, then 16 days in this tropical paradise within the U.S. we call Hawaii.

A few interesting factoids about Hawaii:

  • It is the only state in the U.S. made up entirely of a chain of islands
  • It is one of only two states in the U.S. that do not observe daylight savings time
  • It was the last state to join the U.S. in 1959

A couple of particularly interesting facts about that last point (taken from wikipedia):

  • [One] factor against statehood was a strong possibility of a non-white senator and their opposition to Racial segregation.
  • In March 1959, Congress passed the Hawaii Admission Act and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law.
  • On June 27 of that year, a referendum asked residents of Hawaii to vote on the statehood bill. Hawaii voted 17 to 1 to accept. The choices were to accept the Act or to remain a territory, without the option of independence. The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization later removed Hawaii from theUnited Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

*bold and italics added by me for emphasis

For most of us here in the United States, we will learn about colonialism throughout primary and/or high school (i.e. K-12) as historical fact— something that happened in the past— which is, of course, true. However this does not preclude the possibility of extant colonialism. This does not mean that we live in a post-colonial world. Far from it. I believe Hawaii to be a demonstration of that fact. After all, one of the former Big Five powerhouses (what some would call the former oligarchy of Hawaii), Alexander & Baldwin,  still oversees sugar cultivation in Hawaii, is still one of the largest landowners in the state, and owns dozens of income properties in Hawaii as well as the mainland.

My husband and I spent the bulk of our honeymoon (13 days) on Hawaii’s “Big Island” (the island actually named “Hawaii”). It’s the largest and least touristy of all the islands, which can also mean a higher local to tourist ratio. It was so interesting to be in a U.S. state where English was not the dominant language. Over the loudspeaker in a grocery store I heard Hawaiian. Between vendors at the farmer’s market I heard Hawaiian. Walking down the street, (usually only between local adults but not so much with the children) I heard Hawaiian. We rented a car so as to be able to travel all around the island, and naturally, I wanted to listen to the local radio station instead of the ol’ regular pop/rock you hear everywhere else (“Hawaii’s native island music” as they announced on the radio) and guess what I heard….

That’s right! A lot of great music. But also— yes— many songs sung in Hawaiian. Even more interesting were the many songs I heard that sang of Hawaiian history: songs about King Kamehameha, Queen Liliuokalani, the history and tradition of respecting their land with the utmost reverence, and how they lost their right to the land due to the power and influence of the Big Five.

As one DJ said at the end of a certain song [of one of these historical ballads], “That was [musician’s name] with [song name] singing about King Kamehameha… and yes, as __________ said in that one right there, let us ‘never forget, never forget’…” While I did not encounter a single unfriendly person, local or otherwise,throughout my vacation, hearing this on the radio definitely gave me that unmistakeable feeling of being a tourist on foreign land, perhaps somewhere I wasn’t meant to be.

In addition to this contrasting language and music, there is also the overall difference of lifestyle, values, tradition, all that constitutes the very fabric of culture itself. People there will call friends (or even customers…?! I observed this in a radio shack store between a salesperson and very elderly customer) “uncle” or “aunt/auntie” as a term of endearment. (Which is also, oddly, much like Spain where people call one another “tia” or “tio,” Spanish for aunt and uncle, respectively)

Hitchhikers also abound on the Big Island. When my mom first told me that she picks them up once in a while (she has what I call a “hippie shack” over there- solar powered, no plumbing, grows a lot of her own food) I flipped out, naturally. She said, “Oh but everybody does it. Everybody hitchhikes, and everybody gives them rides. It’s fine. Besides, I always have them sit in the bed of the truck back there.” Needless to say, this did not assuage me. I told her to knock it off and that if she’s going to do that she had better at least have some pepper spray or mace on her. She gave me the “ok, but sheesh you really just don’t get it” look and that was it. Well by the end of our 13 days there, seeing hitchhikers almost on the daily (and quite frankly, yeah, they all looked harmless) I got it.

It’s about community and trust.

I thought about reading the U.S. Constitution side by side with a Native American tribe’s constitution for a class at Berkeley (sorry, I can’t remember which tribe, it was 4 years ago). The stark difference between the two, other than the central issue of property, was trust. Ours was based on an implicit lack of it, while the Native Americans’ was based on an implicit understanding of it. Hawaiians, I believe, are culturally operating on a similar level: everybody hitchhiked, and everybody picked up hitchhikers, because their culture is one of trust, and let’s not also forget, one of respecting the land and only using what is necessary, thereby making hitchhiking actually quite conducive to environmental values as well.

Such thoughts would, on occasion, bring me back to why I was there in the first place.

I was on my honeymoon.

I had never been on a trip outside of 4 days tops, in Las Vegas, with my now husband. We were now on an island, with just each other, for 16 days straight. Of course it was fun and amazing and all of that, but it was also a learning experience (and not just sociologically speaking). It was like an exercise in team-building. And having to really, really, confront where you may be falling short on this team, then figuring out why, and then figuring out how to go about fixing it. An implicit understanding of trust is an important thing, both socially and personally.

Even more important is knowing when and how to trust yourself.

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