“Oakland has always been a place for original thinkers. I definitely feel lucky to have come up in it and to have been able to soak up all that inspiration from the streets and from music, from everything. But to me being an Oakland Native is loving this town, understanding this town from how grimy it is to how beautiful it is, accepting Oakland for who she is and even who she’s becoming.”
Your name and age.
My name is Salvador Chamuco Cortez. I am 37 years old, born and raised right here on Mitchell street and the “murder dubs”, but it was called the “twamps” when I was a little boy.
Hahaha you just answered my next question, what neighborhood of Oakland are you from or do would you say you grew up in?
I still call it twice. I got it tatted, I dunno, but everybody knows it as the dubs now or murder dubs, I still say twamps.
When did your family come to Oakland and what was the reason?
My family came here, on my dad’s side, I think they came here in the late forties. And on my mom’s side, I think they came here like in the 60s, but it was all for work. Both of my grandparents were tradesmen. On my dad’s side my grandpa Anastasio worked on the railroads and on my mom’s side, my grandpa Fidel was a laborer. I think over 50 something years he’s been the Labor, which is hard work and a lot of opportunity. So they came here. I think my mom before she moved over here, they were actually in closer to the original body of Oakland in West Oakland when she first came here. And then they moved over here and when my grandpa could afford to buy a house, my dad’s dad, was it Union or Southern Pacific actually wrote him a note so that he could buy a house over there near Highland hospital on 18th and he after the railroad worked I think at a cannery, and a warehouse after he bounced off of there.
What was it like growing up on your street and neighborhood or in your home? Can you give us some memories that stand out?
I definitely am lucky cause my parents were very supportive and nurturing creatively. I would definitely say this neighborhood and the early nineties even mid nineties was pretty wild. By the time we were in high school I feel like we had already lost like two neighborhood kids to gang violence and a lot of mainy stuff, there used to be projects halfway down the street. So it was kind of a trip too. Cause when I was a little boy, this neighborhood was like half black, half Latino, maybe a little Chinese. And now it’s just not, there’s still African American families that live on the street, but not as many as there used to be, which is kind of kind of sad, you know? Definitely. You see the neighborhood changing. You know, some people feel like it’s for the better, but I still feel like I miss the old shit. Like it was lightweight traumatic, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Cause your environment creates who you are and the things that you go through shape who you will be in the future.
What does it mean to you or what does it mean for you to be born and raised in Oakland and be an Oakland Native?
Oh Man. To be Oakland Native? I really feel like the time that I came up in, I feel very grateful because it was very diverse and it’s like we broke bread with everybody, I feel like we were very diverse. Even my friends were from all walks of life, all different cultures, you know. And it was really cool growing up like that. Cause I feel like there’s so much inspiration with a lot of the subcultures here and even like graffiti, punk rock, all those kinds of things, trend setters. Oakland has always been a place for original thinkers. I definitely feel lucky to have come up in it and to have been able to soak up all that inspiration from the streets and from music, from everything. But to me being an Oakland Native is loving this town, understanding this town from how grimy it is to how beautiful it is, accepting Oakland for who she is and even who she’s becoming.
I think he’s just kind of touch on it a little bit, but what do you think makes Oakland a special city in comparison to other cities of similar size a stature?
I really think that the communities that have made Oakland are what keep it so special and so unique and every community is a little bit different, but every community is kind of the same, you know? And like there’s a lot of people here who have each other’s backs and I’ve always liked that a lot. I know it is changing but I hope it keeps that part of its character.
What do you think is making people so eager to move here now?
Everybody just find out how cool Oakland is and the good food, amazing inspiration. it’s still a very real place and a lot of places like our spot, but even, you know, East Fourteenth, I’m sorry International, I’m always going to call it East 14, it’ s always going to be a very real place. It’s always going to be a hub with real people undergoing fucking some mainy ass times in their lives or victims of circumstantial violence or all that kind of shit. You see it all here and that’s kind of the amazing thing about that is everybody you pass walking down that street has an epic, a story just as epic as yours. And you just never know.
What do you, wish people knew about Oakland before they came here, or what would you tell your new neighbors are the guidelines to being a good Oaklander?
I really think that to be a good Oaklander you’ve really got to get out off your porch and meet your neighbors. No matter how spooked you are of them. Everybody’s just a normal person just like you. And I think understanding and becoming part of a community is way better than just staying inside. You know what I mean? And not walking around the neighborhood and not talking to your neighbors. That’s what made Oakland so strong. I feel like when we were a little kids that we knew everybody on our block, you know? And I think it’s important to do that. That’s how you build a good community and a good neighborhood. So that I would say is like on top of the list and it’s not as grimy anymore cause like weed’s legal now, so you know that one’s at the top.
I would say definitely the other thing is don’t judge, try to approach everything with empathy. And I feel like you’ll be able to, to understand where someone’s coming from when you don’t take things so personally and you don’t judge them because of what they look like or how they talk or the car they drive or the fact that they hang out in front of their house all day. You know, like that’s just how we grew up. You know, that’s just how it is in Oakland. You hang out on your block, you know?
What do you not like about the current changes going on in Oakland?
I’m not going to lie, I love buildings with character and I feel like I get bummed out seeing all these giant condos coming up and those old art deco buildings, those old twenties and fifties buildings are being removed from our landscape. But there’s something that I’ve always felt was beautiful about them. You know, oh shit, it’s really Oakland, you know? But I feel like you can’t really stop the wave. One day when I’m an old man, I probably won’t recognize a lot of Oakland, but I sure really love buildings with character. All those buildings on Fruitvale with the art deco molding, all those dope ass 50s style building, like Casper’s hot dogs. I loved walking by those when I was a kid and I feel like they’ve actually got me into liking architecture and stuff like that. But that’s what I’m the most bummed out to see as those buildings go little by little. I wish they were all historically protected.
Would do you like about the new changes that are happening?
I’ve always been a big fan of diversity and uh, I always liked not being able to not be so paranoid sometimes,but definitely I feel like it’s nowhere near as has crazy walking down the street now it’s not like walking down the street was 10 or 15 years ago. I remember when I was a little boy in Oakland seeing like a white girl on a bicycle was like seeing a unicorn. You just didn’t see that shit. And now I’ll go get something and people are jogging and I guess it’s just a sign of the times. You know, like when people run, I’m like, what’s going on? I’m like, Oh, they’re just jogging. (Laughing)
What are your hopes for Oakland moving forward as a city?
I really hope we’re able to move forward, become a better place and, and hold on to what made us unique in the first place I think would be a really good, my heart would be very happy with that.
Last thing since we were talking about buildings with character, the building that you live in now currently has a lot of character and history. You want to talk about that?
Oh yeah. That building’s been everything. It was like a brewery, it was a laundry facility, it was a speakeasy, Bruce Lee used to rented. There’s just so much energy at Amor Eterno, I love sharing it with people because people always trip out on it. It looks like a piece of like Europe or Mexico in the middle of the hood at the end of the tracks. So it’s Kinda like this shining diamond that I really appreciate and I’m grateful to have. And what we’ve done in the alley. People still dump and try to do shit in there, but like, I feel like we’ve changed it for the better. Like nobody goes down there and looking to thrash anymore and the prostitutes don’t go down there with John’s anymore. Now we’re happy to see kids walking through that alley and looking at the art and stuff like that. That’s hella cool to me. And that places is super inspiring. So we try to keep it that way and share it, which is meant with as many people as we can. You know?
If you could just talk a little bit more about the Bruce Lee history.
So this is like a secret history, but Jody, the neighbor that used to live across the street has a picture of Bruce Lee in the cottage downstairs in front of what used to be like an old wooden a bar. Basically, there was a bar downstairs in the cottage and it’s a picture of Bruce Lee chilling there. So I’ve tried to get it the photo three times from her and I just could never come through on it. But if I get that picture, I’m going to make a plaque or something cause that’s the total energy that I want put on the wall. Right, it’s really cool. I know it wasn’t his school or anything like that, but I know he used to rent it, probably for like parties or storage or to chill, I don’t know, whatever. However Bruce Lee got down here, you know, one can only imagine.