VINCENT CORTEZ

“I know that my grandfather, when my father, the oldest of, I think five total was born, they were still living in West Oakland on the rail yard. So for the first year of his life, my father lived in this little shack on the southern Pacific railroad yard. My grandfather was just saving up and then when he finally had enough to put a down payment on a house and that’s what they did.”

 

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What is your name and age?

My name is Vincent Cortez and I am 34 years old.

What neighborhood of Oakland would you say you grew up in or or associate with home?

I always tell people when I meet them and they asked where I’m from, that I’m from Fruitvale, then I say I’m from Oakland. I think I break it down that way just because I think Fruitvale has been home pretty much all my life and I think it’s a nice slice of Oakland. It’s a nice representation of Oakland.

What was it like growing up from your street or neighborhood, share some memories about maybe about the house here that you live in now, that you grew up in?

Yeah, I think growing up in my neighborhood growing up here in East Oakland, it was an adventure. It was fun. I mean, I do recall spending lots of time outside with my brother, with our cousins, with our friends and neighborhood kids, doing all sorts of stuff, playing games, exploring, pretending, just running around having a good time. Not necessarily getting wrapped up in anything negative because I think there was a lot of negativity around us but I think when we got together and we played and we imagine things, Oakland and Fruitvale specific, it was just a nice platform for us to kind of do that on. I think it really influenced me as an artist, as a filmmaker, as a storyteller, you know, playing with different kids and getting their experiences and just sort of soaking that in and sharing my experiences. Like I think a lot of the seeds of storytelling for me were planted in this neighborhood running around playing.

When did your family come to Oakland and why?

My family, both my mother and father’s side came around the 50s. My Father’s side came a little earlier, my Mother’s side came a little later, but you know, they kind of had that conventional immigrant story of just wanting a better life, better future for their next generation, their children, they came ready to work, they came ready to contribute. They worked themselves as much as they could to sort of afford the best things that they could for their children. That’s their story in a nutshell, that’s their story of being here and trying to get just a little sliver of the American dream.

When did they buy their house?

I think, I would say that my grandparents purchased their homes probably in the early sixties, if not the late fifties. I know that my grandfather, when my father, the oldest of, I think five total was born, they were still living in West Oakland on the rail yard. So for the first year of his life, my father lived in this little shack on the southern Pacific railroad yard. My grandfather was just saving up and then when he finally had enough to put a down payment on a house and that’s what they did. My mother’s side they came here and they lived in West Oakland for some time until they moved to Fruitvale and they were able to purchase a home.

What does it mean for you to be born and raised in Oakland?

I’m proud to be an Oakland native.  I think it means a lot for me personally and on various levels.  I think as the most fundamental level as just an individual, I think Oakland has always been an evolutionary and revolutionary place and that has inspired me personally. But I also think that Oakland has always been like the underdog. It always felt like we were that one of the last places to get settled and it was something about folks coming from different parts of the country where they may have been systematically mistreated and sort of fleeing to Oakland in the same respect. You had immigrants, to use the example of my grandparents coming from Mexico, settling in the bay area because it was a little different than everywhere else. So Oakland just had this thing that drew people towards it. Like I said, people have always looked at Oakland as an underdog, you could look at all of our sports teams. I think the raiders had a pretty big role in defining this vibe of  they could do stuff, but people hated them anyway, people wanted them to lose. To me that really is definitive of how people view Oakland. Cause a lot of the times what gets viewed and said about Oakland is, oh, it’s dangerous don’t go there. I don’t know how many people I’ve met that when I tell them that I’m from Oakland though, they’ll say, oh wow, that must be rough. It’s not rough. It it has, it’s good, it’s bad, it’s ugly, but it has it’s beautiful, right and it has its triumphs. I’ve always been motivated by that, by being from Oakland and all this rich cultural fabric. All these stories, not just Latino and African American, but you’ve got Asian stories, you’ve got all these various stories that all kind of meld and find their way together in Oakland. And I’ve always appreciated that.

I feel like you just touched on what makes Oakland a special city in comparison to other cities. Which was my next question, you want to add anything to that?

I’m trying to think what I would add to that.  I’ve done a little bit of traveling around,  not too far myself, but I mean every time I meet folks that are from the east coast, they were born and raised in Say New York or Baltimore or something. There’s always this, these interesting conversations that we ended up having about where we find our similarities. But I think there’s just always something that stands out a little more to me about Oakland and  the vibe of Oakland. It’s not as old as some of these east coast cities of course, but it has like an energy that’s hard for folks to sort of put their finger on and define. But it’s something that you really feel when you’re here more than anything else. I’m trying to think what else I would say makes Oakland unique, but I think I’ll kind of keep it at that.

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What do you think it makes people so eager to move here now?

I think a lot of people want to come to Oakland honestly right now because of two main things. I think the first thing is that it’s not as expensive as San Francisco and there’s a lot of people that want the San Francisco vibe that are like, oh, but I could afford to live in Oakland. I think that’s one of them. But the other thing is just this idea, I do think people feel that energy that I’ve talked about this energy that I’d feel defines Oakland. That’s not something you could always just quantify. I think people feel that and they liked that and that they want to come here because it’s very real. It’s not BS this is what Oakland is,  love it or hate it, but this is what it’s going to be. I think there are a lot of amazing arts , music and these various scenes that people have grown up in or people are contributing to that were from here. People see those types of things and they want to be a part of it.

What do you wish people understood about Oakland before they came here? Or what would you tell your new neighbors would be the good guidelines to being a good Oakland neighbor?

I think what I would tell people that are coming here that want to set up roots here themselves for their own next generation or they just want to be here for a little while. I would just tell them that to learn the history of this place. Learn the history of Oakland, learn about who inhabits Oakland, learn about the cultures that are here. Their stories.  you have to immerse yourself in and you have to respect the stories here. Because I know, at least for me, growing up it was very brown and black and that was the Oakland that I knew versus my mother and father. When they first came here. It wasn’t that way yet. There was less diversity when they came and then more Brown and Black people were moving in, the more other people were moving out. So they’ve actually seen it change and I think now it’s my generation’s turn to sort of see some change. But what I’m hoping can be preserved is this spirit of just being authentic. The art, the music, just the culture in general, that’s something, and I have children that are growing up here where I grew up and so I want them to be aware of that these are really the things that make Oakland special. Fruitvale specifically. I would also tell people, don’t just learn about these stories, connect with those people that are telling those stories. Because I think that’s another thing, don’t just pass up and down the street and pass a first generation immigrant, pass all these different people that you may not have a connection to that you may not share any real history with. It doesn’t mean that you can’t create a bond with these folks and show them that they have something to contribute and share what you have to contribute with them.  I think that’s really important.

What do you not like about the changes currently happening?

I think, um, I, I do what I think what bums me out the most about the changes happening in Oakland is that there are a lot of people having to leave Oakland, that have called Oakland home, that have grown up here. I’m seeing people having to move away,  an hour north, an hour south or something like that, from not being able to actually afford living here. Maybe their parents might’ve rented and they grew up in the same spot and they could just no longer afford because the rent’s gone up. Seeing those faces disappear I think is painful. Seeing some of the infrastructure changes where they’re saying lwe’re going to build a rail line, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do these things. They’re really changing the landscape of Fruitvale specifically. I don’t like that. I feel like maybe some of that is just my own personal nostalgia, my own biases of wanting to sort of see the place like I remember it. I think if it can help people working people, then build the rail line, do whatever you gotta do. But I certainly miss this kind of nostalgic view of where I grew up. I think those cosmetic changes, their secondary to like losing the faces and the voices that were always here.

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What are you happy about that as far as new changes in the city?

I think when it comes to new changes and things that I could say I feel more positive towards. I think it’s definitely this idea that if more money comes into the educational systems that we have for our youth here that would be incredible. Getting young folks from Oakland this opportunity to connect with technology and learn to manipulate technology and created and built it and not just use it as a consumer. If there’s room for stuff like that,  that excites me because I would love for the youth as they become the leaders of tomorrow to be in a position where they’re not allowing other people to tell their stories, that they’re actually able to tell the stories themselves. Or they’re able to create the tools that other people throughout other parts of the country or the world. So that excites me about changes and I am open to newcomers to Oakland,  folks that are just coming into the area. I’m certainly open to what they have to offer Oakland, what they have to contribute and not just what they want to take from Oakland, right. Not just insulating themselves from Oakland. I’m definitely open to that. I try to be an open minded individual. I feel like if the respect for Oakland is there and the respect for the people is there, then I don’t doubt that Oakland can’t continue to be Oakland.

What are your hopes for Oakland moving forward?

I hope moving forward that Oakland continues to drive it’s own story and define who we are. I think that, especially myself as a filmmaker, seeing folks like Ryan coogler and Boots Riley, Daveed Diggs, all these folks that are making films in Oakland that are Oakland stories. Even having a major marvel movie with Oakland even being said, I think was pretty awesome. Let alone being such an important backdrop in the movie of Black Panther. I think that’s incredible. Who would have imagined in the 90s when I was a kid growing up, I would never imagined A young black dude from Oakland’s going to get nominated for an Oscar for directing such a film. You know what I’m saying? Like, that just wasn’t really a reality. So I feel like my hopes are that Oaklands people in general, Oakland artists, Oakland musicians, writers, whomever, I just feel like my hopes are that these people from Oakland continued to be inspired by Oakland and continue to  try to tell their stories because there’s no doubt that they’re being influenced and inspired by the same things that I’m influenced and inspired by.  And I try to do the same thing with all the projects that I jump into.

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