“I hope we maintain this, I hope there continues to be love for folks born and raised in Oakland and I hope there still continues to be open space for the working class, for the immigrants. Cause I feel like in so many ways, that’s what makes Oakland Beautiful it’s our culture. And I would hate for that to be seen and then for that to be forgotten.”
Your name and age?
Vay Miko Huang, 35.
What neighborhood would you say you’re from or would you associate home with?
I lived in a various parts in East Oakland. I was actually born in the former Ba Le Bahn Mi which is on East 15th and international before they moved. So there was a little shack and that was there. we lived there and then we lived by Bella Vista and we lived in an old Oakland area right next to the bridge. And then otherwise we just kind of been in east Oakland. Um, but yeah, we moved a lot. Apartments, homes.
What was it like growing up in Oakland, what are your some of your memories that stand out or what did the city feel like at that time?
It felt like home. I didn’t really have much comparison. I feel like it was some of my bigger memories are like playing with my friends outside. I think when I was living closer to Garfield on a Roosevelt, I remember walking home one day with my friends, we were staggered, and then I turned around because I thought one of my homeys were behind me and then there was some random tall southeast Asian dude and I was like, “Oh shit, what the fuck?” And then he’s l Hey, what’s up? And he just snatched my gold necklace and bounced. And then a week later I was like, you know, I was hella scared to tell my parents and shit. I’m starting up at this like baseball league for like teenagers or young folks that one of my friends was in and Lo and behold, I saw him there, he’s one of the older folks doing things and I told my friend “Hey yo he stole my necklace” and it was kind of like “and?” because I was a little scrawny dude, I ain’t doing shit, so it was like, fuck. But I remember my neighbors, I always had hood neighbors, they would always be like playing hella music. I remember, I swear they were gang bangers when I was living down by the Garfield, but then they were cool. They were cool with me. Some of them were my age, we used to always like play tackle football on the grass at Garfield, I remember they had boxing gloves and so I was like “Hey, let’s box”. We just have fun, you know, just being teenagers. I remember growing up, it was like a lot of Black and Brown folks, a lot of Southeast Asian folks. Some of my best friends, where are folks of color and so I didn’t really realize outside things until I left Oakland. He went to school in Santa Cruz and I was like, Oh shit not everywhere is like Oakland.
Do you know when your family came to Oakland and what was the reason?
My parents they were originally born in Vietnam. They’re of the diaspora of the Chinese, Vietnamese Ilan Walk you. Their parents left China because of the war, it was more likely because Japan was invading China and so a lot of people fled. And so they found a home in Vietnam after the Vietnam war they were kind of like kicking out folks who weren’t Chinese. The rest of my mom’s siblings, they went back to China and then my parents they met each other there and gave birth to like three of my siblings. Then they decided to flee, so they left by small ass boat, you know, kind of that refugee story. Eventually they were found and then they were like stuck in refugee camps in Hong Kong. They stayed there a year before they had refugee status and came to the states and there they were in like Rancho Cordova for a little while. They had family that was in Sacramento, but they are family in Oakland. So soon after that they moved to Oakland. I like to think I was the, oops, happy baby. Cause of such a huge age gap. And so I was born in Oakland. They came around 82. I was born in 83.
What does it mean to you to be an Oakland native?
I don’t know. I feel like Oakland is a beautiful place and it’s so unique that it raises a certain type of person. When we leave Oakland, people say oh you don’t sound Asian, you don’t sound x, y and Z. There’s something about the just the intermingling and the mixing of our culture that you kind of get a blend of a little bit of everything. The Town goes from the West, it goes from the thirties, fifties all the way to the East and that goes all the way up to the one hundred and fifties, it goes from the water all the way up to the hills. And so you have a huge set of diversity in Oakland. But I feel like growing up in Oakland, for me, the immigrant experience living in The Dubs, I learned how to be resilient. I learned how to really take in my culture. There’s a lot of homies that grew up that didn’t make it and that are just kind of doing the same thing, just hustling, you know, a few of those left and gone to college and got a good education and never came back and others are back. I think for me, Oakland has taught me so much in being resilient, being community oriented. I do think to a lot of the community organizations that helped to develop me and develop that community mindset. For me it was natural after college to come back and kind of give back to this community that gave me so much.
What do you think makes Oakland, especially in comparison to other cities of similar stature, size and history?
I think kind of just what I was saying earlier, just like the vastness of it and the diversity of it. You kinda have to stereotypical like who’s in the hills and who’s in the East and who was in the West. We have so many different areas of culture, we got the Fruitvale but it’s not just in the Fruitvale but there’s a concentration in the Fruitvale, there’s Chinatown, and now there’s kind of a new Chinatown by the lake area, then you have Temescal. Each one of those have more so historically certain types of population. And I feel like having them all together and having them kind of intermingle and mix, you get the specialness of it. And it’s when these communities, these diverse folks would blend and blend well, it really kind of mixed a culture where it’s rich and vibrant.
What do you think the values of Oakland would be, if you had to give a couple, three or four different values, what values do you think Oakland embodies?
I think culture is a big one just because of the different communities and in the last few years I started learning there’s constantly new immigrants too and those new immigrants from all over the place. They bring a lot of value and given Oakland’s diversity we take it in, we’re used to it. We know it, there’s ability for them to thrive because we were open to so many different things. So I feel like culture and it’s a working class like city, you do have your affluent folks most likely in the hills, but for the most part, Oakland folks they’re working and they’re grinding. I think having that cultural aspect too, we come from backgrounds of community and so oftentimes my neighbors never really looked like us, the language isn’t always like the same, but we always shared, we always looked out for each other, we shared food, we invited folks to things. Just certain little ways of showing camaraderie and of community in that sense. I think that’s what really kind of makes Oakland thrive. Yeah. And we are resilient, we’ve gone through so much, we have black panthers, we have constant movements and I just think that’s part of being in the bay area, just feeding off the other energies and fueling the energy, we’re a hub of resiliency and trying to fight, you know?
What do you think the reason is that everybody’s moving to Oakland now?
Uh, I mean, just all the fads, you know cultures hip, it’s kinda like the whole idea behind gentrification right? It’s becoming a cool and trendy thing and people want to come here. For me and a lot of Oaklanders we’ve always seen the beauty. We know, it’s amazing, but then we also carry that stigma of violence and murders and whatnot too. I think people are also recognizing the value of our culture and the beauty of it. Not to mention that we have fucking amazing food because of that. The weather is fucking amazing all the time. So I think people are starting to recognize that and see that. I think sometimes people when they come in and move in they complain about the violence, you know, yeah, it’s cool and trendy here and this is our home but then that doesn’t mean like shit has changed. People are still kind of disenfranchised. They still are struggling to make it make ends meet. Growing up for me the race dynamics have always been here. Folks are struggling, some folks are drug dealing , like the local drug dealer here. I went to elementary school with them, you know, I still say what’s up to him, you know? I know they’re hustling and so that’s a part of it too. I think why people are coming in as this because they’re recognizing the beauties of Oakland. In addition, I feel like the city’s making efforts to kind of beautify it. And unfortunately with that beautification comes like, oh, it’s beautiful. We can move in there. So people are starting to notice and just coming for that but then forgetting that we have rich histories and with the constant influx of folks moving in, it’s increasing rent costs and lip costs of living. It’s making it harder for folks who’ve been here who make Oakland amazing, and the beautiful the way it is. It’s making it harder for them to be able to sustain. Being at Aypal, I remember so many youth in the high school program, during the years talked about leaving, so many folks leaving to Modesto and Stockton because they can’t afford Oakland anymore.
What do you wish people knew about open before they came here? Or what would you tell your new neighbors of the guidelines to be a good member of Oaklands community?
You just got to stop and listen. I feel like you got to observe, people have their own conception is when they come in, they have their own expectations and they want to kind of dictate things the way they seem fit. But a thing is like, you know, this is a very dynamic community and culture that’s been here and it’s working. Before you call the police, because you hear a noise, before you complain about certain things, before you feel hella fucking entitled and Shit. You got to really stop, listen and hear some stories behind everything. There’s a lot of beauty, I think you got to stop and really observe that beauty before you start critiquing it and try to change it to how you see fit.
I think you might’ve touched on this a little bit, but if you want to expand on it, what do you not like about the current changes occurring in Oakland?
I think gentrification, it’s kind of like one of those things, we all want beautiful things. We all want our communities to look beautiful and nice and I feel like slowly it’s happening, but it’s happening in certain areas and only certain areas. And with that I feel like why can’t we have nice things and keep it? I understand we’re constantly changing and developing but we gotta support the folks that are here. So what I don’t like is gentrification and what I don’t like is the influx of new folks raising the rent costs and making it unsustainable and an unattainable for folks who’ve been here forever and to the immigrant community and cultural community. It’s a beautiful hub for us, for them, and I think there could be certain actions to maintain that and retain that culture. I think there’s a beauty in that mixing, in serving and respecting each of the set of cultures. I think the city and developers can be intentional about that and in creating space for that and getting their voice in it.
What do you like about the changes happening in Oakland?
My parents are in East Oakland and this is pretty much where I was born and raised. Right now I’m living by the lake and you knows nice now. I remember we used to have festival by the lake way back in the day and I went to a few times before it got shut down because every year there was a stabbing or a shooting. I feel like I’m looking at the lake now and it’s changed so much. I love the fact that the roads are paved. I can run peacefully, I could bike peacefully now. It’s nice having nice things. It’s nice having like roads that work, nice having spaces in which we can hang out at all times kind of times. I like those efforts. I just wish I was able to enjoy it more with my community, the folks who’ve been here. But every year I feel like I’m seeing a different set of faces. Whenever I tell folks I’m from Oakland and born in Oakland people are surprised and I don’t like that. I would love to continue to hear like, yeah I’m from Oakland to, what neighborhood are you from, what school you went to?
What are your hopes for Oakland moving forward?
I hope we maintain this, I hope there continues to be love for folks born and raised in Oakland and I hope there still continues to be open space for the working class, for the immigrants. Cause I feel like in so many ways, that’s what makes Oakland Beautiful it’s our culture. And I would hate for that to be seen and then for that to be forgotten.