“I don’t like that there’s this kind of eraser of the culture now that people want to come live here. And it’s weird. It doesn’t make sense to me. They want to come here for the culture, but when they come here, they want to change the culture.”
What is your name and age?
Franklin Cartagena. I’m 34 years old.
What neighborhood of Oakland are you from or would you associate growing up with?
I grew up on 26th and Myrtle. It’s got a bunch of different names. People call it “the killers”, “two, six”, but I just call it 26th and Myrtle. I’m not with the shit like that. But yeah, West Oakland. I rep West Oakland for sure.
What was it like growing up on your street, in your neighborhood, or in your home? Give me some memories of that.
Oh man. So I moved to that neighborhood in the early nineties, and growing up it was fun. I remember having a lot of fun, and it was a little hard at first. I was the only brown kid in the neighborhood for a while. So, you know, I’d get kind of picked on, but it just didn’t really bother me. But then on my block on Myrtle Street, there was a crew of us. It was Frank, Brandon, me and my sister, Davion and…I forgot. Frank and Brandon had a little sister that would come out to, but it was like we were six deep. We’d always be out there playing kickball, playing baseball, or the kids from the other block would come and fuck with us. It was kind of like different blocks would have little rivalries with each other. But we were the youngest ones.
So I remember whenever the older kids would come by we’d be like, “Oh shit, here they come!” So we’d ride around or hide or go into the homie’s backyard and stuff. But yeah, I just remember it was just fun. But at the same time, the corner of 26th and the corner of 24th used to be hot. So we’d see hella shit happen on those corners. I mean not that it didn’t affect us. It didn’t affect us directly, but you know, being young and seeing wild shit, like I’m sure it affected you and your psyche. Certain times we weren’t allowed out or like it was getting too hot, we’d have to go back inside the house. You know, they’re used to be shootings a lot in that neighborhood, but it calmed down. It’s calmed down a lot now. Like it’s pretty chill.
So you guys were like the West Oakland little rascals?
Yeah, pretty much. Little rascals, but we were just on our block. Sometimes we’d go to the corner store or go around the corner to get burritos at the spot that was behind our house. That shit got knocked down and got turned into apartments now. We’d just be in the neighborhood, ride our bikes and everything. It was fun. I don’t have too many bad memories from the neighborhood. I just remember having a lot of fun growing up.
What stands out about the neighborhood that’s different from now? What do you remember as far as like the texture and feel of the neighborhood?
I remember more people being out. I remember folks of color being out. I remember saying hi to your neighbors, not that it was a tight-knit community, but I remember everybody knew each other and would say hi to each other. Like now, a lot of the newcomers, they’re just in their apartments then to their car and they’re gone. And like, you know, a lot of these folks built these big ass fences around their houses and stay indoors, don’t really speak to anybody. We’ve had neighbors called the cops on other folks that have been in the neighborhood for decades. It’s not as tight knit as I remember it being. Not that it was really tight knit, but at least there was communication, hellos and conversation. There isn’t that now.
When did your family come to Oakland and what was the reason for them?
So I was born in San Francisco and my parents had been in the US like a year and a half, two years prior to me being born. They were refugees and they had political asylum from El Salvador. They were involved out in El Salvador, and had to flee for their lives and they came out here and they organized and met organizing. So the first four or five years of my life we moved like every three to six months. I just remember being young, constantly moving from house to house to house. We lived in a couple of refugee homes, like fifteen, twenty Salvadorians in there, like a couple of families all living in a small house. We lived in Hunters Point, we lived in the Mission and we lived in Vis Valley. We lived also in Bayview, Hunters Point, but in multiple different apartments in the Bayview.
The Fillmore, I remember all that being young, and just always moving. And then finally in ‘89 after the earthquake, my dad’s father was like, “Yo, you got a family.” Basically he helped my dad buy a house right here in West Oakland on 26th and Filbert and it was like dirt cheap and the fucking ‘90s. That shit was dirt cheap. I don’t remember what he paid, but it was anywhere between 20 to 50. I don’t know. I don’t think it was more than fifty. And then my dad used that money to do a down payment and then worked on the house on his own. The houses we grew up in, all the work was done by my dad and we helped him because he’s always the type of guy that’s like, don’t pay for something that you can do yourself.
So we put up the walls, we put up the fucking plumbing, electrical, like the shit that he would pay for it would be like fucking roofing and fucking foundation work. But he basically bought rundown houses and worked on them. But it was a long process though. I remember living in the house for like a year and a half, two years. There were just holes in the ground and like no walls and stepping on nails and getting hurt and shit. It was an adventure. But yeah, it was like early nineties. I mean, uh, 1990, like a little after the earthquake. Eighty-nine earthquake. We moved to Oakland. Yeah. Cause after the earthquake we lived in Bayview and after that I remember, the earthquake, the house actually got crooked, it slanted and we couldn’t live there anymore.
So we moved to these apartments in the FIllmore and the Pan Handle. And then we were there for a couple of months and then after that is when we moved to Oakland. So that’s where we finally set roots.
And how old were you then?
Five. When we moved to West Oakland, I was five.
So what does it mean for you to be somebody who’s basically just raised in the town?
Man, pride. I take a lot of pride in the town, in the culture and the lifestyle. It’s just really different. Like the vibe is different out here. Even like, you know, San Francisco’s cool, but even just crossing that bridge to a whole different culture and lifestyle. I’m not knocking it, you know, I went to school out there too, so I get it. But the culture out here is cool. It’s hella the roots of social justice and the roots of music. The roots in my fucking partying, side shows. I remember being young goin’ to side shows, lovin’ that shit. But it’s just the way people move out here man. One thing I could tell you about people from Oakland is that they always give somebody the benefit of the doubt. Like they’re not just going to shut somebody out for being who they are. But, you know, like they’ll listen to what you have to say, but if they don’t fuck with what you have to say, then it’s like, I don’t fuck with you. And if they do, they’re like, I fuck with you! (laughs) So that’s why folks in Oakland keep it real. And I feel like a lot of that culture and a lot of that vibe has gotten really watered down lately because of so many transplants that come from out of state.
We’ll get to that. So saying all that about what’s great about Oakland, what do you think it is that makes Oakland? What’s the special sauce that makes Oakland different compared to other cities that are similar? Like we can say Detroit or Cincinnati or something like that. What makes Oakland special?
I think a lot of the stuff I mentioned. It’s a lot of the history. I feel like a lot of the history and all that. The diversity. It’s a really diverse city. Man, you can hear almost every language in the world out here. Like almost every cuisine in the world out here. Like it’s crazy. Like I said, I feel like a lot of the history is really embedded in what people become. I feel like people are hella open minded out here too. And that’s a lot that you don’t see in other cities. Even big cities and other states. There’s a lot of open mindedness out here. When people are open minded, you can grow or you’re more accepting of hella other shit, like cultures and lifestyles and stuff.
Why do you think everybody wants to move to Oakland now?
Man, it’s crazy. Because of that culture. I feel like people want to move out here for positive and negative reasons. I feel like it’s just folks looking for like, “Oh, I’ll be trendy and go live in somewhere that’s kinda dangerous and shit.” But it’s not, it’s not really dangerous. Um, yeah. And like the culture, the food scene. The main thing was the rent. Like it was cheaper out here, people were moving out here because it was cheap. Like, “Oh, it’s hella cheap!” You know, you could live in the hood but you’re going to be paying cheap ass rent and you know, obviously that fucking doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s fucking expensive out here. But I feel like a lot of the lifestyle that we have out here, people really like that. Like I said, that open mindedness. It’s like you can be a fucking weirdo out here and people ain’t really going to trip off you. Like, “Oh, do you!” You know what I’m saying? But with that, like I was saying, with a lot of that shit, came a lot of the people moving in here, now they’re kind of watering down the culture and trying to add their own twist to it and people get lost in it. You have especially a lot of SoCal influence out here and a lot of who’s come up here with their SoCal politics and shit. And it’s like, nah bro that’s not how we roll out here.
It’s different out here. And especially with a lot of social justice and organizing movements. I’ve seen it firsthand. Not that I’m like a social justice warrior or an organizer, but I’ve seen in that scene fools from out of state or out of the Bay Area trying to push their agendas and not even building with the communities out here. It’s weird. You see that everywhere. You see the gentrification. In the social justice scene you see that shit too. You see gentrification in the neighborhoods. You see it in the schools and it’s, it’s a trip. It’s a trip to see how shit’s changing. Does that answer your question?
What do you wish people knew before they came to the town or what would you say are the guidelines to being a good neighbor?
Man, respect where you’re at. First and foremost respect where you’re at… Acknowledge where you’re at, acknowledge the history, acknowledge the people. We’re not saying don’t move out here. If you move out here, just do that. Respect everybody, talk to people. Don’t move to a neighborhood and build a fucking barrier, like a fortress to keep people out. Make the locals feel like they’re some type of pariahs or some shit. Build with the people you live with. Build with the people in your neighborhood. Build those connections, those roots, those conversations. If you do that, keep it a hunnid with folks , people won’t fuck with you. They’re not going to be like, “Oh fuck you don’t live out here.” I encourage people to move to Oakland, but you got to add to the culture. Don’t take from, which is what a lot of people do. They come out here and they take from the culture, but they don’t add to it.
My next question is what do you not like about the current changes in Oakland? You kind of touched on it, but if you want to expand please do.
It’s sad to go to the neighborhood, seeing stores that aren’t there anymore, seeing houses that aren’t there anymore. A lot of friends moving out, a lot of people having to leave because they couldn’t buy a house or own shit. I feel like it’s bittersweet because they’re building shit up downtown. They built the lake up, they did hella shit, but they didn’t do it for the folks that were here. They did it for the people that are moving in here. They’re doing it for the techies that are moving in that are paying for all this shit. You know, they’re doing it for the folks that are calling the cops on us. So I don’t like that. I don’t like that there’s this kind of eraser of the culture now that people want to come live here. And it’s weird. It doesn’t make sense to me. They want to come here for the culture, but when they come here, they want to change the culture. And they don’t like it. It’s too loud or it’s too hyphy, or it’s too scary for them. I don’t like that shit. I don’t like that shit at all.
On the flip side of that, what do you like about things that are changing in Oakland?
Man, it’s, it’s nice to ride a bike on the street not get a fucking flat tire with the pothole, you know? It’s dope that they’re building shit up. Like I said, there’s a positive to that. Oakland is finally getting its respect. It’s long overdue. I feel like Oakland has always been overshadowed by the city and like people’s always dissing on Oakland and now that shit’s getting hella crazy over there, everybody’s like, “Oh shit. Oakland was better this whole time.” I’ve noticed that. I guess that’s cool. I feel like it’s bringing more attention. I feel like the music scene’s starting to pop off again, like in the ‘90s the music scene was popping out here, and I’ve seen with the new changes now, like the music scene is popping off again and it’s getting national light again.
The food scene out here is fucking pretty dope. It’s insane. I’ve gone to some of these little new restaurants like, “Damn, this shit is hella good, but fuck, I’m paying hella money for this!” (laughs) So I like that. I like some of that. But yeah, it’s, bittersweet.
What are your hopes and aspirations for Oakland moving forward?
I hope that a lot of the people that helped create Oakland or create the Oakland that people want to live in are able to stay here. I hope that there is more affordable homes, some more affordable housing out here for folks who need it. I really want this homelessness to be taken care of. Like that’s for sure number one because it’s crazy. Especially in West Oakland. Like you seeing all the homeless people over here in front of the shop, down the street and all that. It’s just all these homeless camps. It’s sad to see that man. Sad to see some of these folks that I would see on the porch now living in fucking tents and shit like just driving by. That’s one thing I want to see. I want to see somebody in office that’s actually for Oakland. That’s something I would want to see for Oakland.
What do you feel like the social values of Oakland are? As far as what would be the ethics of Oakland?
That’s a good question. Well, first and foremost, you got to just be straight up honest. You got to keep it real with folks. Keep it honest. Cause people out here they could see through the fake, and they don’t fuck with it. So I would say, not that that’s a social value, but like honesty is key. Honesty is key out here. You gotta be real with yourself. You gotta be real with people. You gotta be real with situations. And, you know, fucking fuck the police. That’s a social value out here. (laughs) And just look out for one another. Look out for your neighbor, man. I feel like it’s been getting kind of lost in translation, but I for sure remember the Oakland I grew up in like, who’s looking out for each other? I live on 37th now. I’m right here between Market and San Pablo. And I still have that. It still has that feeling that I had growin’ up on Myrtle, which I love. There’s little pockets of gentrification on the block, but there’s still a good chunk of original Oakland folks livin’ there. And it’s cool. They look out for each other. They’d be like, “Yo, I can come and check in on you.” Or like fucking one of the neighbors getting this surgery and his wife came out to let everybody know and everybody’s making sure he’s good and visiting.
It’s like everybody’s just like a tight knit family. I feel like that’s a good social value in Oakland. Like folks looking out for each other.
Two more questions. So I think one I want you talk a little bit about your pops and home ownership and just the value of home ownership. I will leave that open to you if you first want to talk about your dad and what you learned about it.
Yeah. It’s funny cause Pops is a smart dude. He’s a stubborn dude. Mean as hell growing up. We used to bicker back and forth with each other. So I was always like, “Nah, I’m not going to do what he says.” But going back now like fuck, I wish I can go back and learn a lot of the shit that he was trying to teach me.
He was a smart dude. Yeah, he bought the house on Filbert that I was telling you about earlier. Fucking dirt cheap, fucking remodeled it himself. And then once he remodeled it, it got appraised for more and he used that money to refinance it and bought another house where we grew up in, around the corner on Myrtle for also cheap. Same thing. We moved into it, worked on it ourselves. He had my sister and I doing hella fucking child labor and shit, fucking putting up sheet rock and stuff. And then same thing, refinanced our house to buy a fucking another house on that block. All this was like 90s and early 2000s. So he was always smart about buying property, working, spending little to no money on actually working on it by doing a lot of the labor yourself and then using that to use as leverage to buy more properties.
Which is something, in the community folks of color, we don’t get taught that. We don’t get taught financial responsibility and investments. I feel like that needs to be really taught in our communities. So folks can actually try to hold on and buy something. It’s hard now though, because the properties are expensive out here now. Property is expensive. My dad was a smart dude, he was a smart dude. He accomplished a lot with very little, you know what I’m saying? Doesn’t even have a high school diploma, like working where he’s a social worker. That’s something that’s really important. Yeah. It’s a long conversation! (laughs)
And then the last thing is, explain Hipster Killer.
(Laughs) So Hipster Killer is my Instagram name. In early 2000s when gentrification was starting to happen in West Oakland and I would start to see random white people in the neighborhood, like walking the dog. So me and my homies used to always fuck with them. I used to have a ‘72 station wagon, the Kingswood, I don’t know if you remember that. And then before that I used to have a fucking turf van, a Chevy g20 you know the vans with the raised roof in the bed in the back and all that. So we used to always mob deep in those cars and we’d see white folk in the neighborhood and just pull up on them like, “Oh, what’s up? Y’all lost? Y’all need some help?” We’d like fuck with them, pretend we were going to rob them and shit. Hop out on them, like we used to just always do that. And then it just came from there. Like you’re killing hipsters and shit like, fucking hipster killer. I mean, I’m not doing that anymore, but the name stuck so I just use it as my Instagram name and it just picked up so people call me Hipster Killer. Yeah. That’s fucked up. I used to do that, but it was fun. I’m not even gonna lie. We used to just roll up on them all the time, but now like fools don’t even get scared no more. (laughs) They just like walk around with their pit bulls. Now, I don’t know if you noticed, a lot of these gentrified have pit bulls and shit, jogging at night, in case something happens and the pit bull guards them and shit. But yeah, that’s where that name came from. Now, not that I condone any of that, but I was younger and stupid, fuckin hella angry that my neighborhood was changing, so I wanted to do something about it. It wasn’t the right thing to do. (laughs)