These days we hear the word “multicultural” scattered throughout in just about every situation. Growing up in Oakland in the 50s and 60s, I was a part of a multicultural experience long before I knew what that way or the word was coined. I spent a great part of my childhood on 24th Avenue between East 26th and East 25th Streets. Our street and the surrounding streets, East 27th, Grande Vista Avenue, 23rd Avenue, 25th and 26th Avenues had an interesting cast of characters.
My playmates in the neighborhood and schoolmates at Manzanita Elementary School were of all ethnicities and hues. My best friend, Jennifer Jones, as I, are black, or as we were called then, Negroes. I liked going over to Jennifer’s house because her parents were from New Orleans and there was always something good cooking like gumbo and seafood. I ate freshly made tortillas at Celia Flores’ house and greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread at our babysitter’s Mrs. Fefe’s house, who was from Arkansas as was my family. She cooked hot meal midday because her house, who was from Louisiana, went to work in the afternoon on the swing shift. I counted as my playmates, Steven Fong, whose father owned a grocery story down on 23rd Avenue and the Nelson Family which included four blonde girls. Their parents rode motorcycles and had a German Shepherd name Duke; they were so cool. The Millet family, friends of my parents, were also New Orleans transplants. I remember Lisa’s grandmother scolding us in her Creole accent when were trampled in and out of the house during the summer.
Basically, our neighborhood was comprised of young families who were hard working and raising their families. Our neighbors worked at the Naval and Army supply bases, the post office, factories and taught school as my mother did. Fathers and some mothers went to work everyday. On weekends, cars were washed in driveways, lawns cut and leaves raked by parents and kids (it was one of our weekly chores). We played Hide-and-Seek, Mother May I? skated, and rode bikes up and down the street on summer nights until the street lights came on. In telling someone about my childhood neighborhood, it was suggested that I am painting a Leave it to Beaver picture existence and that everyone living in Oakland at that time did not have the same experience. I had to think on that. As an adult and speaking with others who grew up in Oakland, I realize that some families struggled, had intense hardship, experienced discrimination and racism and the children were exposed to these experiences. In that respect, I am truly blessed that I had what I did. There are all kinds of stories. This is my story.