Articles By Edward Cervantes

Edward Cervantes

About Edward Cervantes
A native Angeleno and former New Yorker, Edward Cervantes is proud to now be a resident of Oakland, where he lives with his partner Jim and their three cats. He is a candidate for a master’s degree in public policy at Mills College. Fascinated by Oakland’s history, diversity, and geography, Edward looks forward to further exploring and writing about the city’s richness and complexity.

PHOTOS: Health of the Hood – Eastlake, Toxic & Under Construction

By Edward Cervantes

Lake Merritt has four main residential areas: the Lakeside Apartments District, in the area around Jackson and Madison Streets; Adams Point/Grand Lake, off Grand Avenue and behind the Grand Lake Theater; Haddon Hill/Cleveland Heights, off Lakeshore Avenue; and the area below 18th Street, on the southeast side of the Lake.

For my first ‘Health of the Hood’ piece, I wrote of 18th Street being a dividing line between a relatively affluent neighborhood and one that seems more depressed.

Since then, I’ve moved from the wealthier side, across the tracks.

Hidden behind the currently abandoned Kaiser Convention Center, the crumbly Oakland Unified School District headquarters, and in stark contrast to the luxurious condominiums at 1200 Lakeshore, blight is more common on this, the sometimes more odorous drain end of the Lake.

But it has been a focus of city funding and redevelopment efforts.  Along with the Lake Merritt BART Station Area Plan, work to open the Lake to the Estuary and Bay, and efforts to improve business opportunities along International Boulevard, Eastlake is also the site of the future Oakland Unified School District’s Downtown Educational Complex.

It’s also a space for toxic excavation and removal. Days after moving into the neighborhood, the Department of Toxic Substances Control sent a work notice informing us of the toxic removal that would begin on October 15, 2012.

For two months, I have been fascinated by the machinery and destruction. When home, I bring my camera out with me on every cigarette break so I can snap photos of the ongoing process.

 

 

‘Negroes With Guns:’ My Black Panther Reeducation

Increasing anger and frustration displayed on posters calling for “war on the OPD.” E. Cervantes, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Edward Cervantes

Recently, posters were plastered on an electrical box in front of the liquor store at 5th and Foothill that demanded “vengeance for Alan Blueford” and called for a “war on the OPD.” The sentiment struck me as a bit severe, frightening even. Regardless of what may have happened on May 6th, inciting further violence seemed counterproductive.  And vengeance isn’t justice.

Banner displayed at the October 12, 2012 celebration of Black Panther Party History Month at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Downtown Oakland. Howard Dykoff, Oakland Voices 2012.

The day after first seeing the poster, I attended a rally celebrating the 46th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party here in Oakland. As part of Black Panther Party History Month in October, former members of the controversial political organization gathered at Frank Ogawa Plaza for speeches, awards, and performances that highlighted the Panthers’ good work in this city and other communities around the country.

The event later moved down the street to Geoffrey’s Inner Circle for a meet and greet with influential early members and recognition of current volunteers who carry on the Panthers’ legacy of promoting economic and social justice.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the poster and I wondered if, with the passing of time, members of the Black Panther Party had changed their views on guns and violence.

I pulled up a picture of the poster on my phone and showed it to a former member, assuming he would tell me that the Black Panther Party wouldn’t condone violence these days. My ignorance of Panther politics must have been immediately apparent. He got silent, leaned back in his chair, and like a frustrated professor, sent me away to do further research. I was instructed to look into Robert F. Williams’ Negroes With Guns.  After that, I could contact him if I still had questions.

Leaning toward the more radical end of liberal politics, I’ve always assumed support for the Black Panthers. But in doing the suggested research, I realized that I had a one-dimensional understanding of the Party’s politics and ideology.  It could just be a blind spot in my knowledge. Or maybe it would have been different had I not grown up in a mostly-white suburb.

But I see it now: the Panthers have a complicated history that has been mischaracterized and unfairly stigmatized. “Black Panthers” for many conjures images of armed Black militants. At best, the Black Power Movement invokes Tommie Smith and John Carlos – the two Olympic medalists who were banned for life from the games after raising their fists during their medal ceremony in 1968.

I did not associate the Black Panthers with projects like the Lil’ Bobby Hutton Literacy Campaign.  Named after the Party’s first recruit – a 16-year old who was later shot to death by Oakland Police. The campaign is entirely volunteer-run and aims to cut Oakland’s high illiteracy rate.

Addressing #5 of the Ten Point Plan, the Lil’ Bobby Hutton Literacy Campaign is always in need of more volunteers. CCBBP 2012.

Coordinated by Eseibio Halliday and Melvin Dickson, the campaign struggles to secure grants for its work because funders are wary of its association with the Black Panthers.  But they do what they can, where they can.

Halliday, a young rapper who’s soft spoken in person, performed for the crowd at the Frank Ogawa Plaza rally. He was later recognized for his dedication to the 5th point of the Panthers’ Ten Point Program – quality, culturally-sensitive, historically-accurate education for the Black community and all oppressed people.

Dickson was an early member of the Panthers and long-time editor of The Commemorator - a publication of the Commemoration Committee for the Black Panther Party. He also ran the Party’s free breakfast program in Oakland during the 1970’s.

The Free Breakfast for School Children Program was perhaps the Panthers’ most successful and influential initiatives. But like the literacy campaign, their efforts to address hunger go largely unnoticed. Still, Auntie Francis, an early Panther and caterer for the event at Geoffrey’s, continues to fight hunger and runs the Love Mission Self-Help Hunger Program here in Oakland.

Francis has used her own resources to launch the program but is pleased with the way her neighborhood has started to rally around the effort. Neighbors offer a few dollars, donate a casserole, or share their time in order to feed the hungry in their own communities.

So what would the Panthers think about the call for “war on the OPD?”  The group’s original full name points to an answer: The Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

In Negroes with Guns, Robert F. Williams – who heavily influenced the Party’s founders – did not incite unnecessary violence. He believed that Black communities should protect themselves from violent racism “by any means necessary.”  In this vein, the Panthers organized “police patrols” to monitor OPD’s behavior in black neighborhoods. The model was replicated in cities and town around the US.

Today, mainstream media depicts a Panther demise into pimping, drug-dealing and gangbanging, but that history is questioned and should not remain as the Party’s legacy.  In 1968, the police were the soldiers of a racist system and acted with impunity. The Panthers offered black communities much-needed protection, and through good works like teaching and feeding children, empowered and mobilized people to stand up against racial violence and rampant police brutality.

It is easy for those of us who are not regularly harassed by the police to condemn the unattributed “War on the OPD” posters, but peace and non-violence don’t block batons or bullets.  Most of us would defend ourselves “by any means necessary.”

When asked if the Panther ideology had a role to play in 2012, Mr. Dickson immediately said, “it’s up to young people to create the change we need,” before going on to explain that it’s the responsibility of elders “to share the knowledge and experience they’ve gained.”

The poster’s smaller text reveals the desire to overcome racist obstacles, for “lives worth living.” E. Cervantes, Oakland Voices 2012.

The posters may seem extreme and out of line, but considering the OPD’s well-publicized use of excessive force, perhaps the anger is justified.

A closer look at the poster reveals a call for the creation of “beautiful, passionate lives” through support of friends and family. More than a call for war, it’s a call for community. “Look out for one another,” it goes on to read. Maybe the Panther spirit is alive and well in Oakland.

Click here for more pictures of the Black Panther Party’s 46th Anniversary event.

Oakland Pride: Did Family Focus Strip All the Gay Away?

Me and my fabulous friend Matthew, an Oakland native, upping the homo-factor at Gay Pride in New York City, 2002.

By Edward Cervantes

Oakland Pride was creeping up and I had no plans to attend.  Since coming out over a decade ago, I had been to 2 or 3 Gay Pride festivals every summer.  But this summer, for the first time in my adult life, I would not make it to a single Pride event.  The excitement I felt at my first, during the summer after my sopho

more year of college, was replaced with questions about Pride’s relevance.Wherever I was living and with whomever I was close to at the time, Pride plans were made far in advance.  Outfit, transportation, after party, and crash pad were all pre-arranged.  It was ritual – an opportunity to bond.

Pride never failed to make me feel connected to or proud to be part of the LGBT community.  I liked the outrageousness, the heightened sexuality, the humor, the drinking, the dancing, the debauchery, and most of all, the shameless expressions of self. For my first Pride, I fashioned a top out of a neon-yellow piece of fabric screen-printed with the word “HOMO” in bold caps.  People on the street laughed, took pictures, commented positively, or made rude remarks.  I overheard one gay man cattily say to a friend about me, “look at her, she thinks she’s so cute.”Then he came over to me and pointing at the four letters angled across my chest said, “that’s not OK, you should be ashamed.”

But I wasn’t ashamed.  That was the point.  I was a proud homo.  Gay.  Queer.  A fag.  Whatever it was called, I was proud.

I loved the attention and saw value in causing discomfort in others with flamboyant, over-the-top displays of homoness.  From then on, I did it as often as possible.  Lashes, tall mohawks, eye shadow, dangly 80’s earrings, manicured nails, shoulder-pads, leggings, heels, sashay: I sought to shock.  It was fun, but the goal of “queering spaces” with loud outfits and flaming behavior was to stretch the boundaries of acceptability.

Pride was when more of us felt comfortable taking our full gayness to the streets and has served a similar function: marching through the streets in our Sunday gayest made it easier to be our daily, ordinary gay selves at the office on Monday.

But every year, Pride gets less bold, less brazen.  And from attending the last two Oakland Prides, it seemed to me to be stripped of almost all overt gayness.  The Oakland Pride website boasts, “our family focused programming embraces a diverse community that has resulted in the most positive celebration.” Indeed, organizers succeeded in drawing a diverse group of celebrants to this year’s festival.

But it might as well have been Art and Soul Oakland.  Perhaps a merger should be considered.  To simplify, Pride could simply be a stage at Art and Soul – which would also serve to display our pride to a wider audience.  Our straight friends could see how proud we are to be gay.

Is increased mainstream support a sign of growing acceptance of LGBT community, or of LGBT community’s growing “acceptability?” E. Cervantes – Oakland Voices, 2012.

Reluctantly, I decided to attend Oakland’s pride festival for a third time. But this go round, I was on a information-gathering mission.  Were my worst fears true – were gays getting less openly, outrageously, fabulously gay?  Had the desire for mainstream acceptance and marriage rights made our community unrecognizably normal? Or was Oakland onto something new – was our city’s Pride festival a sign of an exciting “family focused” trend?

I asked Marsha Martin, director of Get Screened Oakland, an organization seeking to provide HIV testing to all residents, about the significance of Pride and she also pointed to the diversity and civic pride being displayed.  “Anytime you get people out in such large numbers, enjoying the sunlight and feeling good about themselves, you have a community that feels better about itself,” she explained.  “That’s what’s important.”

No visible skin or flamboyance in the crowd gathered last month at Oakland Pride’s Latino stage. E. Cervantes – Oakland Voices, 2012

Compared to the pride festival on the other side of the bay, what was different about Oakland Pride? “Less naked people,” said three 16-year-old friends almost in unison.

Already veterans of the pride circuit, Truman, Sue and Kerry were unchaperoned and looked forward “just to dancing and having a good time.”

Others also commented on the relative modesty of the event. Sabrina, 28, said she preferred Oakland Pride for that reason.

She explained that some of the behavior common at other pride festivals was partly to blame for discrimination against the LGBT community.  “Personally, I don’t want to see naked people, gay or not,” she said, “and just because we are gay doesn’t mean we are like that.”

Finally, somebody had put words to what I had been sensing at the festival and in the gay community more generally.

I can’t argue that Oakland Pride was a shining example of diversity. And I agree with Marsha Martin’s assessment that the time spent outdoors enjoying perfect weather and the overall positivity of the festival could only be good for Oakland.

But do we really want Pride to be about how “normal” and acceptable we could be?  Do we want what was first envisioned as a commemoration of the Stonewall riots – an uprising of “deviants” tired of police abuse and unwarranted arrest – to now be about showing the world that we can form families that look just like heterosexual families but with two mommies or two daddies instead?

Sordid kisses were just the tips of some twisted and depraved icebergs seen at the Provincetown, MA’s Pride Parade four years ago. E. Cervantes, 2008.

To me, Pride has always been a celebration of our status as sexual outsiders. By being outrageous, gender-fluid, kinky, and obscene, we hoped to change society and make it more accepting of gender and sexual variance – work that is far from over.  Now more than ever, we need to shock, disgust, inspire, and teach.  Including within our own community.

The LGBT rights movement is now equated with gay marriage, the ultimate goal being acceptance of our relationships as “normal.”  I fear that with each victory, the LGBT movement will loose a little more of its edge and increasingly turn against those that fall outside the new norm.

I wonder if those of us who aren’t normal, who don’t want relationships modeled on heterosexual ideals, and who have no interest in raising children will be left behind by the acceptable, almost-straight-except-for-their-private-bedroom-behavior gays.  If Gay Pride is for “acceptable,” family-focused gays, then perhaps it’s time for a new kind of pride parade.  A Freak Pride Parade?

I do agree with the LGBT movement’s message that nobody is defined by their sex lives. Being a freak is about much more than being gay. It’s about daring to be different, to live your own truth, to be bold and shameless, to be exactly who you are regardless of society’s ideas of appropriateness.

A freak prefers to be crass, to shock, to cause discomfort.

I know I’m not the only or the biggest freak in Oakland, so in the words of a freak from the 90’s, Adina Howard, let me put a call out to my fellow freaks:

Let me lay it on the line
I got a little freakiness inside
And you know that the man
Has got to deal with it
I don’t care what they say
I’m not about to pay nobody’s way
‘Cause it’s all about the dog in me
Mm-hmm.

 

Health of the Hood: 18th & Park/Haddon and Ivy Hills

Each of our correspondents took a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

By Edward Cervantes

Starting on Merritt Avenue and walking down the Cleveland Cascade to Lakeshore Avenue, I head south along Lake Merritt, where people walk, jog, and bike along designated paths at almost any hour of the day. Lakeshore Avenue curves alongside the eastern edge of the lake, and on the other side is lined with architecturally diverse apartment buildings with striking views of the sun setting behind Downtown Oakland.

Cleveland Heights. By Edward Cervantes, Oakland Voices 2012.

At 18th Street, I turn east, walking past busy tennis courts, the historic Merritt Bakery, and the large and always lively Lucky Supermarket. Half a block from Lakeshore, sunset views and the luxury of lakeside living give way to a more mixed-income area. The shell of the Parkway Theater is covered in graffiti – some pieces by local professional artists Ras Terms and Dead Eyes, others by amateur opportunists. The building towers empty over payday lenders, a laundromat, and the ubiquitous corner liquor store. 

Lakeshore Blvd. By Edward Cervantes, Oakland Voices 2012.

Proximity to the lake and the conveniences of the Lakeshore/Grand shopping district produce a competitive housing market and expensive rents. Gazing back at Lakeshore and all of the buildings in disrepair, there is a sense of fading elegance, of better times past. The once-glossy buildings do continue to offer a visual barrier from the more unpleasant realities beyond the Lakeshore façade.

 

For those of us who live on Haddon Hill, it is important to remember that the calm and conveniences we enjoy are not necessarily standard throughout all of East Oakland. I may describe the elegance on our hill as fading, but it is elegant nonetheless. The 12th Street project on the southern edge of the Lake and recent upgrades to the Cleveland Cascade will surely have positive effects on our neighborhood. Further comforts, however, should not come at the expense of safety or services for our neighbors to the south and east. Resources should not be funneled to maintain a façade, while the rest of the city suffers.

 

Notes on a neighborhood

  • The area east of Lake Merritt, south of the 580 freeway, north of 18th Street, and northwest of Park Boulevard is almost entirely residential though the style and size of homes varies significantly. Penthouse condominiums on Lakeshore Avenue can sell for millions of dollars while a 3-bedroom basement apartment near 18th Street can rent for $1,200.
  • The neighborhood is not on a grid and most streets are on steep inclines as the majority of residences are built on what is known as Haddon Hill. Lakeshore Avenue is well maintained and regularly street-swept along with other portions of the neighborhood that are on flat ground.
  • The streets in the target area are clean though 18th Street appears to be the dividing line between a relatively affluent area to the north known as Cleveland Heights and a neighborhood to the south that seems more depressed. Though just outside of the target area, 15th Street is regularly littered with shopping carts, old mattresses, torn and dirty armchairs, and other furniture no longer desired or left behind in a hasty move.
  • Trees abound in the neighborhood.
  • People are always exercising around the lake or up and down the Cleveland Cascade. Partly because of the steep streets, people come to this neighborhood to go for walks or to push themselves by sprinting uphill. The fitness seekers are racially and ethnically diverse but the neighborhood’s residents are predominantly white.
  • Most of the neighborhood feels safe to walk most of the time, though I would be more likely to hesitate near 18th Street and the intersection with Park Blvd. The area around Smith Park also feels less safe, particularly at night when the back of the park seems to be dark with potential blind spots.
  • The target zone is quiet, but Lakeshore is a busy street with significant traffic, including ambulances on their way to Highand Hospital so sirens are not uncommon. Boot camps on the Cleveland Cascade often involve early morning motivational yelling, but those are the sounds of relative privilege. Overall, neighbors seem to “keep to themselves,” but on my street at least, the tone is friendly and respectful.

Stores:

  • 1 Out of the Closet Thrift Store (also provides HIV testing).
  • 11 restaurants (Church’s Chicken fast food, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, and Burrito/Fish & Chips/Seafood).
  • 3 bars of the “dive” variety (Baggy’s, Lakeside Lounge, and Parkway Lounge).
  • 1 supermarket (Lucky)
    • carries a full range of groceries, including some organic options
      • fresh produce section that is comparable to Safeway’s on Grand Avenue closer toward Piedmont
      • good range of meat options, including large family packs that offer significant savings
      • less prepared-food options than other supermarkets
    • nothing stands out about their ethnic food aisle, though they do have one
    • hard-liquor is kept behind a counter and requires customer service
    • check-out lines are long even when several lanes are open, including up to four for self check-out
    • not uncommon to be asked for money when getting out of your car, walking into the store, or walking back to your car.
  • 3 convenience/liquor stores (Quickstop, Carriage Liquors, and Dave’s)
    • Quickstop is like a 7/11, offering chips, candy, soda, beer, liquor, some processed food (hot dogs or sandwiches that can be warmed), and cigarettes
    • Carriage is primarily a liquor store though they also offer typical convenience store items
    • Dave’s Grocery and Liquor is less than a grocery store, but more than a liquor store. Though not substantial, they do offer some fresh food options and carry a larger variety of options than a typical convenience store.

Schools:

  • Cleveland Elementary School
    • Title I Academic Achievement Award Winner for 2011-12
    • Healthy food options (including “Meatless Mondays”)
    • Grounds are in good condition and has a large playground
    • Informative website.
  • Lake School
    • small, private, non-profit preschool. Curriculum is based on “philosophy that children are naturally curious and eager to learn”
    • seeks “to encourage self-confidence and individuality by helping young children to understand and feel in control of their own world through developing learning and social skills.”

Parks:

  • Besides the lake and the grassy area that surrounds it, there are 4 parks in the target area
    • open, grassy hill with benches, picnic tables, and restroom facilities
    • grass cut and landscaping maintained
    • on warm sunny days many people sit out and blankets and enjoy the direct view of Downtown over the Lake.
  • At the corner of Lakeshore and 18th there is a small park that is not well-maintained and is often muddy and or bare of grass
    • does include 4 well-used tennis courts.
  • Smith Park on the corner of Park Boulevard and Newton Street is the largest of the four parks and includes a recreational center
    • basketball courts
    • open grassy area
    • toddler playground that is noticeably aged
    • playground area for larger kids – monkey bars, swings, and slide over sand and soft foam padding
    • sculpture of the Borax mules and tombstone for Smokey, who was “a good mule.”
  • Grassy hill off of Park Boulevard, no amenities and not often used.

Services:

  • 2 banks (Chase and Metro).
  • 2 check cashing/payday loan businesses.
  • 2 tax service providers (H&R Block and Liberty).
  • 2 auto repair shops.
  • 2 nail salons that almost look out of business.
  • 2 hair/braid salons though unclear if they continue operating.
  • 2 dry cleaners that may have shuttered.
  • 2 busy laundromats.
  • 1 print shop that looks closed.
  • 1 hardware store that is rarely open.
  • 1 bike shop, doubles as a community space and gardening center.
  • 1 pharmacy (Walgreens).
  • 1 Vietnamese clinic.
  • 1 Thai Family Resource Center.
  • 1 HIV Testing site (Out of the Closet).