What comes to mind when you think about ‘Oakland’ and why?

Note: Talk of the Town features Oakland residents talking about the Town (aka the city of Oakland).

When I first arrived in the Bay Area just over nine years ago, I landed in South Berkeley. At the time, my priority was to explore the culture, food, and nature that seemed to be sprawling everywhere—compared to the cluster of freeways that overtook LA County. A friend in southern California gave me questionable advice: If I ever went south past Alcatraz on Telegraph Ave, turn around! 

Naturally, I saw that as a challenge. Although I had absorbed the anxiety associated with the warning disguised as advice, there was a pull to find out for myself why I shouldn’t venture further. 

As I made headway into Oakland, it gave me new life. I had never seen anything like it where I came from. There was art literally at every corner. The crisp air looming over Downtown Oakland embraced me and made me feel like I had finally found home. I loved seeing the cypher groups having impromptu rap battles. I fell in love with weekends at the Lake, the dancing at Jack London, and the bomb tacos from Tacos Mi Rancho. 

I stepped further into Oakland with a bit of apprehension at first, but was met with only love. That is what I think about when I think about Oakland. So I asked a few people “What comes to mind when you think about ‘Oakland’ and why?”

Robert Baker

Robert Baker, of Alameda, CA.

“When I think about Oakland, I think about community pride and activism. I see people who really care and are protective of Oakland and its culture and reputation. It’s a pretty diverse place, depending on the spaces you navigate. Unfortunately, the pandemic has been particularly tough for Oakland, but it is still a great place and it can stand to be better.” 

– Robert Baker, Alameda, CA

Katherine Reed

Katherine Reed, of Los Angeles, CA.

“Growing up as a person of color  in the 70’s and 80’s in Tacoma, a small town in Washington state, Oakland has always been alluring and captivating. The diversity of the people brings an eclectic beauty to the city. The music, the art, and the culture of Oakland is unique and magical.” 

– Katherine Reed, Los Angeles, CA.


A man sitting in a grey suit coat and pants wearing a mask.
Emil of Oakland, CA.

“The first that comes to mind is ‘dirty’. It’s gotten really bad because there are a lot of people who are homeless and in need of help. [Oakland] needs a lot of help.” 

– Emil (last name omitted), Oakland, CA

Judy Lee

Judy Lee, of Alameda, CA

“The first word that comes to mind is, ‘Cinderella’ because we’re the Town and SF is the City. That’s where all the tourists flock to. I used to look down on Oakland, but over the past 10 years working here, I found quality teachers, dedicated educators who were committed to serving its communities. It’s not just in education – to acknowledge the crime without acknowledging all the beautiful things it has to offer is an unfair and inaccurate representation of Oakland. There are gems and pockets of beauty and it’s so diverse. I felt very sad that the sports teams left too because it cultivated my civic pride. Going to the basketball games in Oakland gave me a grassroots, people-oriented feeling. Oakland is unique, it’s rich in culture, diversity, has a great food scene, and I’m proud to be an Oakland educator.” 

– Judy Lee, Alameda, CA. 

What comes to mind when you think of ‘Oakland’ and why?

Share your ideas, imagination, and perceptions in the comments.

Marilu is part of Oakland Voices’ 2021 class of Community Correspondents. Talk of the Town highlights the voices of Oakland residents.

Author Profile

Marilu Aguilar has been living in the Bay Area for nearly 10 years.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.