Ivy Hill, my neighborhood since last summer, is a residential area bound by Park Boulevard, E18th Street, and 9th Avenue. It is commonly referred to by Oaklanders as “Eastlake” and often “Funktown.” There are many single-family homes, duplexes, and multifamily apartments in all directions of where I live.
Our neighbors are a blend of Black, Asian, white, and Latino homeowners and renters. Most homes have front yards.
When we walk outside, my son likes to point out the different colored garage doors. He points at each one we pass and shouts, “White!” “Red!” “Brown!”
We are situated on the crest of a small, but steep, incline two blocks from F.M. Smith Park. A gentle breeze gets carried uphill from Lake Merritt almost every evening, causing the leaves in the trees to rustle. Sometimes we hear the bark of our neighbor’s little white dog, or the voices of small children laughing from across the street. Most of the time, we hear the sounds of cars starting their engines or passing by, airplanes zipping overhead, and big trucks collecting the garbage.
During our walks, my toddler explores by walking up the neighbors’ steps and driveways, or waving to people. This usually breaks the ice between us and our new neighbors. On a partially sunny weekend morning, we walk down 6th Avenue and turn on E. 18th Street towards Lake Merritt. As my partner pushes the stroller, my two-year-old waves and dangles his toy keys at every passerby. On E. 18th Street, an elderly Asian gentleman makes eye contact with me while he arches his body side-to-side in his front yard. He points to my son, who is now about half a block down the street, and asks if my son is mine: “Your son?”
I nod and instinctively say, “Yes, he is my son” in Cantonese, one of my two native tongues. His eyebrows shoot up and his head jerks back slightly, as if he was surprised to hear me speak Cantonese. When this happens, the other person usually says in a condescending tone, “Oh, you speak such good Cantonese.” In this instance, we strike up a friendly conversation about what it is like to live in Eastlake. I was surprised that he was interested in holding a conversation with me, even though I am not a native Chinese-born speaker.
He mentions that the location of his home is convenient because it is a bus ride away to Chinatown via the 14, 40, 62, or 33 AC Transit bus lines, so he doesn’t need to rely on a car. However, he says, the drawbacks of being located on a busy street are the noisy cars passing in the middle of the night.
As we went back and forth, I noticed it was easy to speak with him. I sometimes stop myself from having quality interactions with immigrants from Asia because I assume that linguistic barriers will prevent us from going beyond the surface.
What I like most about my new neighborhood is how welcoming, friendly, and approachable people are, including and especially the Asian residents.
When I moved to Ivy Hill, I wanted a walkable neighborhood for my toddler to play outside. What I got was a dynamic neighborhood that makes me, an Oakland-born Chinese-Vietnamese woman, feel at home. For the first time in my life, I feel like I am part of an Oakland landscape, where I can embrace the fact that I am both Chinese-Vietnamese, and second-generation American without feeling like I am an outsider of either identity group.