I Love Oakland

I grew up in a traditional culture, one that valued family and community above individualism and independence.  Over the years, I have rejected many parts of that upbringing, from religion to gender roles, but the importance of community has remained with me.  As an immigrant, growing up in that confusing space between two clashing identities, I learned to take the best of each and balance my individualism with my understanding that I am not alone in this world, that everything I do affects everything else in some way.

Just as I felt that my parents’ culture did not value the importance of each person taking their own path, of independence and self-love, I always believed that American culture did not value the importance of communal well-being, collective prosperity, and neighborhood relationships.

But perhaps I have been wrong. A few weeks ago, a family member of one of my restaurant co-workers passed away.  She was only 17, and had been struggling with health problems for most of her life.  Three members of her immediate family worked at the restaurant, and numerous others had passed through.  Their tragedy was exacerbated by their financial and immigration status, making the funeral and travel arrangements difficult.

I decided to take on a fundraising event to help them out, and set myself to the task of asking people to give.  I thought this would be difficult, as no one likes to give away money, especially when it’s for individuals and mostly anonymous.  Within 2 weeks, I had gift certificates, artwork, massages, books, and more from Flora, Tacubaya, Pizzaiolo, Tattoo 13, Cynthia Percy Skincare, and numerous other organizations and people. Everyone I asked gave something, and even some people I did not ask gave something.  We held an online auction and I sent the link to everyone I know.  To top it all off, we held an actual event on the patio of Dona Tomas, (who donated the space and drinks for the event), ate snacks, listened to music, and raffled off a week-long stay in a 3 bedroom beachside condo in Mexico (also generously donated).  I was overwhelmed by the community turnout for this family in need, especially considering that most people did not even know them.

Thanks to the generosity of the greater Oakland community, we raised $2000 for the family.  Even more, we demonstrated our strong sense of togetherness, our connections to each other, and our eagerness to help out a fellow community member in need.  I have lived on 4 continents, 6 countries, and countless towns, but I have never been so proud to call anywhere home as I am in Oakland.

If you want to grow your community pride, getting started can be quite simple-- Have conversations with your neighbors, your school, your local businesses and make an effort to learn about some of the many local organizations that work for social, economic, and environmental reform. We are all crunched for time and finances, and in the chaos that life can sometimes be, we forget to take care of ourselves and each other. Realizing that everyone has something to give and something to gain starts with knowing each other, building relationships, and understanding that Oakland is strong and vibrant community.  This town is full of people ready to mobilize, ready to help each other, ready to make change. Sometimes all they need is to be asked.

Sahar recently finished her policy fellowship with the Green Collar Jobs Campaign at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. She is currently a graduate student in public policy at Mills College in Oakland.