Is “Oaklandish” more than just a clothing brand?

hakey-in-recording-boothThis week, we bring you a guest post from Haley Vien, a junior at Envision Academy in downtown Oakland, just around the corner from Pop Up Archive’s offices. Haley joined Pop Up Archive for two weeks in December as a full-time intern as part of a Work Learning Experience for her school. In addition to contributing to our social media accounts and helping test the clipmaker, Haley wrote this piece on what it’s like to find her way as a teenager in Oakland. Oakland is a huge part of Pop Up Archive — most of us live and work here — so we’re especially grateful to Haley for this deeply personal perspective of Oakland that we can share with the wider Pop Up Archive community.

It’s strange to be from somewhere you love, yet to not feel of that place. That’s how I feel about Oakland.

Living in Oakland but not feeling quite Oaklandish is complicated for someone who is still trying to discover who they are. I feel extreme pride and happiness to be part of a diverse, creative, and passionate community, and I’m trying to fit, but I feel like I stick out like a crooked puzzle piece. I don’t understand the lingo, I don’t know much about the local people or shops, and most of the time I don’t know what part of Oakland I am in. I don’t even own a single piece of clothing from the Oaklandish brand, which is a local clothing brand that celebrates Oakland. I have lived in Oakland all of my life, but I don’t feel Oaklandish in my soul.

Here is what Oaklandish looks like to me: Everyone knows the names of the streets and where to go for whatever you need. Everyone has a dedicated passion that they are frolicking in everyday. Everyone can speak in full sentences that I only understand half of. Everyone can make instant connections to each other as if being Oaklandish makes you extra magnetized to other Oaklanders. But this definition is narrow, and tied mostly to personality traits. So I decided that I needed to create a broader, more inclusive definition of what it means to be Oaklandish.

haleyI asked some of my friends what being Oaklandish meant to them. To me, being Oaklandish is being someone who takes pride in living in Oakland, is strongly passionate about something and works towards it, and it is someone who celebrates diversity and social justice. My friends agreed with that. They also added that being Oaklandish means loving the area and people that you are surrounded by and being confident in your true self because a key aspect of Oakland is the immense diversity.

One of my friends also brought up a conflict: saying someone is “Oaklandish” is supporting a stereotype of how a person should be based on the city they live in. For example, a common stereotype of Oakland residents is that they are “ghetto” or “ratchet,” or that Oakland is one of the most dangerous cities out there. Of course, cities can have diverse populations that are still extremely segregated, which is true of Oakland. This can lead to even more negative stereotypes about Oakland because the systems are fighting against the people, making it difficult to break away from these molds.

The recent “Ghost Ship” fire has enhanced the perception that Oakland is a chaotic city. In the wake of the fire, everyone is getting angry at everyone for just trying to make a living. Some say that the city is at fault for not having responsible officials, while others believe that the owner is at fault for renting out a dangerous building.  Some people can even see the residents living at the warehouse as reckless, even though California is having an intense housing crisis, as recently explored on The California Report through the journey of three homeless college students. Clearly, this blame game is not helping us find the cause of the fire nor is it comforting the victim’s families. Stereotypes distract from real issues.  

My feelings about being Oaklandish are further complicated because I’m a person of color who isn’t seen as a person of color! Sure, I am Asian and my parents immigrated here, but being Asian in Oakland feels basically borderline white. I don’t usually like to use race to describe a situation, but at school the white race is associated with being part of a higher class, having more privileges, and is usually seen as the oppressor. Since I feel like I’m considered similar to a white person, this means that I can’t fully understand my peers’ world of injustice or Oakland, even though people like me have faced some of the same injustices they have. It’s hard to connect with my classmates when I am one of two Asians inside of my grade, because a lot of the time, I feel irrelevant.

But I’m also learning that being Oaklandish isn’t about fitting into someone else’s expectations. I don’t have to go to parties on the weekends, I don’t have to jam out to rap music, I don’t have to have a life to work ratio where my life is bigger than my amount of work. I’m not supposed to be a perfect stereotype of Oakland youth to be Oaklandish — I just need to have some core values of Oakland within myself. The beautiful thing about being Oaklandish is that I’m not expected to be Oakland. I’m just supposed to be Oakland…ish.

Haley and the Pop Up Archive team. From left: Shindo, Haley, Anders, Anne, Tali (via video), Richie, Bailey.
Haley and the Pop Up Archive team. From left: Shindo, Haley, Anders, Anne, Tali (via video), Richie, Bailey.

I’ve started to see Oaklandish as more than an adjective. It’s about your own personal level of love and pride for your city. You can’t describe someone else as Oaklandish because it is boxing them into a stereotype that you have set up for the city. Only an individual can really choose to describe themselves as Oaklandish because they create the definition and the connection between themselves and Oakland. Oakland is all about knowing yourself and being so confident in your understanding that you are willing to share it. This acknowledgement and understanding is the gift that makes me Oaklandish.

Read more in Haley’s blog documenting her time at Pop Up Archive.

See you in the archive,

The Pop Up Archive team