Thursday, September 27, 2012

Latin Oakland -- The “Fruitvale” District

The Fruitvale District in East Oakland is home to Oakland's largest Latino population, making up 49.5%. From my personal observation and interactions, it is predominately Mexican and El Salvadorean. I've met only a few Guatemalans, Peruvians, and Puerto Ricans, and and absolutely no Cubans, Venezuelans, or Colombians, and only a sprinkle of Afro-Latinos. The area hosts several annual Latino events, such as Cinco de Mayo and Día de Los Muertos. The Fruitvale shopping district which is located along International Boulevard (formerly East 14th Street), from Fruitvale Avenue to 38th Avenue and is one of the major commercial areas of Oakland. I love all the markets where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and the restaurants offering tasty Mexican and El Salvadorean food with my favorite restaurant being Los Cocos (El Salvadorean) where I eat their pescado frito (fried fish) dinners with rice, salad, and tortillas.

I used to work in this area and would love to practice my Spanish, but found that I have to be careful because many here speak good English and seem to get offended when you prejudge them as monolingual Spanish. I remember getting on the elevator with a man dressed in a traditional vaquero (Mexican rancher) outfit. I struck up a Spanish-speaking conversation with him, and he looked me up and down as though I were crazy, and asked me in perfect English, what, you're learning Spanish?  He then brushed me off. About 98% of the time, I can tell by a person's countenance if they are monolingual or not. This time, I just missed it.

People are relaively friendly, compared to other parts of Oakland, especially East Oakland. I found that the monolingual Spanish speakers are even warmer if you speak Spanish. I've heard rumors about gang activity at night, but I'm seldom in the area at night, except for the times I used to hang out at a hole-in-the-wall salsa club called Kosmos, with its intimate crowd, good salsa bands, and a popular DJ.

What is it about this district that attracts so many shoppers? I wonder what happened to the African-Americans who had their own shops scattered all over East Oakland. Where are they now? I'd really like to know.

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