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Living in a Cultural Stew

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
When I left Los Angeles to move to the San Francisco Bay Area over ten years ago, I was ready for a change.  I knew I couldn't leave California, because for me, it doesn't get much better than the Golden State - *flashing a peace sign* - so I packed it up and moved North.  I moved on up the coast.

The first few years I was here, I complained a lot.  So much in fact that I got tired of hearing the SoCal-is- better-than-NorCal words coming out of my own mouth.  "It's true that there is no place like home," I finally acknowledged when I had enough of my own whining.  "But you need to at least give it a chance."  And so I did.

Partial view of Lake Merritt
[Source:  Wiki]
My friend Kiratiana is here visiting the Bay Area this week and we spent the day together yesterday.  During a lovely and relaxed lunch on Oakland's Lake Merritt and in between convos about Paris, tech start-ups and social media, Kira asked me what I love about the Bay so much.  The East Bay to be exact.  And so I told her.

I love that unlike Los Angeles the weather changes seasonally and the frequent rain makes the landscape lush.  I love that I now own at least 40 jackets and coats and have learned how to  layer my clothes so that I stay warm.  I love that Oakland, (yes, the town you hear about with such bad crime stats), has its own unique charm, grand-yet-small neighborhoods and stunning craftsman, Edwardian and Victorian architecture. I love that San Francisco is less than 15 minutes away just across the bridge, and that Napa, Monterey and the Redwoods are all in my Northern California backyard.  And even though I'm always tempted to move back to Southern California and plant my hiney on an Adirondack chair at a house on the beach, Northern California has found a way to capture my heart.  But the thing that makes me stay isn't the weather or the architecture.  The thing that makes me stay is that I'm living in a Cultural Stew. 

Just look around, I told Kira.  When you go into a restaurant, a Starbucks or a shopping center, you might see an East Indian woman having tea with her Japanese girlfriend; or a table full of friends of different colors of the rainbow sharing a meal; or an inter-racial couple with their blended children.  And no one is staring at them, either.  It's just the norm.  Do you get that? I asked her.  Diversity is the norm.  (Interesting Cultural Fact: The 2010 Census indicates that 4.9% of California's 37,253,956 population is two or more races, up 12.9%+ from the 2000 Census.  [Source]  Just imagine the numbers if everyone actually filled out their census docs!)

If I have done my job as a brand ambassador for®, then you know that I buy in to the fact that in spite of the cultural differences us humans all bring to the table, we all share far more similarities; that Brown is beautiful (no matter the shade of your skin), Brown girls rock and yes, it is definitely okay to celebrate yourself; and that even though it seems natural for cultural groups to band together to celebrate their heritage, I buy in to the sharing and togetherness model. And that's what Oakland is all about.  #oneloveandallthat

And while I'm not going to pretend that Oakland's crime stats are something to brag about, there is way more to this Cultural Stew than crime.  In fact, Oakland is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country and the second most diverse city in Alameda County.  #score  According to the 2010 United States Census, Oakland is 25.9% White, 27.3% African-American, 0.3% Native American, 16.7% Asian, 0.5% Pacific Islander, 0.3% some other race, and 3.6% were of two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos (of any race) make up 25.4% of the total population.  #wepa  [Source]  Oh, and don't let me forget:  Oakland Mayor Jean Quan is the first Asian American woman mayor of a major US city.  Love, love, love.  #culturalstew
Talking to Kira yesterday got me thinking:  To be able to celebrate your cultural heritage alongside people from a different cultural background who show genuine interest and acceptance and without any criticism or hate is quite unique and not to be taken lightly.  I have always loved being unique.  And I will always love Oakland. 



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