Because This City (English)

Chapter 510, in partnership with the Oakland Roots Sports Club and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Fellows Program, invited all Oakland residents to put pen to paper and write a poem about their roots, our Town, and our collective future! What came out of this was something more beautiful that we could have ever imagined: an epic love poem to Oakland, long enough to make an entire book.

Because This City was written by and for Oakland and is available for free for all.

Look out for it in retail store nears you (for free) soon! In the meantime, you can read it here or download the book to print and staple at home here.

Because This City

My motherland
looks like a colorful town
smells like fresh air all around trees
tastes like pure life
an ancient, peaceful place

The feeling when I’m in Guadalajara
hot weather
the smell of the rain
the city is like heaven
That’s how my motherland is
just beautiful

My motherland is a small village
we visit every summer
feels like a second home
a green land in México
where my mom was born
and my grandmother lives
It sounds like birds chirping, mariachis
tastes like my Abuelita’s caldo
feels like kindness
smells like girasoles
wet puppy dog

El Salvador smells like tierra mojada
feels like the best place on earth
looks like my little brother’s tears
smells like my mom making gorditas de nata
It feels spicy

Jamaica is beaches, the ocean, hot people talking
the smell of simmering pepper sauce and a fresh ocean breeze
The smell of mint and air heavy with salt
reminds me of home

Peru sounds like cumbias, laughter
castellano rolling
from many tongues

My motherland is Asia
beautiful and calm

Ireland looks like fields and fields
of cows and grass

My motherland
smells like my mom and dad’s cooking
onions frying
fresh coffee
spices boiling in the broth over chicken
cauliflower and rice to make maqluba
It brings me hunger

It smells like burning chiles on the stove
It smells like rice, artichokes, chipti, fried noodles
tacos with sour cream
carne asada
Nutella and bread
my grandmother’s challah, baked every Friday for Shabbos
cake and cookies freshly out the oven
mac and cheese, Wing Stop, McDonald’s, and In-N-Out
the smell of soup, of water
What reminds me of home is s’mores
cinnamon and conchas with milk
eggs because my mom makes them almost every day
rice and beans cooking over the stove
simmering pot-au-feu

My motherland smells like phở
barbecue on summer nights
warm, homemade tortillas
fresh-pressed apple juice
turmeric, mole, and sun-baked wood
bay trees touched by the sun
toasting almonds, taco trucks
pumpkin spice and spaghetti with meat sauce
nut roll at Christmas and grilled abalone
It smells like pine trees, bacon, arepas
like berbere, french fries, sesame oil,
Flint’s BBQ in West Oakland, Pine Sol, and Febreze

I feel at home when I have my room door closed
and I’m watching Pokémon
My motherland is full of candy, tastes sweet
feels soft and sticky
My motherland is my bed
my dog Chico that is just a baby
the smell of cat food and stuffies

My motherland is Oxnard
where there is a lot of nature
and the lemons feel rough

My motherland is Africa
sometimes dry and hot
waterfalls, trees, mountains

My motherland is a forest
sometimes soft
sometimes rough
a forest of redwoods, bridges, houses
a forest of struggle, dignity, freedom
the ocean breeze and lavender

San Francisco feels like an energetic home
It looks foggy
smells like pee
tastes like tacos
art on walls and houses
a place with happy trees
pine-scented mist

My motherland Chicago
looks busy and strange
sounds like sirens
and a lot of cars on the freeway
all going to different places
sounds like dogs
tastes like snowflakes
Chicago feels cold

Motherland Oakland
looks like building communities
the salty, seaweedy smell of Lake Merritt at low tide
sounds loud
like dirty kids playing
smells like creosote
eucalyptus and BART station
night blooming jasmine
lemon blossoms

My motherland smells like grandma’s cherry perfume
like the lotion that my mom wears
My motherland is my mom’s house
a sweet home with flowers and a whole family
feels warm like the house I want to have when I grow up

I come from a place that I will never forget

I come from a long line of Philipinos, Indians
Eritrean hustlers, Native Americans, New Mexicans,
Russians, Romanians, Polish and Ukranians, Haitians
Czechoslovakian rabble-rousers, Germans, Belgians
boisterous and proud Nigerians
Salvadoreños, Aztecos, Romans, Swedish iron souls
hard-working, valiant Mexicanos
from Jalisco, Durango, Teziutlán, Puebla,
from Compton, California
I come from a long line of pueblos, Cherokee survivors
undocumented Chinese immigrants
paper sons in San Francisco’s Chinatown
from loud, opinionated armchair Communists in Bengal
stoic workers in cold, clean Finnish air

I come from a long line of warriors, worriers,
fighters, revolutionaries, and immigrant colonizers
conquistadores, Vikings, brown people
a long line of Afro-Caribbean people
Black, young, old, East Coast, West Coast
resilient African Americans
taking up space to survive and thrive
from Jim Crow to now
a long line of mothers, doctors, opinion-talkers
Jews, border crossers, islanders
beautiful humans with names
like Kehlani, Kamaiyah, Kamala, Zendaya
global citizens, kings and queens
charactahs, Chrysanthemums, Prop 187
lemon zest, blood in my teeth
pierogi-makers of resilience

I come from a long line of wanderers
migrants, hard workers, truth-tellers
peddlers and drinkers, generous souls
with capitalist hobbies, procrastinators
stubborn people, survivors

I come from a long line of very loosely calculated
risk-takers, independent thinkers looking
to make a better world
educators and radicals
intellectuals and monsters
pineapple farmers
I come from a long line of barbers,
gamblers, dreamers, humble givers
multi-state livers, slavery SHEROES,
gente de rancho, people who love
pozole, nopales, and gossip
soccer sapiens, latke-eating, christmas cookie-decorating
silly hat-wearers, scrappy men with big hearts
who know a thing or two about gratitude
and grace and faith
dark-moon bathers and magic makers

I come from a long line of endings
of struggle and grit, of bad quilters, misfits
failed business ventures, white privilege
murderers, thieves, and all-around bullies

I come from a long line of long roots
tangled deep into soft earth
I come from salt
from a family that grew up eating
only what Earth provided:
beans and chile and corn and cactus
I come from a long line of
creative, dancing Black kings and queens
dancers who transmute memory
through movement
and remix history
through body language
visionaries, poets, and heart medicine weavers
I come from a long line of spiritual beings
living out their existence in this human form
We love each other
We rooted for one another

I come from my mother
who came from her mother
a long line of pioneering, frugal, tough women
outspoken, badass, loving women
short and powerful, built to live
and laugh at heartache
hips swinging, frizz flying
who take Mother Time
by the hand and waltz
women who watch with worried eyes
who know how to stand firm when
the very ground beneath them seems uncertain
fighters, lovers, and nurturers
wise, light-bearers

I come from a long line of long lines
of wait-and-sees
of always being asked to come back later
S’why my family came here
like yours
We emigrated from a shallow mindset
wanted Southern traditions
wanted Eastern influence
wanted black berets and prism flags
wanted perpetual spring and gathered,
instead, seventy-five days of rain in an ongoing summer

Check the zodiac, breh
All your stars align above this true and live Oak
around a lake that holds its mouth like a fish around a hook
All your constellations hover over a Skyline
that wrenches itself from the heavens
and laces itself over Foothill
rests on its Laurel
I come from a long line of circles
of folding backs
of dog-eared books passed around Marcus
ice cream unmelted by fire at Fentons

I am the last diner at TJ’s Gingerbread
the first in the door at Super Juiced
I am the institutions we have carved and lost and reestablished
I come from Myrtle and Linden and Filbert
I come from a rocky path made smooth like Opal and Ruby
I come from a pocket full of half notes when a bill is what you need
I come from a long line of long time comings
a Moneyball baby in the Splash Zone
a black hole at the end of a field
I come from a long line of full backs, forwards and forewords
a long span of wingers and waiting in the wings
a full measure of strikers and strike school
and here I put feet to earth

I come from the umbilical cord of Mother Earth
from the Bay Delta to the end of the world
I speak the names of my ancestors
both old and too young
and pour out water or gin
for the roots re-covered

I feel at home when I am in nature, well-rested
and freshly showered in the mist
in the land of my people
when I’m loved
when I’m safe and warm
and the sun is shining

I feel home when I’m in my room by myself
and I have time to use my imagination
and my creativity

I feel at home when I’m in the kitchen grinding spices
eating dinner and laughing with my whole family
when my parents are together
and I’m with my GG and my cat
My dad sits with me every day, and that’s home

I feel at home when I sit on my couch like a slug
snuggling a stuffy
when we all gather and watch a movie on the TV
and my mom makes bean and cheese burritos
I feel at home when I wear African clothes
when I go to Mexican parties
when I am with friends, family and teachers

I am rooted here because you are
because I choose to be reminded
of what truth and love actually mean
Here, I can be weird and open
or normal and small
We can all take turns
Here, I am called to listen
to be, to breathe, to love

The forest brought me
the ocean, too
This is where my seed fell
in the great wind
I guessed left
then felt it was right
This is my tribe
with its history and artists
its beauty and grit
took my heart fast in its grip

I was born here, an anchor baby
to undocumented parents, now citizens
My father touched dreams, prayers, and bean pies
My mother drove cross-country to settle by the sea
seeking a better life for her children
My parents’ great grandparents are in Oakland graves
over five generations of finding each other
binding to each other
staying close
We rooted in Oakland
and it is now home

My heart grew here
let me find the love of my life here
I came out here
raised a wise, beautiful daughter here
This is where I became a dad
I came here looking for myself
for more than myself
I found strangers as family
a city with people
who don’t look like me
but feel like me

Poetry for the People pulses in my bloodstream
and here, I am surrounded by fellow poets
because my community calls me to justice
to the love within
the challenge without
the love below
I am rooted here
because this city reminds me of who I want to be
is the only place that accepts me for me
provides my tension as well as my release
lets me be all of my selves
I love Oakland’s flawed beauty
how its humanity, sometimes broken
is as visible as its oaks and redwoods

I am rooted in Oakland because Oakland
because the hills
because oak trees and a BART train
our Native youth
the hyphy movement
the kind weather
the vibe
the bay vistas and the old trees
the communal mindset unmatched
the gum on the pavement
the smells that bring me home
back to my days of skinned knees
for the people, the food, the architecture, and the bookstores
the town, the culture, and the bizz!
I’m rooted here
because of my family’s movement
from the East to the West like the wind
because it’s the land of “world football”
y el futbol es vida!
because I’m a techie!
because I’m from Bezerkeley
because I am from Oakland
because is there anywhere else?
because it’s a place for beautiful beginnings
and it’s alive and has all the soul in the world
and it’s FASHOLY the heart of the Bay
because my people are here and I want
to leave this place better than when I arrived
(my grandparents built San Francisco)
Where else would I go?

My destiny and purpose lie
within the roots of the Oakland trees
that are spread throughout the city
I am rooted here because my life is here
because I followed along
because I needed to lie down and rest
I am here because my husband
was born and raised here
and refuses to leave
I am here because of a series of unfortunate events
because G-d won’t let me go
I was brought here and made the most of it and
the Lord keeps directing me back to do more work
but I still dream of leaving

I am rooted here
because the people hold my spirit up
like a hug the size of a city
To be in Oakland is to be
amongst a family of Black folks
with southern-lit smiles
and eyes full of a Mississippi river
they had to leave
We’re willing to struggle to uplift
It’s where the seeds of humanity’s future
growth are being planted
It’s where we stand up for peace
where challenges make life more meaningful
where people work at living together
hold space for immigrant families
Here, where all families are welcome
and all types of condiments accepted
there’s a culture and a lens not found
in other spaces
We are lucky
We fall together
We grow together

I love The Town
for everything it has been
and everything that it will be
Love for it runs deeper
than the wall of China is long

I am rooted here because I want to see my relatives
in a world of faces
in a single walk
around a heart-shaped
light-laced lake
Oakland feels like a holy sanctuary
reminds me of home, my Palestine
the two are similar despite being continents apart
In Oakland, I learn and grow
I give, receive and the revolution goes on
planting seeds in grounding soil
nourishing in evolutionary waters
a resilient harvest
I am Oakland

I am growing to be
more and more myself
the best, highest version of me
more alive
more free
a creator of possibility
I am growing to be a parallel dimension
a full-flighted, complete emotional being
more self sufficient, a well-balanced human
I am growing to be someone’s starting point
I am growing into being a wife, a teacher
and someday, a mother
a carver of unspoken caress
a nursery of power
a newborn father whose heart is an altar in honor of life
someone who lives for the Other
while maintaining the needs of the Self

I am growing to be
what I needed as a kid
bold, fierce, and free
a believer in myself, finally
I am growing to be rooted
to explore my own branches, my own butterflies
I am growing to explore my own joyous expression of self
that which is love
that which is all
that which is being
which is all with and without
a person better able to set boundaries
and to break them down, as well
someone better at delivering bad news
a better storyteller with love in my hands

someone more comfortable with getting lost
a badass Chicana Chingona, quick-tongued and fearless
a Wutang Killer Bee
a teller of tales
I am growing
more and more upset
every day
I am the person my ancestors fought for
I am growing to be my father’s dream
and worthy of my grandfather’s sacrifice
a thundering wave and a healer
a more frictionless mechanism
in God’s love distribution machine

I am growing to be a believer, a force for good
a person who can bring people together
to make magical ideas become real
a poet who never stops writing
an educator of color
committed to the liberation of our kids
an advocate for ethnic studies
someone who waters his own garden as a means
of flooding his community with support, intention, and love

I am growing to be what I will be:
something organic
something recycled
a pinch of borrowed
a physical dream that I wanna redeem, fulfill
a unique filmmaker, a more effective activist and artist
an enumerator for census 2020, a midwife
a woman who forgives her body
for all the ways it has kept her alive
I’m growing into more of me and my grandmothers
Margaret & Mildred
wiser and more grateful
a poetic surgeon who aspires
to create equality for all
a caregiver to my family and anyone in need
I’m growing to be a doctor, an actor, and a game developer
an art therapist, a parent who will not use violence
an awesome grandparent called “Ulla!”
the baddest fielder in my future Over-50 All-Women’s Soccer League
a peacekeeping police officer
who sees the humanity and value in all living beings
an awesome ally, voice for the voiceless
a lover of the hotter sauces in life
a finisher
a person willing to appreciate the process
a question mark at peace
in a seemingly impossible dance
a better ballerina, an author, a businesswoman
an inventor, world-changer, an earth and civil rights-loving citizen
the best computer programmer and professional soccer star
a physician that will represent individuals of my culture
a future nurse, part of the solution to climate change
more deliberate, less deliberative
a superhero for equality and empowerment
intuition and observation

I write my roots
In my palms I hold
the power to create and transform
With my feet I walk the road to be whole
I am growing to be someone who cares
about light, who wants to seek it
to see it, to spark it, to spread it
to create it from nothing but words
to become light itself

My hair is turning lighter like when I was a little girl
but there is white now, too
here and there, closer to my grandmothers’
and the way I remember them last

We are growing to be calmer, more relaxed people
I am growing to be like an old olive tree
strong and tender at the same time
with steady branches that creak and bend in the wind
an old pine tree with a panoramic view
a new bloom never seen before
a butterfly
I am growing to be anything I want
bigger than my dreams
better every day than the day before


Aaron, AC, Adhu, Adrienne, Aida, Aidan, Alan, Alexis, Alfonso, Alia, Alisa, Allysson, Alyson, Amy, Anabelia, Anastacia, Andrea, Andres, Aniya, Angela, Anna, Annette, Archer, Arel, Asia, Au gust, Aurora, Austin, Azucena, B, Baby V, Barbara, Ben, Berlin, Bilal, Bob, Brenda, Brook, Brown Sugar, C x 2, Carlisa, Catherine, Charles, Chinaka, Chris x 2, Christian, Christina x 2, Clara, Coral, Corinne, Crissle, Cypress, Cyrus, Dana, Daniela, Danny, Daryl, David, Dena, Deyan, Ed, Edreece, Edrigina, Efren, Eli, Elijah, Emder, Emily, Erik x 2, Erwin, Esau, Esmeralda, Esther, Fatima, Fernan do, Gabriel, Gabriela, Gatita, Genie, Giovanna, Henry, Hummingbird, Hurricane, IMMIGRANT, Ingrid, Ivan, Jacob the SUPER DAD, Jack, Jade x 2, Jahan, James, Jason, Jayne, Jen x 3, Jesus, Jimmari, Joanna, Joanne, Joe, Jordan, Jose x 2, Jow W., Joshua x 3, Julia, June, Justin, Katie, Keith, Kiki, La Gissella, Laura x 2, Laurie, Law rence, Leela, Leslie, Leroy, LIL Panda, Lucia, Lucy, Luisa, Lenore, Mae x 2, Madaline, Maggie, Malachi, Manuel, Mareo, Marietou, Matteo, Maxanino, Maya, Maylin, Mazi, Meadow, Mela nie, Merrie, Michlene, Mirabelle, Miriam, Miss Unicorn, MNR, Mohsen, Moises, Montgomery, Monica, Nadine, Natalia, Nathan the shark boy, Nathaniel, Nijla, Ninh-An, Nuni, Oakland Giraffe, Olive, Pablo, Paloma, Patricia, Regan, Richard, Rose, Rogelia, Rosita, Ruben x 2, Sacha, Sam x 2, Sarah, Seamus, Sebastian, Shabordanang, Shailen, Shanti, Shelby, Sheldon Sheridan, Sonia, Spring, Star, Stephanie, Steven, Sue, Sugey, Syed, Tamara, Tammy, Tatiana, Tayler, Taylor, Tia, Tova, Travis, unicorn_believer, Wild & Free, Valentina, Valerie, Vanessa x 2, Vivienne, Will, XiHalmina, Yahaira the cat lover, Yaretzi, Yul, Yvonne, Zach, Zach C., Zendaya, Zizi, Zoe + 17 anonymous authors / 17 autores anónimos




of Oakland Youth Voices

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