History of Hispanic Culture in Fruitvale
Formerly an unincorporated neighborhood, “Fruit Vale,” was established by Oakland settler and horticulturist, abolitionist and Quaker, Henderson Luelling. What we now called Fruitvale wasn’t always a mostly Latinx neighborhood.
Contrary to what some might think, the first Latinx Oakland neighborhood was located in West Oakland. It was there where Mexicans fleeing the revolution of 1910 migrated to this Oakland neighborhood to build community. Latinx were not the only group to settle there; Puerto Ricans, (and later Mexicans from the Southwestern United States) also migrated to West Oakland to join the African-American community.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s era of “urban renewal,” (the construction of BART and the Nimitz Freeway), countless African-Americans and Latinx were displaced out of West Oakland and into East Oakland, with Fruitvale being one of the neighborhoods where they were relocated. Before Latinx migrated out of West Oakland and into Fruitvale, the community was primarily inhabited by German, Portuguese, and Irish families. One of the oldest Latinx businesses in Fruitvale is the hardware and camping store, Bonanza which has been opened for over 53 years. The 87-year-old matriarch of the shop, Helen Slape and her family were one of the first to move into the neighborhood.
Fruitvale and East 12th Street in 1962
The migration into Fruitvale made the neighborhood turned into a community hub not just recently migrated Latinx, but Chicanos as well. During the civil rights movement, Chicanos who resided in Fruitvale joined forces to fight for civil rights, social justice and against police brutality. So much so, that the Chicano Movement spread into Oakland with organizations rising like Latinos United for Justice, the Chicano Revolutionary Party, La Raza Unida Party and the Brown Berets both had chapters in Oakland. Labor leader and civil rights activist, César Chávez also frequented Fruitvale and its fight for a political revolution. The Chicano Movement in Fruitvale also led to the protest against the Vietnam War, the birth of The Clinica de la Raza to ease the needs of a free clinic in the neighborhood.
The contributions of Chicanos who then resided in Fruitvale, and their efforts to fight for justice and equality can still be seen today in the neighborhood. A younger generation of residents continues fighting for what those in the ‘50s and ‘60s fought relentlessly for. Now, you can also see protests out of Fruitvale fighting against anti-immigrant rhetoric, gentrification, and the continuous fight for social justice.
Much like in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the Latinx community in Fruitvale joined forces with the African-American community after Oscar Grant was killed in 2009 at Fruitvale BART by BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle. Every year since his death, countless residents and supporters gather outside of Fruitvale BART to call for an end to police brutality. As of 2019, a mural with Oscar Grant’s portrait adorns a wall next to a bus stop at Fruitvale BART, and a previously unnamed street is now called “Oscar Grant III Way.”
Political uprise is not the only contribution by the Latinx community that calls Fruitvale home. Every year, countless cultural events take place to showcase how rich Mexican culture is. Like celebrating Cinco de Mayo, there’s a community event that draws curious-goers, and vendors to exhibit their folk art, and culinary creations. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army, defeating a much larger and powerful French army in 1862. For the past 23 years, large crowds gather along International Boulevard every November to celebrate the Day of the Dead. The Dia De Los Muertos festival draws over 100,000 attendees where they can see altars all put together by the community. Each year, the poster for the year’s festival is also the creation of a local artist. The festival is free to attend, and there are vendors, live music, DJs, and Aztec dancers. Come the holidays, Fruitvale also gets into the Christmas spirit by holding posadas during December. A posada is a nine-day celebration between December 16 and culminating on Christmas Eve. It’s a religious holiday that reenacts the pilgrimage to Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph searching for a place where Mary could give birth. During the posadas at Fruitvale, residents get together at the Fruitvale Village Transit to sing villancicos and eat tamales and champurrado, the two staple food and drinks during the holidays.
PC: Unity Council
As Fruitvale residents continue fighting for social justice, they are also fighting against gentrification and finding ways for long term residents to remain rooted in the neighborhood.
Currently, there is one new housing project, Casa Arabella, named after Arabella Martinez, founder of The Unity Council and former CEO of the organization. Martinez also spearheaded the Fruitvale Village project and is currently a commissioner for the Port of Oakland. Upon completion of Casa Arabella, another affordable housing project steps away will break ground.
Despite how the city of Oakland is constantly changing, Fruitvale has and will continue to be a thriving neighborhood where the Latinx community will fight for what is right, and remain a cultural and food hub.