Oakland highlights both diversity and divisions

By Deborah Kong, AP Minority Issues Writer
Monday December 03, 2001

Study: Hispanics segregated from rest of the city 


OAKLAND – With a population that is about 36 percent black, 24 percent white, 22 percent Hispanic and 16 percent Asian, Oakland is one of the nation’s most diverse cities. 

Yet it is also America’s most segregated for Hispanics, according to an Associated Press review of census data. Working-class Hispanics live in what residents dub the city’s “flats,” while affluent whites, along with some Asians and blacks, live in the hills. 

“We may be diverse, but in many ways we’re very separate,” said Terry Alderete, chief of operations at The Unity Council, a community development group in Fruitvale. 

Blacks, the city’s largest group, are more evenly distributed with whites in Oakland than are Hispanics, according to the AP’s review. Blacks live throughout the city and are concentrated in neighborhoods such as West Oakland. 

Asians in Oakland are more evenly distributed with whites than either Hispanics or blacks, the AP’s review also found. 

Fruitvale, in the flats, is named after the orchards that prospered there in the 1800s. In the 1950s, Mexican and Central American immigrants began moving into the neighborhood. Today, many come from the same small villages in Jalisco and Michoacan. 

“They bring their relatives, they help them to find their way,” said Hector Medina, director of the Diocese of Oakland’s Latino Ministry. “That’s why a lot of people come, because it’s like our own country.” 

Pastel pinatas dangle from the ceilings of corner stores, day laborers wait on street corners for work and Spanish-language rock and pop tunes fill the air. Women wheel strollers past laundromats, taquerias and carts selling fried pork rinds and fresh watermelon. 

Antonio Soltero first came to the United States to nurture lettuce seedlings and pick cucumbers and tomatoes in California’s Central Valley. 

Like many Mexican immigrants, Soltero made his way to Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, where he settled into the home he’s lived in for 21 years. He watched as other Hispanics moved in, eventually becoming the neighborhood’s majority. 

Soltero said he rarely sees whites from the hills. 

“They’re up there and don’t come down,” said the 67-year-old retired mechanical engineer. Most of the Hispanic faces in the hills are those of house cleaners, gardeners and restaurant workers, he said. 

With their pine trees and curvy roads, the hills feel like a mountain resort. In Montclair Village, residents chat in cafes and juice bars, survey real estate listings and browse in antique shops and art galleries. 

In October, the average selling price of a home in the Montclair area was $508,000 according to First American Real Estate Solutions. 

The area is mostly white, agreed Michael Reed, president of the Montclair Elementary School PTA, but “everybody’s welcome. Some people just exclude themselves,” he said. “They’re not able to put that much of their income toward the mortgage.” 

Ignacio De La Fuente, the city’s sole Hispanic council member and himself a Mexican immigrant, predicts the separation will ease as successive generations move up the economic ladder. 

“In two or three years, you’ll see more people moving in other areas,” he said, “more Latinos, more Asians pushing their way up into the hills.”