Shalom: by Michelle

First thing: Shalom- the way things ought to be. I can’t believe how much I’ve already learned in one week. During orientation, we’ve already come across so many areas where our community is broken. Yet in these broken places, I have seen hope in the people of Oakland-that it’s not always been this way; and it won’t always be this way. I remember joking with my friends back home about how nobody wants to go to Oakland because of the violence. Part of that is very true. But once we’ve looked past the exterior, there is so much beauty in Oakland…So many amazing people. One of the last days of orientation focused mainly on the topic of racism. During that day, we traveled to different districts to learn more about specific cultures- Chinese, Latino, Native American and African American. I can’t tell you guys everything right now, but I’ll share a little about San Francisco, Chinatown.
If I could describe what Chinatown means to me in a couple words, it would be: childhood and family. Once we were there, I was completely comfortable and happy. All the elderly who were roaming the streets and speaking in Cantonese made me feel so in my element. Although I’ve always seen Chinatown as a wonderful, tourist attraction, I’d never been exposed to the harsh realities still so present. SROs are scattered everywhere- one miniscule level away from being homeless. Families are living in a 10×10 ft rooms- cramped, with no privacy. Twenty families are sharing one kitchen, a couple bathrooms, and fighting for hot water. The elderly are walking up steep flights of stairs, risking their fragile lives to stay in this community they’ve always known. The stereotypical Chinese person is smart, rich, and successful. But in every race, there is still poverty. I couldn’t help but feel bothered when a group of tourists passed by, snapping pictures along the bustling streets and browsing the cheap gift shops. If they could see beneath the surface… but what really upset me most was their Caucasian tour guide.

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