Back in March, our newsroom debuted Culture Makers—a quarterly event series celebrating Oakland culture and the people who help to shape it. The inaugural show featured a stellar mix of locally grown talent—musician Kev Choice, filmmaker Niema Jordan, and fashion entrepreneur and journalist Akintunde Ahmad—and together, with our host Azucena Rasilla, they delivered an unforgettable evening of live music, heartfelt conversation, and deep insights about some of the big challenges and opportunities facing artists and other community members in Oakland.
Now we’re following it up with another great program at the New Parkway Theater, on June 23. Only this time we’re going to be talking about food—both as an expression of culture, and a basic human right to be protected. We think we have the perfect guest lineup to help us delve into the topic:
César Cruz co-founded the grassroots organizing group Homies Empowerment, an East Oakland-based organization that’s been at the forefront of our city’s food justice movement during the pandemic. It began as a community-building and intervention program for gang-involved young people, but after COVID-19 struck two years ago the organization recognized the mounting food insecurity being felt by many East Oakland families and quickly pivoted to set up their Freedom Store, where food and other basic necessities are distributed to residents in need.
Earlier this year, the group signed a lease on a 23-acre plot in East Oakland that’s now being transformed into a community farm, the Freedom Garden. Underpinning these efforts is Cruz’s belief in community self-sufficiency. “If all of a sudden we don’t have access to basic things, what does it mean to provide for ourselves? We become independent,” he told The Oaklandside in 2020. “Otherwise, we’ll wait for Amazon or Walmart to save us, and they are not going to.”
Reyna Maldonado is the co-owner of La Guerrera’s Kitchen, a restaurant in Swan’s Market that many of our readers are probably familiar with. Like so many family-run restaurants in Oakland, there’s a rich human story behind the storefront—in this case, one that began in the Mexican state of Guerrero, took shape in San Francisco, and now extends to Oakland.
Maldonado grew up watching her mother, Ofelia Barajas, sell tamales as a street vendor in the Mission District. When she was a college student, Maldonado, a Dreamer and DACA recipient, decided to join forces with her mom to grow the family business with the help of an incubator program for immigrant women, La Cocina. That work led to La Guerrera’s Kitchen, where the mother-daughter duo now serves up delicious tamales, pozole, and barbacoa that are rooted in traditional family recipes from Guerrero.
“My grandparents grew all of their crops and sold them at the local market and we’d spend a lot of time there, so the market setting really feels like going back to how we grew up,” Maldonado told Nosh last year when the restaurant announced its move to Swan’s. “And working alongside other female-owned and Latinx-owned businesses and getting to meet them! It’s exciting to be by their side.”
“Top Chef” alumnus, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and Oaklander Tu David Phu cut his culinary teeth in the kitchens of some of the nation’s top restaurants, including Daniel, Acquerello, and Chez Panisse. But it was the food of the Vietnamese diaspora that his mother would prepare in the family’s modest kitchen in Oakland that provided the inspiration for what has become a remarkable culinary career for Phu.
“Because I was hungry, my mom let me chill in the kitchen and explain to me why I couldn’t eat food right then and there,” he told Nosh back in 2017, of growing up poor in Oakland. “I learned the appreciation of patience, I learned how to taste through my mom’s palate.” Today, what Phu describes as that “memory of taste” is what continues to pull him back to his culinary roots: the practices, ingredients, techniques, and flavors of Vietnamese cuisines.
Culture Makers isn’t just about on-stage discussions—it’s also about audience interaction and live performance. That’s why we’re also thrilled to be welcoming to the stage Los Bahianatos. Led by Oakland native Jose Rivera, the band will be performing the Colombian dance music that’s made them a favorite throughout the Bay Area. The band features the sound of the button accordion and traverses musical styles ranging from cumbia to vallenato to Colombian salsa.
You can purchase tickets to our June 23 Culture Makers, as well as watch a video of our March 24 event in its entirety, on our event landing page. The upcoming show is expected to sell out, so we recommend you act fast—and if you can’t make it this time, don’t fret. We’ll be posting videos of all of our shows (produced by our partners at YouthBeat) on our landing page for viewing later. We hope to see you at the New Parkway!
Culture Makers is made possible through generous support from our presenting sponsor Xfinity, gold sponsor PG&E, and bronze sponsors East Bay Community Energy, and Tidewater Capital.