poinciana hung-hess stands in front of her senior art exhibit
Oakland School for the Arts student Poinciana Hung-Haas stands before her senior art exhibit, a collection of quilted self-portraits of Asian American youth in Oakland, on display at Lincoln Recreation Center. Credit: Amir Aziz

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For 17-year-old Poinciana Hung-Haas, what started as a simple contest entry at the beginning of the year has grown into a fundraiser for a beloved Oakland institution, and an opportunity to show pride for Oakland’s Chinatown.

Poinciana, a senior fashion-design student at Oakland School for the Arts, first created her “dragon power” design for a logo contest held by the Oakland Chinatown Improvement Council earlier this year. She took inspiration from her own upbringing and from Dragon School, a neighborhood organization that worked with youth and local artists to paint 99 dragon murals around Chinatown, to create the illustration, which shows two gold dragons in the shape of a heart, growing out of the roots of the signature Oakland oak tree.

“I draw inspiration from where I was raised and what’s around me,” Poinciana said. “The Oakland community, street art, the experiences of my life and the people around me, everyday people, inspire me a lot.”

Poinciana didn’t win the logo contest, but still wanted to find a way to display her art. She approached Oaklandish, which has its flagship store a few blocks from her school, to see if the retailer would be interested in selling her design. 

“Too often, Chinatown gets left out of the conversation about Oakland culture,” said Angela Tsay, the CEO of Oaklandish. “Currently, none of our in-house artists are Asian so it’s nice to have this collaboration with Poinciana, to have her bring her deep experience spending time in Chinatown to a design.”

Oaklandish began selling Poinciana’s design last month on black and red T-shirts, and black crew-neck sweatshirts. When the Oaklandish team mentioned that Poinciana could split her 10% portion of the royalties, she knew right away she wanted to support the recreation center where she spent much of her childhood. So she decided to donate half of her proceeds to the Friends of Lincoln Square Park’s capital campaign to build a new downtown recreation center. 

Poinciana grew up playing basketball at Lincoln Recreation Center and currently works there part-time, teaching art lessons, coaching basketball, and taking students on field trips to the Oakland Ice Center. She also chose the recreation center to display her senior exhibit exploring Asian American identities, featuring portraits of Asian American youth on a collection of quilt squares she sewed.

Poinciana Hung-Haas explains her senior art exhibit, in display at Lincoln Recreation Center, to a community member. Credit: Amir Aziz

“The Chinatown community is really big. The rec center is really small,” she said. “I’m very aware that it needs to be rebuilt.”

Oaklandish has sold hundreds of the shirts since it began stocking them in November. While Poinciana has sold clothing to friends or family, this is the first time one of her designs has been mass-produced. 

“We love having designs with a second read,” said Tsay, the Oaklandish CEO. “When you first see it you might just see the Oaklandish tree, then you look closer and see the dragons, and look closer again and see the heart in the middle of the design. Having so many different layers of meaning just makes a great T-shirt.”

The “Dragon Power” T-shirt, designed by Poinciana Hung-Haas, on display at Oaklandish’s downtown store. Credit: Amir Aziz

Tiffany Eng, whose family has been in Oakland for seven generations, helped found the Friends of Lincoln Square Park with the vision of bringing a new recreation center there to life. The city of Oakland has committed about $4 million to the campaign through its capital improvement program, and the state granted $8 million as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Outdoors for All” initiative. Eng and the friends of Lincoln Square Park are hoping to raise another $20 million to fulfill their vision for the space. 

Located on Harrison Street between 10th and 11th streets, Lincoln Square was one of Oakland’s original seven town squares. Today, it includes the recreation center, a gym, basketball courts, and a play structure modeled after a Chinese junk ship, an old-style sail boat. The center hosts youth in its afterschool and summer programs, seniors use the center for refuge and recreation, and students from nearby Lincoln Elementary, one of Oakland’s oldest schools, use the square as their playground. It’s one of Oakland’s most popular parks, serving 1,500 to 2,000 people a day, Eng said. 

But since the pandemic began, the recreation center hasn’t been able to handle as many visitors, and only one group, like youth or seniors, can use the indoor space at a time. The nearly 50-year-old building is also in need of updating.

“There’s no ventilation and the roof leaks. If it’s too hot or too smoky they have to send everyone home. That runs counter to the idea of it serving as a resiliency center—you want folks coming there for refuge,” Eng said. 

The plans for the renovation include a two-story building, a larger gym, indoor and outdoor community space, multipurpose rooms, and a kitchen. The excitement around the project has been building for years, Eng said, and is especially gratifying during a time when high-profile assaults and robberies have raised tensions and fears in Chinatown. 

The project is expected to break ground by the end of 2023 and be completed by 2026, Eng added. 

“The project is much more than just a recreation center. It’s more about building community that we really need after the last couple years, which have been hard for everyone,” Eng said. “Building this is stepping out into the sunlight of our future where we can have a more connected community downtown and start to rebuild.”

The shirts and sweatshirts are available for purchase from Oaklandish online and in stores.

Ashley McBride reports on education equity for The Oaklandside. She covered the 2019 Oakland Unified School District teachers’ strike as a breaking news reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. More recently, she was an education reporter for the San Antonio Express-News where she covered several local school districts, charter schools, and the community college system. McBride earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University, has held positions at the Palm Beach Post and the Poynter Institute, and is a recent Hearst Journalism Fellow.