By Elia Vargas

Six months ago, I lived in a basement. Now I own my own home.

And it isn’t really all that weird. Given the Bay Area housing market over the past two years, there has been weirder. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life seeking alternative living scenarios, like co-ops or shared housing. Being low-resource-reliant creates a respectful, self-informed, and community-oriented scaffolding through which to project one’s self into the world. After living in my most recent home, in the basement with friends in North Oakland for three years, I finally began to desire those basic sorts of comfort we come to want as we get older, like you know, walls.

Don’t get me wrong: I was proud of my basement. But as one might imagine, I held that information closely in certain settings: certain co-workers, bosses, other people far outside my cultural sphere. This is one thing America needs to work on: taste and class. This is why parading individual character and goals (your own deviating strategies) is so important. As a nation – a collective whole – we judge each other really quickly, which nips in the bud so many remarkable forms of expression.

Culturally, America is mostly mature enough at this point to recognize that the “American Dream” is a product sold to a society of consumers. There are a lot of privilege-based conditionals to the “normal” path of success. At least ex post facto we have recognized that this normalized reality doesn’t really work for the majority of people, yet we cycle through different forms of reinforcing it, somehow thinking it is novel each time. Currently, we are amidst the “love your work” kick the tech industry is selling us.

In a society that does not value cultural deviations, reward educators, provide accolades in a meaningful way to cultural producers, or consider alternative viewpoints on the same scale as finance, data, or administration, it is eminently important to find your own way, your real way, and learn how to make it work. A friend of mine describes this as financial empowerment. In a world that does not reward deviating strategies, this house is my financial empowerment.

So, how did I go from living in a basement to owning my own home? For one, my girlfriend and I bought it together. It was the first time that I could possibly afford it. I am a video artist; any income is an accomplishment in that field. The specifics aren’t that interesting other than to say the housing search is draining and demoralizing. We looked for 8 months. After losing opportunities because of cash offers, we got the first house we successfully put an offer on. We beat out approximately 10 other offers and have since become friends with the previous owner. We got lucky.

To anyone who has lived in this area for a long time, we are separated purely by the fact that we bought when we did. Our neighbor is a 70-year-old Mexicano who bought his home 40 years ago for about $39K. We bought our home for $290K, which anywhere else in the Bay Area is pretty darn cheap right now.

But am I a gentrifier? This is complicated for me. I have privilege, but I don’t come from privilege. I am Latino, but also Slovak. My family histories are a mixture of Mexican and working-class first-generation American. I don’t share the background of white upper-middle class families, but I sort of look like I do.

As the landscape of Oakland changes as housing costs continue to soar, and the people who live here change, it’s really important that the people who do buy understand their responsibility, too.

Buying a house doesn’t mean I stop being weird; it helps me be weird for the rest of my life. Making a financially responsible decision to buy a home from which you will conduct the most meaningful parts of your life, from that vantage point, when you invest in your home, you invest in you, and everyone around you. Investing elsewhere generally means removing resources from the community.

More than the financial cost of this is the psychological cost. Isn’t that what gentrification is? A dominant culture abandoning one place to appropriate the space and values of a previous or current population, belittling their presence and changing the entire socio-economic infrastructure along with it? The habits of living in a place, but putting one’s resources somewhere else, will tend to have that alienating effect.

This should not be read as a call to arms to buy up land and bring colonial visions to “undiscovered” boroughs, displacing people, communities, and histories along the way. I absolutely love Oakland. I am proud when I say I bought a home in this city. It is dynamic as $*#%! That is part of its history, that is part of all of the cultures that cohabitate here.

From the 7th St. post-war west coast blues scene to the Black Panthers’ radical community empowerment programs to the General Strike of 1946. The city is Hunter S. Thompson’s American dream. The realness of that claim is not lost on me either, I don’t mean it in jest, and I don’t take lightly the idea that some of the weirdest and most amazing rap comes from this city which is a result of a pretty messed-up American situation surrounding race, education and upward mobility. It is a raw place, but who’s responsible for that?

So when I speak about buying a home, and loving where you live, and it being important as a deviating path to avoid the generally heteronormative, privilege-based, career-only reinforcing value structure of the current tech-centered Bay Area or America that we do live in, I mean it: love where you are and be where you are. This is the responsibility of the homeowner. In the language of contemporary colonialism, that is a deviating model from gentrification.

That leaves just one question for me: why is it so difficult to gain people’s trust while pursuing one’s own pathway? Why do we scold one another for our taste differences? Why do we say “that isn’t good?” When what we really mean is, “I don’t understand that.” These are fragmenting distractions that cut at the core of our social fabric, like the distractions of financial management. These are really important decisions; we need to think a little harder about our perception of investment and the deviating pathways that people chose.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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One Response

  1. R2D2II

    Huh? What view? This guy is trying to look out of a windowless basement.


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