Racial Diversity of Hunger — an article by David Bacon

Familes receive food at a food distribution organized every week at Columbian Gardens in East Oakland, in the heart of one of the poorest neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area.

(It is a crucial question to counter the coding in certain phrases like “underclass,” “gang-related,”  “welfare queen” and “homeless.”  These are often merely subterfuges for identifying the object of conversation as either black or brown.  Here David Bacon reports on the colors of poverty in Oakland.  They are many.  There is a war going on against the poor.  It’s important to describe it properly, characterize it accurately.  Otherwise we have little chance of combating that war effectively. — Lew]

Date: Wed, 16 Dec 2009 08:42:37 -0800
From: David Bacon <dbacon@igc.org>

By David Bacon
East Bay Express, 11/25/09

images photographed by David Bacon

Everyone knows Oakland, CA, is a diverse community.  Probably more people from more races and nationalities live in the city than anywhere west of New York or north of Los Angeles.  But before we celebrate diversity, think of its most diverse places.  Some of them are surely the lines of hungry people lining up for food.

Oakland has many food pantries — programs run mostly by churches on a shoestring.  Church elders are often found at the Alameda County Community Food Bank’s huge warehouse out by the airport, searching for ways to stretch their donations into the bags they know will run out when the people line up.

Most families in Columbian Gardens are African American or immigrants from Mexico, and don't have enough money to buy food or pay rent.

Reverend Lee from the Cornerstone Baptist Church, a food bank stalwart, fills the small storefront off MacArthur with white plastic bags of cans, dried goods and bread.  Then the people come.  Mostly Chinese-American and African-American families here get their food from the African American activists from his church.

On the other side of the airport, in a park by the freeway sound wall next to the 98th Avenue exit, a very diverse group of Asian, Black, Latino and white folks bag up fruit and vegetables.  Early in the morning families, mostly Mexican immigrants, arrive to get numbers and wait.  After the big food bank truck unloads and the baggers begin work, Columbian Gardens breathes a sigh of relief as people once again have food for the coming week.

Food for the Columbian Gardens program comes from the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

The early morning is the arrival time also for the Good Samaritan food pantry, in the close-in neighborhood of East Oakland some folks call New Chinatown.  Older Chinese immigrant women line up their shopping carts, and sit and stand on the sidewalk across the street from a small, ramshackle house filled with food.  Then, joined by African Americans and Latinos, they trade numbers for bags, and patiently surround huge cardboard bins of lettuce, cucumbers and pears.

A third of the people in Oakland’s hungry families are younger than 18, and a quarter are over 50.  With Oakland’s unemployment rate over 12%, less than a quarter of food pantry clients get most of their income from a job, although probably most work.  Just a look at the people in line tells you the basic facts behnd the numbers, however.  Oakland has thousands of families who don’t have enough to eat — of all races and nationalities.

For more articles and images, see  http://dbacon.igc.org

For a Press TV interview about racism, globalization and illegality, see http://www.presstv.com/programs/detail.aspx?sectionid=3510529&id=112065#112065

Good Samaritan Food Pantry distributes food to Oakland residents on the sidewalk in front of a house where food is stored and bagged.

See also Illegal People — How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants  (Beacon Press, 2008)
Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008

See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US
Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)

See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)


There is very little space in the small house, so the food is distributed on the street outside. Before the distribution starts, dozens of people, many of them immigrants from Mexico, China and Vietnam, line the sidewalk on both sides of the street. East Oakland, where Good Samaritan is located, is one of the poorest neighborhoods of the San Francisco Bay Area.

David Bacon, Photographs and Stories



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