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Interview: Oakland lawyer Haregu Gaime

In Black Oakland Renaissance on July 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Haregu Gaime graduated with degrees in African American Studies and History from the University of California, Berkeley and earned her JD at the University of San Francisco School of Law.

Attorney Gaime is a Commissioner in the Immigrants rights Commission of San Francisco. A Commission that is dedicated to highlighting and speaking for the rights of Immigrants. Raised in San Francisco, her office is actually in the heart of Oakland. As a part of our series on the growing Black community of Oakland, we decided to talk to Haregu about Oakland, her experiences here as a professional Eritrean woman working in the East Bay. 

1. How would you describe Oakland?

A. The three words that I would use to describe oakland would be: Welcoming, Beautiful, and Cultured

2. As a San Francisco native, why did you decide to start your law business in Oakland?

A. My practice caters mostly to African Immigrants and most of the African immigrants in the bay area are located in Oakland. I wanted to make sure that I was available to them without having to worry about them having to worry about BART costs or worrying about getting lost in a big city like San Francisco, which can be difficult to navigate.

3. What differences do you see in the Black community of San Francisco vs. the Black community in Oakland?

A. I think the biggest difference is the variety. In Oakland there is variation of black people even within one group. There is diversity in economic, education, culture which gives a fuller insight into black people as whole. Where as San Francisco, due to the limited number of black people who can afford to live in the city, we get a single type of black person maybe two types.

4. How did Oakland become such fertile ground for the Eritrean community?

A. I think it is the weather. The air here is very similar to that of Eritrea, so people feel comfortable really quickly, therefore they make it home.

5. Do you believe Oakland’s Black community is experiencing a renaissance?

A. Absolutely especially in the last 5-6 years.

6. (If so) Do you believe the Eritrean community factor into this renaissance? Or, does the Eritrean community consider their development to be separate. Let me explain: Oakland has a long and rich history of native African American people. However, in the last 10 years or so Oakland has experienced a “budding” community of East Africans. At the same time, Oakland has also seen a growing community of African American people from other parts of the country. What I find interesting is that 1) a significant portion of these transplants (as they’re called) are East African and, 2) there is a lot of interaction or, dare I say, camaraderie between East Africans and transplanted African American natives.

A. I believe that the Eritrean as well as the Ethiopian communities are a great part of the renaissance, especially the second generation. You can see the budding appreciation and respect for the different cultures in all three communities. And respect and appreciation equals to supporting each others development into greatness.

B. I apologize if I’m being too wordy. I believe a person of known African descent living in the U.S. is just as African American as someone like myself. However, I do believe that the Eritrean community is its own community.

7. Considering the tense history between Eritrea and Ethiopia do you believe the intimacy of Oakland provides an opportunity for the two communities? Please explain.

A. Yes. For the most part, those that emigrate from their home countries emigrate because the conditions are so difficult in their native land, so to come to a different country and continue the same fight seems senseless. People for the most part just want better opportunities for themselves and their children, and Oakland is providing these opportunities for both groups equally.

8. What is the greatest challenge for Oakland’s Eritrean community? Or, what is the greatest challenge for a renaissance in Oakland?

A. Language barriers and the younger generation abandoning their culture, this is true for all three groups. The youth are completely abandoning the teachings of the old ways.

9. What is your favorite experience in Oakland?

I LOVE OAKLAND. And I have had many great experiences, but I do have to say that feeling like I can walk anywhere in Oakland and feel at home and welcome is my favorite experience. Oakland/San Francisco, (San Francisco/Oakland) to me feel like one big city.

For more on Haregu Gaime, check out her business site here

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  1. Nice interview. I agree with the “budding appreciation and respect for the different cultures in all three communities.” After attending an Eritrean wedding this past week I was inspired and deeply moved by the African marital traditions and overall respect for family, marriage, and God. I felt a bit cheated that as African Americans we’ve been torn from such celebratory traditions (jumping the broom is all I can think of). I love Oakland because it’s made these intercultural diasporic connections possible and created a space for us to learn from one another.

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