Rakesh Sewak

Rakesh Sewak’s Oral History Interview

Summary

The interview of Rakesh Sewak took place inside of Shingar Emporium, which is a desi retail store on South Mission Boulevard. Mr. Sewak grew up in Fiji, a group of islands in the South Pacific. Fiji has had South Asians since the 1800s and Indo-Fijians currently comprise about 43% of Fiji’s population. Mr. Sewak grew up modestly and has hundreds of relatives on both sides of his family. Mr. Sewak was born during 1967 and was able to immigrate to Northern California, during the early 1980s because his parents decided to move to the US for a better life, meaning better education and more job opportunities. Mr. Sewak grew up in a poor country where he learned from a young age to appreciate everything given and to mainly appreciate family, which is when he then decided to follow his father’s footsteps into becoming a small business owner. After migrating to the United States and realizing that America was not what it had once seemed to be, Mr. Sewak decided it was time to become his own boss and decided to do so in a predominantly immigrant, Indian, and Fijian populated Hayward. Despite enduring harassment because of racial differences within the community, the recession, and the lack of support to upkeep a safe working space for himself, Mr. Sewak continued to strive to be as successful as one can be. When we think and/or discuss redevelopment, most social justice influencers would immediately dive into gentrification, and how gentrification negatively affects communities. In particular communities of color. Redevelopment and gentrification results in lower income communities being, essentially driven out of their neighborhoods to neighborhoods that become overpopulated, are underdeveloped, and have very minimal resources. However, surprisingly Mr. Sewak was very supportive of the redevelopment in Hayward. He notes that he is not upset at the city’s decision, and does not believe that the city is trying to directly damage any business, including his own. Despite being aware of the toll that it would take on his business, Mr. Sewak was more concerned about the community of Hayward that could potentially benefit from low income housing, such as disabled and homeless people. He believes that the Bay Area needs more housing, and is willing to sacrifice even his own store to help allow people to get off of the streets. He also realizes that the location of his store is an area that the city of Hayward can utilize to be more productive, as well as help the city grow. Mr. Sewak says that if city of Hayward shuts down his store, he can simply relocate, and maintain his clientele. When asked his opinion on redevelopment in relation to systemic racism, and how gentrification strips culture out of communities, Mr. Sewak’s response was very eye opening. He says that American culture in itself dims the light of the cultures of other nationalities. He explains, when we are Americanized, we are already moving away from our true origin of culture. Despite not having much to begin with as a child he was instantly taught to share with those around him. His concern for the people in need within Hayward’s community reflects those cultural principles, and reveals his positive, selfless character that he is so very proud of.

Key Words

Colonialism: is the governing or controlling of a dependent country, territory, or people by a politically powerful nation.

Gentrification: the process of renovating and improving housing or a district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.

Eviction: the action of expelling someone, especially a tenant from a property

Globalization: the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale

Redevelopment: a process that creates growth, progress, positive change or the addition of physical, economic, environmental, social and demographic components

Decolonizing: the act of getting rid of colonization, or freeing a country from being dependent on another country

Ethnic Cleansing: the act of persecuting, sterilizing, or killing a specific ethnic group

Indentured Servant: A person who works without pay but can be freed after working for a certain period of time

Forced Displacement: A fostering of discriminatory behavior by people in power, and a focus on spaces that exclude low-income individuals and people of color.


Urban renewal:  a process where privately owned properties are purchased or taken by the municipal redevelopment authority and given to certain developers for other uses.

Annotated Bibliography

In the article “ Tiny Curry Corner in Hayward feels the love for the last time” by Johnathan Kauffman with the San Francisco Chronicle, the chef and owner of a little Fijian Indian restaurant Saras Rao discusses the unfortunate plans of closure of her business of 16 years all due to architectural redevelopment. Located in the middle of a busy strip mall that was considered to be home for the majority of the Fijian Indian Community for the past 12 years. I remember coming to this shopping complex as a little girl, it was the spot were long lost friends and distant relatives would run into one another and reminisce about old times. Going from one shop to another you would always come across someone who you knew. The Fijian Indians emigrated from the Islands of Fiji in the late 1980s due to political coups in their homeland and some settled here in Hayward creating their own little village. Saras Rao says that before the “coming soon” sign of “blocky condo buildings” was displayed in the parking lot. The owner had quit making repairs to the complex and disappeared 5 years prior, the only thing he was doing was cashing the rent checks. Many of the business inside the complex had given in and left however Saras Rao fought to stay as long as she could, unfortunately she was forced to close sooner than what she thought due to a fire burning down the complex. This article highlights the journey of a woman battling to make ends meet to support her family in a new country and successfully does so until she could not fight anymore.

 

Kauffman, Jonathan. “Tiny Curry Corner in Hayward Feels the Love for the Last Time.” SFChronicle.com, San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Nov. 2016, www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/Tiny-Curry-Corner-in-Hayward-feels-the-love-for-10630611.php#photo-11836072.

 

 

The thesis paper “Looking Backward, Moving Forward: The Experiences of Indo-Fijian Immigrant Women In California” by a former San Jose State University student, Ambrita Nand was really fascinating and very interesting. As a reader I was very intrigued, Nand covered every historical background of Indo-Fijians men and women. From how labourers were brought to the Islands of Fiji, to the colonization by the Europeans, to the birth of Indo-Fijians, to the independence of Fiji and to the migration to the United States. Nand gives insight on the discrimination the men and women faced and not only discrimination but sexism women had to face. Reading Nand’s thesis paper was a learning moment for me and very useful for me because I learned information about my culture that I was not aware of.

Nand, Ambrita. “Looking Backward, Moving Forward: The Experiences of Indo-Fijian Immigrant Women In California.” San Jose State University, 0AD, pp. 5–28. http://www.sjsu.edu/anthropology/docs/projectfolder/Nand-Ambrita-thesis.pdf

This news article highlights the increasing issue of gentrification in communities of color throughout the Bay Area, forcing displacement of families from their own home. This article covers more so about Oakland however it is relatable to all cities and communities in the Bay Area. These families lived in those neighborhoods for years but unfortunately can no longer do so due to the high rent increase making it difficult for low income families to survive. These areas are slowly becoming attractions for investors and developers who think this process of gentrification will bring change to neighborhoods by reducing poverty rates and can bring new benefits for the cities. However, all this new process of change is doing is creating “new concentrations of segregation and poverty in the region” its forcing families to leave the Bay Area.

News, Bay City. “Bay Area Gentrification Displacing Communities of Color.” The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 6 Aug. 2019, www.mercurynews.com/2019/08/06/bay-area-gentrification-displacing-communities-of-color/.

McElroy, Erin. “The Digital Humanities, American Studies, and the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project.” American Quarterly, vol. 70 no. 3, 2018, p. 701-707. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aq.2018.0055.

The Tech boom of 2011 that was seen in Silicon Valley and San Francisco lead to the gentrification of the two communities. In turn, the Anti Eviction Mapping Project, or AEMP, was created by civil and housing activists who collected data and documents surrounding the resistance of gentrifying landscapes. The AEMP was able to unveil the truths behind repeat evictors who targeted the working class, women of the head of the household, all people of color, and people with disabilities. The AEMP continues to collect data and facts to be made public through their anti-capitalists lenses

Russell, Kiley. “Bay Area gentrification displacing communities of color”. Bay City News Foundation, 6 August 2019.https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/08/06/bay-area-gentrification-displacing-communities-of-color/.

Oakland natives are being displaced with higher rent being imposed upon them, yet their annual wages are staying stagnant. Gentrification is defined in different ways depending on who is asked, but the common denominator is the undeniable displacement of low-income people of color. With displacement due to gentrification comes the influx of population in relocating cities, and the loss of social network and community of those who had to relocate. Gentrification has also created a new sense of segregation within communities that contain low-income people of color, and people who are benefiting from others displacement.

Buscher. Casey. “Not the end of the struggle, but a huge victory”. The Majority, 13 August 2019, https://eastbaymajority.com/hayward-collective-housing-rent-control-alicia-garcia/.

Haywards residential rent stabilization ordinance, or RRSO, has been at its weakest since tenants have not been protected by wrongful and lack of reason to impose evictions. Numerous Hayward councilmember where against strengthening the RRSO because they believed the gentrification of Hayward would rebuild the community even if that meant displacement of some of most of its natives. The ‘Just cause requirement’ has now been implemented in order to limit landlords and their reasons to impose an eviction.

Maharawal, Manissa M. “The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project: Counter Mapping and Oral History towards Bay Area Housing Justice.” Ebscohost.com, Mar. 2018, web.a.ebscohost.com.proxylib.csueastbay.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=590c1be5-6206-4d2f-bb43-839b78d7d7b7%40sdc-v-sessmgr03&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=128004214&db=a9h.

In this article, Manissa Maharawal documents gentrification in the Bay Area, providing statistics, data analysis, and history of decolonial studies. This plan was called the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP). The project utilizes a tactic called countermapping to establish unity and political entity amongst the targets. The goal of this method is to help the history of activism throughout the area. The Anti Eviction Mapping Project allows victims to develop intimate relationships with one another, as they share the struggle of the fear of being evicted. This article is significant because it reveals the strategies and thought processes behind the mapping.

 

Lin, Jan. “Globalization and the Revalorizing of Ethnic Places in Immigration Gateway Cities.” Go-Gale.com, 1 Nov. 1998, go-gale-com.proxylib.csueastbay.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA21212519&v=2.1&u=csuh_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w.

Jan Lin’s article “Globalization and the revaloring of ethnic places in immigration cities” explains the political and cultural aspects of globalization. Lin begins to explain how capitalism has its roots as early the fifteen hundreds and how technological innovations have strongly fueled it, as well as cultural exchange. Lin also includes data about immigration flow into major cities, ethnic versus U.S. enterprises, and Asian and Hispanic firms. She notes that things like Chinatowns, Koreatowns, and cultural festivals help revive the authenticity of Asian culture, which became restricted when they were evicted.

 

Hegarty, Peter. “’Just Cause’ Eviction Protection Extended to All Hayward Renters.” East Bay Times, East Bay Times, 8 Mar. 2019, http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2019/03/08/just-cause-eviction-protection-extended-to-all-hayward-renters/.

Hegarty addresses the “just cause” policy, which is protection for the tenant unless they fail to pay rent, engage in criminal activity, or violate the terms of the lease. Significantly, this policy has been applied to all of the renters in Hayward, rather than only those in units that were built before July 1st, 1979. The “just cause” assists low income workers and immigrants to help prevent the mass community displacement. However, the policy has some major flaws. For instance, the landlord can force an eviction if he or she wants to move into the unit themselves, or allow a family member to move in. This article is significant because it is directly connected to Hayward. It also reveals the pros and cons of the “just cause” policy.

Moriki, Darin. “Hayward’s Curry Corner Faces Closure.” East Bay Times, East Bay Times, 20 Jan. 2017, http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/01/20/haywards-curry-corner-faces-closure/.

 

In the article Darin Moriki talks about Sara Rao, a small business owner in Hayward who opened a small Curry Restaurant with the help of her daughter Maharaj in 2000. Rao has been stressing because many of her neighbors have had to relocate or completely shut down their businesses, due to the fact that the city had made plans to redevelop the land to build 35 three-story townhouses and a four-story building with 39 apartments. While Rao has been worrying about having to shut down her Curry Corner Restaurant whenever the city sends her a notification telling her that she is going to have to leave her corner.

 

Chapple, Karen. “The Future of Displacement.” The Future of Displacement | Urban Displacement Project, 23 Aug. 2015, http://www.urbandisplacement.org/blog/future-displacement.

 

The article The Future of Displacement basically talks about the issues revolving housing in the bay area and the way in which many communities have been affected by the many changes that have happened within the communities. Essentially, this article further explains the things that many people in specifically those who make major decisions should take into account the many ways that a single decision or policies can affect the lives of many people who have been long term residents within the communities. Karen talks about the way in which many people have been displaced through gentrification and all the redevelopment going on.

 

Moriki, Darin. “Hayward Planning Board OKs Downtown Mixed-Use Project.” East Bay Times, East Bay Times, 13 Feb. 2017, http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/01/06/hayward-planning-board-oks

-downtown-mixed-use-project/.

In this article Darin Moriki talks about the way in which the mixed-use project that the developers in Hayward are planning could be a good but also a bad thing for the people of hayward. Many of the community members feel like it is a bad idea for the multi-use project to be placed in downtown Hayward because many believe that there isn’t a need for housing downtown, instead they feel that it would be better for the city if they instead created more businesses in that area in order to make more jobs for the people in the community. There are many people who support the multi-use project, but the just don’t necessarily agree that downtown Hayward is where they should build housing buildings with different shops. Many people think that the housing project should take place anywhere other than in downton and that they should leave the new businesses in downtown.