Many moons ago, my preschool teacher asked each of us kids sitting in a circle to share our race or ethnic heritage. One by one, my classmates proudly declared that they were “Korean” or “Black” or “white.” When it was my turn, I stood up and said, “I’m chicken!”—crossing the signals of being told I was “Chicana,” or Mexican American, to hilarious effect.
Thankfully, I no longer identify as poultry. But now, more than ever, I know that how we define ourselves matters. Someone who embodies this unapologetically is our cover star, Rita Moreno. Aside from her many gifts to the stage and screen, as well as her activism, I’m awed and inspired by her powerful sense of self, her defiance of traditional limitations, her wit and her honesty. It’s a delight to feature her in this year’s premiere issue.
Just as our life stories define and unite us, the care we put into where we live is a reflection of our community. Constantly under threat by a litany of complex challenges, our connections to nature through green spaces like Lake Merritt are critical as sources of recreation and respite.
Language is another powerful tool for connection, as bilingualism can not only increase empathy but also expand our worldview and appreciation of diversity. That kind of multicultural reverence informs the music and activism of Naima Shalhoub, a local vocalist inspired by her trips to Lebanon and her work with prisoners there, as well as in the Bay Area.
World travels likewise influenced the owners of The Punchdown, a natural wine bar and bottle shop in Oakland. After paving the way for orange and natural wines to thrive locally, the shop owners’ passion for the “magical beverage” was validated by this year’s nomination for a James Beard Award.
Innovation is clearly in the DNA of the East Bay. And it’s in the fabric of this area’s future. We explore how one school’s project-based learning allows students to spend time forming solutions to complex problems—a skill that’ll certainly be useful in the years to come.
From education and ecology to the arts and public spaces, we East Bayers are forward thinkers connected to each other and the world through our stories, our cultures and our most innovative imaginings.