“Our Oakland” Poetry – Edition #1

This fall, the Oakland City Council debated adopting a new anti-graffiti law. The proposed law would make graffiti a misdemeanor, require property owners to remove graffiti on their proper within a certain time frame and hold the parents of minors fiscally responsible for the cost of graffiti removal. Inspired by Our America and Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight Los Angeles, 1992, Life Academy freshman investigated the issue by conducting interviews and surveys throughout Oakland. Once the students gathered their data, they wrote assertion paragraphs for or against the proposed law. Below, please enjoy the strongest two assertions and several exemplary poems from each of the three sections of 9th grade English.

— Jill E. Thomas and Kyle Halle-Erby 


For the Anti-Graffiti Law

The proposed anti-graffiti law should be passed by the City of Oakland because some graffiti brings violence. To begin with, there has been a lot of violence in Oakland with teenagers because of graffiti. Teens nowadays tag gang-related messages to claim their territories. For example, when we interviewed a random sampling of people, fifty-six percent of Oakland residents thought there would be less violence without graffiti. Less graffiti means less violence because people won’t be able to claim their territories by writing on the walls. Similarly, Brallan Munguia, a student at Life Academy, believes violence comes with graffiti. He said, “Yes, because if somebody crosses them out then he’ll be mad because he wasted a lot of time like drawing for somebody just to cross it out” (Munguia, 11/15/12). Graffiti creates anger among people, which can lead to violence. In addition, the city should pass the law because graffiti really does bring a lot of problems in this world. Rey Medina, a local tagger states that taggers start drama by doing graffiti. He states that “Yes, it’s called ‘funk’ because some people that tag get crossed out by some one else and the person gets mad and starts to want to fight them” (Medina, 11/23/12). Many of us connect to all of this because we have friends who tag and then someone who dislikes them cross it out, which brings even more anger and fights happen. We feel like without graffiti there will be less violence, but also it will be cleaner. If the law passes, youth would stop tagging on walls and books, so it would be less violence in schools too. Many people think Oakland is dirty and it must be because they see graffiti everywhere, even on trash cans. But, if the law passes, there will be less violence here in Oakland and more people will start liking it or will start coming to Oakland. Oakland is a unique place where people are proud to say they live, and not only live but were born and raised here. Forget what you heard and realize what you see.

— Cindy Montalvo (Student in 1st Period English)

Against the Anti-Graffiti Law

The proposed anti-graffiti law should not be passed because graffiti is one more type or art, not a sign of violence. To begin with, students at Life Academy surveyed Oakland residents and sixty-three percent of the people interviewed believe that there won’t be less violence with less graffiti. This shows that by decreasing the amount of graffiti in Oakland, we won’t be doing anything to decrease violence. Even though graffiti can be offensive to some people it doesn’t influence youth to be violent. To some people graffiti may be something that teens do because they’re bored and have nothing better to do. But to other people graffiti is art expressed through words. For example, a ninth grade students at Life Academy named Jacky Tril said, “I think it’s art, just that I don’t think it’s right where they do it” (Tril, 15 Nov. 2012). People in Oakland may see graffiti as vandalism because it is done on private property, but if we gave teens a place to do graffiti they wouldn’t do it on people’s property and people would see it more as art than vandalism. In addition, people in Oakland see graffiti as inappropriate and as a bad influence on children and youth. According to Carina Isidro, “I think they should pass this law because graffiti can be inappropriate…and the children see these things everywhere and I don’t think it’s right” (Isidro, 21 Nov. 2012).  This law should only penalize people do offensive graffiti; instead it is penalizing everyone who does graffiti even if it’s not offensive. It would be hard to decide what type of graffiti is offensive because people have different opinions. But penalizing all graffiti artists would not be fair either. In conclusion, we can help our youth by giving them a place to do graffiti instead of taking it away from them. Taking away graffiti would be like taking away the voice of the unheard.

— Alondra Diaz (Student from 1st Period)


Art Doesn’t Kill

Anonymous, College student

(The interviewee, who wishes to remain anonymous, is wearing a black sweater and a black beanie. He speaks in a quiet voice, and changes speed as he talks. It is a Monday afternoon and it’s raining outside. We are sitting in the living room, it’s a beautiful house. All of the walls are painted sky blue and there is a painting of an angel on one of them.)


Art or street art

That expresses who you are.

It expresses feelings

and some of it is


(Stands up and walks around)

It ain’t always just a bunch of words

and gang signs.

You know some of it,

Some of it is really creative

and its way different from what famous people do.

(sits down and takes out his phone)

You say they wanna take graffiti



Graffiti ain’t violent

or nothing like that.

Is art and

art doesn’t kill.

Yeah they might think Oakland’s

gonna be cleaner

(Looks down and laughs)

That ain’t gonna happen…

You know why?

(Looks up)

‘Cuz Oakland ain’t dirty

violence is what makes it look bad.

–Alondra Diaz


Fany Aguilera, Student at Arise High school

(sounds kind of sick, a lot of background noise, interview through phone)

It’s gonna be a boring city

Can you imagine San Francisco without its graffiti?


Imagine San Francisco without its graffiti

It would look like a hideous place

Like any other city in the world

…same with Oakland


You’re going to get rid of

People who fuckin do graffiti and create


Why the fuck would you wanna do that?


It’s stupid

It’s stupid and unnecessary

There are things out there

That are far worse than graffiti and vandalizing

Like there are people getting


And they want to spend their money on stupid laws like that


–Andrea Sigala

Hard To Say You’re Against Some Thing If You Fit In That Category 

Edgar Rentira, Graffiti Artist Oakland Resident

(Age 17, Deep voice 9:30 Pm, interview done over the phone on 11/22/12)

As been a graffiti artist

I don’t see it as


I see as art just like painting,

music, dancing and etc is


It’s like my first love

My first love

My first love

And my wife my first love

Ain’t nothing ever going

To change that!

My first love

(Starts to laugh)

Yes, I do beside I’m one of those

It’s just a life style I choose

I’ve done  it for like a few

years now I gotta admit I’m like

in love with it!

unless it’s gang related

then it’s no art

it’s hard to say you’re against some thing if you

fit in that category!

that category!

— Hilda Chavez

Favor to the Law

Maria Tril, a former banker and a single mother of one

(Hair slick back, with a pale silky face. She’s sitting on the brown big couch with her legs crossed. Phone in on hand and she asks a lot of questions.)


When I was younger you say?


Of course I tagged. (she laughs)

Yes its art but it shouldn’t be used illegally.

What do you think?

No one should vandalize no ones property,

It should be made with someone’s permission.

Not everyone can do graffiti,

Some people know how to and some people don’t.

So no,

There’s no age limit.

I admire it.

It expresses people.

Not exactly to express themselves,

But to express something.

It should be known.

Know what I mean J?

I admire it.


A favor to the law.

Law one point, graffiti zero.

So yes,

And expression

I could be pics, letters, or even some offensive shit.

But a favor to the law.

— Jacki Tril

Oakland is not a wall to graffiti!

Ms.Tie Ho, student life director of college track Oakland

(She in Asian. she has long black hair ,she is very short ,has a white polo shirt and wears blue genes she is very laidback and cam in her dig chair. has an old small watch  she talks very fast)

Graffiti on the wall

the law should be pass you mostly see under

Bart, highways, old buildings,and stores

It may not affect you but it may associate with crime .

the citizens do not feel safe

Yes it art but it matters where you put

to compare Oakland and Hayward

Hayward is more respect and clean

when Oakland has graffiti


mostly everywhere

(moving her hands to one part of a table)

well ,it will be a good idea

Oakland is broke it a good way to get back

money that Oakland has lost

it should  be pass the citizens do not want to see this

on their walls .

it a good idea

so pass it

to get money to the government


Oakland is not a wall to graffiti

— Jose J. Martinez

Trashy Neighborhood

Ana Luna, worker at WCC, mother of two

(Wearing white pajamas with black flowers print ,wrist watch on left hand, laying down in bed covered in blue sheets, T.V on the back ground, cell phone on her right side, we are in her bed room, there’s multiple clean clothes on a khaki couch.)


I don’t like it when it’s not artistic

Oh, no

(mugs, scratches stomach.)


The law? My opinion?

Well, yeah

I think the law should pass

Prevents vandalism

It looks…with a lot of graffiti


It makes it look like,

A trashy neighborhood

(takes a glimpse at her watch)


Because if they use graffiti in an artistic way,

It won’t affect them

Nice murals I businesses

It’s their job

It would only affect them those who use it

As vandalism



They would have to be more cautious


(cell phone rings, looks at cell phone awkwardly, ignores call)


Only with the condition

Of using it in an artistic way

No, they shouldn’t be able to

(shrugs, pretends to be sleep)

— Joselin Roque

Born To Do This

Gabriel De Leon, A young graffiti artist

(He is sitting on our couch in our living room. He wears a black sweater and beanie along with red shorts. He watches a movie, Friday, and plays around with our puppy. Laughs about movie and says quotes about the movie during the interview.)

I don’t see it as vandalizing

I see it as beautifying

The community

A structure of letters

Being expanded

With colors

And details

It’s a way of expression

I don’t see it as vandalizing

I see it as beautifying

The community

I feel like

I don’t know

It just feels good

It’s a way to release

My stress

I feel

Like I was born

To do this

I’m accomplishing


I’m accomplishing

A talent

I’m going to keep


What I do




The law


I don’t see it as vandalizing

I see it as beautifying

The community

— Karina De Leon

I Don’t Support the Law

Mr. Halle-Erby, Student teacher

(Wearing a grey sweater, Levi jeans, Brown boots, In Ms. Thomas’ classroom, Students talking in the background)

I don’t support the law

I don’t think the police need more reasons to bother people in Oakland

People who do graffiti

Like Latinos and Blacks

I think they wouldn’t go after white kids

Or hipsters that are doing graffiti

I don’t mind seeing graffiti

I like graffiti

Simple stuff

I like the ones that are drawings

Or simple pictures of people

I don’t like graffiti

That is just text all bubbly

I hate graffiti that is just sharpie

I think that makes things look junky

I like simple graffiti

That are just drawings

Or pictures of people

I think they do it because

They have something

They want to share

— Luis Zarate

Graffiti Is Not Appropriate

Yeni Prieto, Works for children with disabilities.

(A woman with black hair, she has her hair braided. She’s wearing sun glasses. She’s wearing pink earrings and a black jacket. We are at the park setting down on a picnic table.)

Yes, it could be art

when it’s performed at places

allow by the government.

Is okay as long you leave

a good positive message.

(She smiles)

But no, I don’t like graffiti

because it gives a bad

aspect to the city.

It mostly has inappropriate

figures or words

that makes the city

look dirty.

I guess… I guess that,

the gangs and teens

who have no adult

supervision and guidance

of good advice are doing this.

— Nayely Espinoza

Graffiti Everywhere

Ryneisha Culverson, 11th grader at Oakland Technical High school

(She is 16 years of age. She’s wearing a grey sweater with some Levi jeans, some chucks, and she’s laughing on the phone. She’s a very nice outgoing person. Her eyes light up like a light bulb when she’s happy! She does her own business in Downtown Oakland by making rings and selling them, her and her partner Briana made $171 dollars from the rings. She’s a very smart, intelligent leader.)


It could be pretty


At the same time

You have to look pass the stupid

If it has a meaning to it

Then yeah

It’s meaningful

And symbolizes something

It’s both ‘cause

Some people use it as artistic

Expression and other use it

To be ignorant I really don’t pay any attention to



Does bother me when I see

Businesses, malls, etc that people go to

And it has a lot of graffiti on it

Sometimes I be like

Why they do it?

It doesn’t matter to me

Because I don’t really care about graffiti


You turn your head you see


People use it for


— Rodriana Tillery

You Know

Anonymous, College Student

(Tall guy with long hair and dark sunglasses. Have a tattoo in his neck. White t-shirt with khaki short and black shoes. He’s Puerto Rican mix with black raise by grandmother. Has leave in Oakland more than 10 years. His on his 20’s.)

They try’na stop graffiti

Would since along ass time but

You know people don’t listen


You know they try’na be



There’s a lot of answers

You know its goanna be dad

For us

But for other people I think it’s going to be good.

You know

(Opens a beer but doesn’t drink it leave’s it in stairs)


Nope cause

You know how people is

They don’t listen


(Pointing at me)

And maybe would do it more often

You know

To feel that they bad

And that 50 (police) is nothing

(Shaking because it was getting cold)

Well cause

You see I’m more into what is now

I don’t think graffiti is a problem is

The people don’t really see what’s

The massage is for some of the graffiti

(Start moving around)

Well I think that graffiti make’s

Oakland looks UNIQUE



You know

— Sindy Cox Perez

It’s Gonna Cause More Trouble

Anonymous, resident of Oakland

(We’re in her kitchen. It’s warm inside and she’s sitting on her couch while scrolling down on her iPod. I am sitting on a chair in front of her. There’s a Christmas tree in the left of me and a stove behind me)

Because they want to make it look


and they think graffiti is


basically for the looks.

It’s a way of art

haven’t heard about it

it’s gonna cause more


kids underage will still

buy spray cans

you never see graffiti

in Alameda

or the Hills

but like,

definitely in poor places

it actually makes some places look

with color

with color

— Veronica Lopez


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