East Bay’s Cultural Community: Fruitvale’s Unity Council and Latino Roots

Fruitvale, CA- Best known as Jingletown, Fruitvale has become more appealing since the development of Fruitvale Village, helping local businesses economically thrive over years.  It’s one of East Bay’s most diverse Latino Community where many outside visitors come to enjoy the vibrant city.

Fruitvale Village, residents walking towards the Bart Station “The community might be poor, but the people are humble and generous. My clients are like my friends.  There’s a bit of delinquency here in Fruitvale, could open up a store in Berkeley, but I prefer it here,” says Ledy Ordonas owner of Ecuador Imports.  December 21, 2016.

Instantly an aromatic smell of Mexican bread fills the air at Fruitvale Public Market. At the entrance there is a cart of savory churros being prepared before your eyes. As you wait, you’re able to admire the plaza’s most vibrant cultural stores that Fruitvale Village has to offer.

Churro Stand located at Fruitvale Public Market has been established at Fruitvalle Village for a decade now. December 21, 2016.

The town’s name derives from its popularity of cherries and apricot orchards, the majority of its residents came from a very diverse background, a melting pot of cultures. The most represented cultures are Mexican-Americans, Native Americans and Latin America.  In the late 1960’s Mexican-Americans were fed up with lack of education offered from their school curriculum.

FINAL Unity Council History

Leader of the United Farm Workers, Cesar Chavez with Dolores Huerta, picketed to raise awareness of health concerns of using pesticides in the fields.  The Chicano movement revolutionized U.S. history, Fruitvale residents were among those who participated, making it an all Latino Landmark.

Unity Council Headquarters, “We believe our programs help residents become more financially self-sufficient,” says Armando Hernandez Director of Workforce Development.

The movement had inspired resident, Arabella Martinez to create, The Unity Council non-profit organization. As Executive Director, Martinez led the organization in effort to assist Spanish-Speakers with employment, education and housing.

“Our Workforce Development programs help hundreds of residents to be prepared for employment and to secure jobs every year. We serve over 600 clients who come in our Career Center, regardless of immigration status, educational and employment history,” says Armando Hernandez, Director of Workforce Development.

A young girl picks out books, at the Bilingual section for Children. Cesar E Chavez Library at Fruitvale Village. December 21, 2016

The first project UC organization ever worked on was the Latino Branch Library in 1966, located on Fruitvale and International. “It was first public library ever created for Spanish Speaking people, dedicated budget Spanish collection, hiring bilingual employers,” said Pete Villasenor Branch Manager of Cesar E. Chavez Library.

Two young boys speak in Spanish, all while playing video games at the Cesar E. Chavez Library located at Fruitvale Village.  December 21, 2016.

By March 1997 the Latino Branch Library changed its name in honor of Cesar E. Chavez, located at 1457 Fruitvale Ave. Photographs are displayed downstairs from the Library’s entrance from the time Cesar Chavez visited the Library.

Local residents from Fruitvale at Nieveria Cinco De Mayo. Fruitvale’s economy has improved over time, especially local businesses”Getting to know the people in the community does help out with our store,” says Elizabeth Contreras worker at Nieves Cinco De Mayo. December 21, 2016.

Unity Council’s greatest achievement was the opening of Fruitvale Village in 2001, which was adjacent to Fruitvale Station.  In spite of Bart’s reliable commuting services they still don’t offer security for their commuters.  Fruitvale Station is commonly known to have high rate of criminal activities; at least 10,104 crimes are committed, which is about three-thousand more than Oakland’s crime rate.


The Peralta Service Corporation is Unity Council’s social enterprise for second-chance employment.  The SNAP workers patrol Fruitvale’s Village, it used to serve the community, but there has been recent cut-backs due to lack of funds and donations.  For worker, Arturo Torres, PSC provides him employment and a chance to prevent crimes at Fruitvale Village.  His patrol duties consist of, “reporting to the authorities of any robberies, physical contact, killings, also escorting both women and elderly to their cars at Fruitvale’s Village’s parking lot,”says Torres.

An elderly woman walks early in the morning at the  historical site,  Fruitvale’s Peralta Hacienda Historical Park. It opened to the public in 1996,  the 45, 000 acre land was revitalized  and future adobes will be placed for visitors to explore history of cultures sharing same community.  December 21, 2016.

Housing is also available on the third floor of Fruitvale’s Village, residents can apply through Housing Urban Development in the Bay Area, to be able to qualify, “It’s a complicated system, when new building being built there is a lottery system, where everyone applies,” says Dana Kleinhesselink, Senior Manager of Fund Development and Communications. According to the United States Census Bureau, the monthly housing cost ranged from $300 to $3,000 and up and the inflation of household income in 2015 was around $5,000 to over $150,000 in Fruitvale.

The Ghost Ship Warehouse,best known as a home for artists is now a pile of burned down ruins. On December 5, 2016 at least 36 people died trapped in the building after a fire broke out.  The fence that blocks the warehouse is filled with flowers, candles, letters and photographs of the victims. Residents from Oakland visit the site, in memory of the lost artists. December 21, 2016.

The next step for Unity Council’s Fruitvale Village, is Phase Two Plan, “development will have parking underground, Clinica de la Reza will have an expanded facility there, which they really need it.  Then there is going to be all back housing,” mixed housing will also be provided those with higher income and low income.   More than fifty years later Unity Council still remains a reliable non-profit organization, offering sustainable programs than any community in Oakland.

If you like more information of the Unity Council’s programs, volunteering or donating contacts are below.

Josie De La Cruz Park located in Fruitvale,  the public park has a basketball court, recreational center and children’s playground.  Three young girls arrive at the park along with their mother. December 21, 2016.

PhotoJournalist: Cristabell Fierros

Sources: Pete Villasenor – pvillasenor@oaklandlibrary.org

Dana Kleinhesselink-Sr. Manager of Fund Development & Communications

dnak @unitycouncil.org

Armando Hernandez-Director of Workforce Development


Ledy Ordenas-Ecuador Imports (no contact available)

Elizabeth Contreras- Nieves Cinco De Mayo (no contact available)





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