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Celebrating Culture & Community is putting together interviews of 25 El Cerrito residents, a project aimed at showing the diverse communities that have contributed to the city's history.

The interviews have been made possible largely through support from the California Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information about Celebrating Culture & Community , contact Eve Ma at 236-3255 or ccandc_97@yahoo.com

Following is one of the interviews:

Interview with Vera Shadi, 11/13/99

Interviewer: Robin DeLugan

Vera Shadi was born in El Cerrito in 1944. At the age of 19 she left to explore other parts of the country, but she returned to El Cerrito in 1997. She is now a realtor, a musician--a composer of classical music, and a substitute teacher. She is also working on renewing her teaching credential.

The El Cerrito of Vera's childhood was very different than today. She notes in particular that everywhere there were unobstructed panoramic views of Oakland, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin. There were few trees, and the trees that did exist 50 years ago were small. The wind would come off of the Bay and make the air so fresh. There was an openness to El Cerrito that no longer exists now that non-native trees have grown so tall as to dwarf houses and block views.

Vera characterizes El Cerrito as always being of three blended economic classes from middle to upper middle. But today she says that the spread is much wider, that there is much more diversity now all around.

El Cerrito is a "city of homes" more than it is known for having a business life. She says that the importance of El Cerrito to the Bay Area is its proximity to San Francisco. For this reason, the property values will always be high.

Vera shops in El Cerrito whenever possible. For relaxation she likes to go to the countryside and to visit valley towns like Tracy. For socializing Vera spends her time in El Cerrito and in San Francisco.

There is no city, nor any place in El Cerrito where Vera doesn't feel comfortable going.

She jokes "Realtors go everywhere!"

Vera thinks that El Cerrito has an identity of "City of Homes" and that it is trying to look outside for its future identity, i.e. drawing a major chain store to the Plaza. Instead Vera suggests that El Cerrito looks to its own history and unique beauty and expand the city's identity to "City of Homes, Views, and Flowers". By promoting and turning attention towards restoring the natural beauty of the area, El Cerrito could forge a truly unique identity.

What Vera likes best about El Cerrito is the weather, the views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, and that it is mostly comprised of homes, wonderful homes.

What she likes least: Trees blocking the views, especially the non-native trees

With a magic wand, Vera would knock all of the big trees down and restore the views.

Vera while definitely aware of her Indian cultural history identifies as an American, "an American with a twist".

Vera's mother was from Los Angeles, California and her father was from India. Her father, Sundar Shadi, was one of the first non-European immigrants to the area. He immigrated by boat at the age of 21. He received agricultural degrees at the University of California: Berkeley. He and Vera's mother built their house on the Arlington in 1937.

Vera and her two sisters were some of the first ethnically mixed children in El Cerrito (or as she refers to it: "American with a twist"). She says that because of discrimination her father found it difficult to secure work. She also remembers that because of her darker coloring, people treated her differently and that she sometimes felt like she didn't fit in. Her father was of the Sikh community in India, but Vera says that there was only a very small number of Sikhs in the Bay area when she was growing up. She jokes that sometimes all of them would be in her family's home at the same time, and that they would all fit into a single room.

The most memorable people in Vera's childhood were her parents. Her father, in particular, became well known for two of his creative ventures. He set up an elaborate Christmas display every year to which people came from all over to visit. When asked how he got started, Vera quips…"My mother tried to give him something to do, to get him out of the house." It all started with her mother's suggestion that they put up a large star visible from San Pablo Avenue, so that people could "follow the star" (just as the Wise Men did in the biblical story). After that they decided that they needed Wise Men, sheep, and soon the whole town of Bethlehem!" Every year, little by little, the Christmas display grew. On Christmas Eve in 1984, ABC's World News Tonight did a feature about the Christmas display. At the age of 97 her father finally stopped putting up his annual display. While the community loved the display, while growing up, Vera and her sisters felt embarrassed by the elaborate display that her parents put up every year.

Beginning in 1950, Vera's father began growing a garden of flowers on his Arlington Street property. Every year it grew larger and more beautiful, attracting attention and visitors (even tour buses) from all around. I asked what motivated him. She said that "He was a farmer in India and was still a farmer at heart. He came from the poorest of countries and because he was so grateful to be in this country, he wanted to make a beautiful spot!" Because of his advanced age, he no longer maintains the flower garden. Vera does have some beautiful photographs of the garden and of her father in the garden.

Sundar Shadi was also involved in community events. For approximately 22 years in the 1950's - 1970's he was chair and organizer of an annual United Nation's Day Celebration.

In the programs for this celebration music and dance traditions from nation's around the world were showcased. Vera showed me a program from 1976 United Nation's Day Celebration which was held at Harding School.



1900 International MarketPlace, San Pablo, CA., 94806

(510) 236-3255; fax (510) 236-3068

e-mail: CCandC_97@yahoo.com


Run dates: 2000-01-01 - 2000-02-01

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