Born and raised in “Jingle Town,” East Oakland, California, our communities are a construction of our hopes, dreams, and inspirations from our past, present and future. It’s about all the “hella” beautiful people that help co-create this wonderful journey. Although our barrio is considered disenfranchised, it has been our family’s home – our source of strength. I created our testimonio “Woke Up” as a dream to reunite and celebrate familia. Testimonios are an art form of sharing lived experiences with communal history. “Woke Up” is my way to share that feeling we get when my family comes together. A safe and brave place to share, cry, laugh, and be vulnerable: a place for growth. I interviewed my younger brother Cory Esaí Aguilar in his transition of sharing his poetry and music. With the addition of our home movies I shared this intimate part of us; consequently, it signified our new journey in sharing our experience with the world. Despite our hardships, my family has shown that together as a community we can accomplish anything. I am truly blessed for the infinite possibilities as we continue to push boundaries for holistic growth for all creation in a social justice consciousness.
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I am the son of Andrea and Manuel Aguilar. I am Cristian Esteban Aguilar, a reflection of you. A Xicana, born and raised in East Oakland, California. (Seven) generations of intertwined journeys with no beginning or end. A being from our mother earth. I have grown with my community as a social justice grass roots organizer and educator in my neighborhood schools for the past fourteen years. I am truly blessed to be able to share my love of stories through a series of “Testimonios” that I am helping to co-create.
Cristian Esteban Aguilar.
¡Sí se puede!
Transcript and description of video (image descriptions were not written by the filmmakers and are necessarily subjective; apologies for any errors)
[A horn blows and we see train tracks, a train in the distance. Over a montage of home-movie footage of a family, adults and kids in sunny yards and streets, then later shots of train tracks, and finally settling on the outside of a white house, a male voice raps.]
Woke up this morning still stargazing, soaring with my feet
ground in sun rays we time travelers born with the brown
glazing, connecting all your dots cuz it’s your roots that I be
trazing, riding back to back high siding through these races
skin colors tenderize so painting my amazing, spectrum of
these rays got you gazing and waiting, sick mutha
hocking loogies at these hating, pigs with no patience time
will erase them, red white and blue blurred never using
brake ***, never felt freedom putting smiles up on they
braces, half way out the window getting sideways in the
station petal to the metal cuz I gas real straight with curves
in these words like we swanging figure eights, it neva eva
ends getting aback to the basics, call it what you want but
[footage shifts to a montage of rappers performing]
It started in the bay, yea, trend settas, go gettas, packing
barettes all black hoodie sweaters ready to ride we bout
whateva cuz neva will I leave my roots behind
cuz it’s indigenous pride till the day that I die!
[Spoken voice over in Spanish]
No se olviden de este momento. Por esto es que vivimos por todi esto nuestros antepasados murieron.
[English translation: Don’t forget this moment. This is what we live for. This is what our ancestors died for. Lets live y’all. Peace.]
[In center of screen in large letters: Esaí. The words distort and transition to home-movie footage date stamped 1988. Men at home speak quietly in Spanish with children’s voices in the background. English subtitles.]
We are already old, yes?
I have in set my plans that I will complete.
Which are to work.
Within a year I will be able to stop laboring.
I do not own a plane… Just myself.
I can work two days out of the week.
One cannot be without a job.
[Home movie of a little boy, aged around 3, as voice over in English plays with Spanish subtitles]
As people we have our physical bodies but more important than that we have a story to tell. That’s really what I’m trying to communicate, a voice of truth. I’m just explaining my truth. I think that’s really everybody’s responsibility as a human being is to speak their truth. The actions that we take, the words that we speak, the thoughts that we think have an effect on this world.
[Black screen, Spanish voice with English subtitles]
Adrian and Cristian. Here is your baby brother. Would you guys like to see your baby.
[Home movie of a smiling woman in a hospital bed with a newborn baby, time stamped August 1, 1988. Voice over in English with Spanish subtitles.]
My name is Cory Esai Aguilar.
[Close up on the baby, shifting to footage of the three children together as they grow up]
It give me a sense of pride, identity, and closeness to the person that I want to be and the person that I felt I always been since I was born.
[Footage of a toddler. His mother’s voice speaks in Spanish with English subtitles.]
How old are you?[Little boy holds up one hand] One!
[Mother] No, you are two years old! Go ahead, dance!
[The little boy dances; a male voice says in English] He is, he like the bass.
[Footage of kids dancing continues; voice over in English with Spanish subtitles]
My relationship with music started since I was in the womb because I know my family has always incorporated music with whatever activity. But for me growing up listening to artists such as Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, Antonio Aguilar, Gloria Estefan… this inspired me to have a connection to this artistry and ever since I was little I just loved music.
[Footage of a group of kids dressed up and dancing to Michael Jackson]
[Parent’s voice] Go and dance Michael.
I love dancing, I love the rap, I love the whole culture of music and specifically the whole culture of hip-hop which I feel is a tool that was shaped in order to create something new, to create change, to express something original but real at the same time.
[A dark screen lights up to show footage of a child’s birthday party, one candle on a cake, children and parents celebrating; English voiceover]
I was born to a lower middle class Raza family in East Oakland. Which can come with a lot of judgments already but I feel like my experience was unique; my own viewpoint was unique to myself.
[The family sings “Happy birthday” and mother says in Spanish “Blow out your candles”; some back and forth over blowing out candles, relighting them. Birthday party footage continues into next English voiceover]
My mother took a lot of time with naming me just as well as my father. I guess all parents when they name their kids its something that has meaning.
[Kids messing around and shouting at birthday party; their sound fades out as English voiceover returns]
I understand how much these perspectives give me in terms of the kind of the beauty to my life.
[Home movie footage of a little boy swinging a stick at a piñata]
Being a brown person is a privilege. I love being who I am, I love being where I from.
[Children dressed in fancy clothes search for Easter eggs in a backyard as adults watch]
My environment has given me half of my identity of who I believe that I am, just in terms of how I experience the world.
[Footage of kids on horses, carousel, playing board games, with family at a carnival]
I recognize my individual talents, goals and narrative that I have for myself but I’m also am aware of that fact that I have a natural tendency to want to connect with people and I couldn’t have picked a better place to be from.
[Three boys breakdance in a living room, in front of a switched-off TV]
I was raised in Jingle Town, which is a section that they call the Murder Dubs. Oakland is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and because of this I’m honored to be able to have lived the life experience that I’ve have in the shoes that I have. I was raised in the hood but I went to private schools. My mom, my dad, my entire family has sacrificed and been sacrificing for years for me to be in the position that I am. All my cousins, my brothers and sister all of us have experience this complete lifestyle of unconditional love where our ancestors, our grandparents, our parents, all of us have put in work so we can be happy so we can be who we truly are where we want to live positive lives.
[Voice in video] Want me to put better music, better song?
[More recent footage of a party, or perhaps several parties cut together; children and young adults of color dancing and having a good time]
I knew at young age that I wanted to connect. I wanted all people to connect regardless of race or economics. But recognizing the facts that there’s a lot to work on. This was my motivation in life. When I was first born I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to help people. I wanted to be a civil rights attorney just because of everything that I saw going on in my childhood. I just felt that I needed to be part of a solution.
[A woman plays with headphones with a toddler, children play by a bicycle propped against a wall]
Oakland is distinct in the fact that its rooted in its culture, it’s rooted in its pride and that’s something that I value. It’s an epicenter of consciousness there’s something here that people connect to. And we all know it. When people come to the bay area you feel this type of consciousness of change. And I think the next level would be making sure that we put it into action.
[Recent footage of a football game in a park]
My family has always felt that we need to help other folk just as much as we help ourselves because it’s the same thing, there is no separation. A healthy community means a healthy family and that means a healthy individual. I’ve had my grandmother working in the schools. All her hard work, her blood sweat and tears were at schools and organizing in the community and making sure that other peoples families, just as much as ours, got a piece of that love that she shared.
[Children playing in a yard, swinging at a piñata]
I got to share my grandma with the world, and I feel that everyone has that responsibility to be a student and a teacher. To connect with human beings, in your neighborhood, on your block, in your life experience and do something positive with that relationship.
[Children playing on bikes and toy trucks; sledding in a group down a hill]
I think based on this identity and these knowings that we all kind of share that we’ll find a way to get back into balance of nature. I feel like the end of times is also the beginning, its just a different perspective.
[Someone hits the person filming with a snowball and the picture jostles. A snowball fight.]
We can create what we want to see. In Oakland you have to be brave, you have to be real. Sometimes I’ve felt like this victim mentality because it’s real. People walk around with trauma everyday, and that’s something that I think needs to be addressed with healing, with holistic healing, with real solutions that go to the roots of problems. I think that people just need to get real with their experience. Know what’s going on, they have to understand their surroundings, and I feel that Oakland has given me that perspective of being able to do that. And because of that I’ve been able to connect with people my entire life in ways that I didn’t know existed. And the more that I connect with reflections of myself I feel like I’m becoming more me.
[Hikers in the woods, first recent footage of young adults and then old footage of adults and children]
I realize that the earth is filled with good people. Who care, who want to do something, and are ready to change the world. And that’s where I’m from. That’s my home.