13 December 2022

The Latino Landscape in Oakland, California

By Alberto Diaz-Cayeros & Stephanie G. Stahlberg

This report was prepared for the City of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention (DVP) as a landscape analysis of the Latino community in Oakland. The study’s core objectives were to identify and summarize data that are available about the Latino community in Oakland, including demographics and crime and violence data, and identify risk and protective factors for this population. To that end, the authors identified and analyzed existing data and conducted primary research through semi-structured interviews with various individuals and organizations that are a part of or work closely with the Latino community in Oakland. Interviewees included school and school district officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), police and probation officers, community members, and a social worker, among others.

The main findings regarding risk and protective factors for the Latino population in Oakland are: 

1. The growing Latino/Hispanic share of the Oakland population is spurred by a younger population than the rest of the ethno-racial groups and by increases in numbers of Central American migrants. This has an important impact in demands for special school services catering to these students, since a significant number of these households only speak Spanish, as well as some indigenous languages, such as Mam. 

2. Diversity within the City of Oakland presents challenges in terms of the potential for conflict and failures in cooperation, due to the fragmentation of ethno-racial groups. This is compounded by a shift towards the majoritarian status of Hispanic groups that used to be minorities in some specific neighborhoods. 

3. Recent Guatemalan and Honduran residents of Oakland are quite distinct in their risk and protective factors compared to other Latino groups. Among the Central American immigrants, Salvadoran origin residents are not as poor, with incomes similar to those of Mexican residents. The lowest human capital (in terms of schooling attainment) and income are observed among Guatemalan residents. And the youngest age profiles are observed among Hondurans. 

4. The greatest vulnerability for Honduran residents is related to unaccompanied minors, as reflected in their very young age profile. 

5. For the lowest income Guatemalan immigrants, income and employment support programs and policies should take into account that many of them do not speak Spanish, but are likely to be from indigenous Central American origins. 

6. Recent Mexican immigrants appear to become integrated into existing networks of prior residents. When Mexican American/Chicano and new arrivals from Mexico are analyzed separately, these two groups do not appear to show significant differences in their poverty levels, schooling, or age profile.

The main recommendations that emerge from this study’s findings are the following: 

1. Consider the possibility of earmarked resources to alleviate the poverty gap of Central American families, particularly the Guatemalan indigenous ones.

 2. Provide greater support to schools that have newcomer minorities and might not be providing the kind of comprehensive support, beyond English Learner instruction, that specialized schools provide. 

3. Provide greater support to schools serving newcomers so they can offer the intense kind of mentoring services needed to remove barriers to education, remove students from dangerous situations, and support medical needs and working and training efforts. A new kind of needed service is boarding, to address the housing and commuting challenges for this population. 

4. Train police officers and other service providers on the diversity of Central American migrants, and in particular the circumstances of youth who are English and Spanish learners and come from indigenous origins. 

5. Recruit and hire more Latino police officers, social workers, teachers, and health providers who may be more attuned to the changing demographics of the City of Oakland. These new hires should include speakers of indigenous languages that are most common among Latino immigrants in Oakland, particularly Mam. 

6. Invest in citywide efforts to better understand the way in which Latino gangs may be consolidating or fragmenting in cooperation or competition with existing criminal groups. This may involve greater police intelligence efforts aimed at this specific objective, or perhaps a better approach would involve connecting law enforcement with Latino community leaders and organizations. 

7. Enhance the political voice and representation of Latino groups, and their diverse interests and needs, within the School District Board and the City Council. Continue studying and understanding the changing Latino landscape in Oakland, with the incorporation of best practices and the deep knowledge of community organizations and other local stakeholders.

Data and supplementary material for the report can be found here