The Oak Park Story
Directed by Valerie Soe and Russell Jeung | Documentary | 22 mins | Color | 2010
The Oak Park Story recounts the struggles of three very different families who find themselves together in a run-down slum in Oakland, CA. Khlot Ry arrived first from Cambodia, where she and her granddaughters had fled forced labor camps and invading Vietnamese soldiers. A few years later, Felix and Hortensia Jimenez brought their family across the Mexican-U.S. border without documents, where Felix struggled to earn a living as a day laborer. At the same time, Dan Schmitz left the comforts of his white, middle class upbringing in the suburbs and moved into the apartment directly across from the Jimenez family.
Together, these three households encountered daily life in America’s underclass. Parents raised their children amidst drug dealing, gang violence and prostitution right in their parking lot. Yet their worst problem was their Stanford-educated landlord, who raised rents even when El Nino rains flooded their units. Interviews, home video footage, and photographs from the tenants depict their daily lives in the 1980s and 1990s.
Facing unsanitary housing conditions that led to the hospitalization of several children, 44 households of Oak Park banded together to sue and eventually won a landmark settlement, against their landlord. Despite the victory, this too brought about some surprising, unintended consequences.
Valerie Soe is a visual artist, filmmaker, and writer from San Francisco whose award-winning productions include Mixed Blood; Picturing Oriental Girls: A (Re) Educational Videotape, (Best Bay Area Short, Golden Gate Awards, San Francisco International Film Festival) and “ALL ORIENTALS LOOK THE SAME,” (Best Foreign Video, Festival Internazionale Cinema Giovani; First Place, Experimental Category, Visions of U.S. Festival). Her work has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the AFI National Video Festival, the World Wide Video Festival in The Hague, and on KQED-TV, KCET-TV and Channel L Cable Manhattan, among many others. She is on faculty at San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department. She is the director, co-producer, co-writer, and editor of the film.
Russell Jeung is an associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. He is a sociologist whose research focuses on faith-based communities of color and he is currently on the board of the Chinese Historical Society of America. An ethnographer, he has written a book and several articles on Asian American religions and social justice. He lived at Oak Park Apartments for over a decade, and helped to organize 200 Cambodian and Latino tenants in their landmark lawsuit. He is the co-producer and co-writer of the film.
Watch the trailer: