Johanna Rauhala: A Salute to Richmond

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Richmond gets a lot of negative press but Johanna Rauhala is a proud resident of the city she loves.

An El Cerrito mayor once called my hometown the “armpit of the Bay Area.”

I live in the city of Richmond. I’ve lived here most of my life. My parents were the rare immigrants from Finland, and my husband, daughter, and I graduated from district schools. I’ve seen the refinery fires, school district issues, crime problems, and more. I’ve got history here.

But that mayor was wrong. Because a recent study found that Richmond is the most diverse city in the United States.
Not the Bay Area, not California – the United States.

But I’m not surprised.

When I think of our neighborhood, I see a family from Peru. I see a Black Vietnam vet, a local Tibetan monastery, new taquerias on 23rd street, and two brothers from Yemen with a small store up the hill. Our Finnish-Jewish daughter sat in class next to girls wearing hijab. Her grandfather survived the Holocaust; she buys snacks at the Muslim-owned shop. Buddhist monks walk our block, halal grocery stores are cropping up, and bright mariachi music rides the air like ribbons. We embrace Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest American park ranger, and Rosie the Riveter guide, along with Mississippi catfish, ballet Folklorico, gospel choirs, and “gung hay fat choy.”

We’ve got rhythm and angst, homeless and hope.

And lessons.

Richmond could teach change. Immigrants are all of us. We arrive, disperse, and plant roots for a better life.

For another: kindness. I know our city has crime and poverty. But our motto at heart is “be nice." We wave at the robed monks. The Rescue Mission serves meals. Sikh temple members gave free food during the pandemic. The only requirement was hunger.

And finally, keep it real. Richmond isn’t fancy. Hot tubs and haute couture aren’t our thing. We’re working-class folks. I’m idealizing, but I feel it. Richmond is heart, Richmond is grit.

Give the armpit the boot.

Richmond? It’s a salute.

With a Perspective, I'm Johanna Rauhala.

Johanna Rauhala is a retired middle school teacher.