San Leandro Celebrates 150 Years: Reflecting on Our Past, Looking to the Future
This story was originally shared in the City’s July 2022 San Francisco Business Times supplement – 150 Years of Making Things in San Leandro. See all of the great stories about San Leandro’s transformation over the years here.
In 2022, San Leandro is celebrating 150 years as an incorporated municipality. To honor this milestone, the community is reflecting on its past and looking to the future. San Leandro is rich in diversity in both its residential and business communities. Celebrating its peoples’ many voices has helped create a thriving environment that values heritage and embraces an innovative path for the future.
Recognizing that history is not free of moments of darkness, the City is committed to learning from the important lessons of the past to ensure a brighter future for all. San Leandro’s history mirrors much of the Bay Area, from the displacement and enslavement of Native Americans to the exclusion of women from voting, the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II, and sundown and redlining practices that perpetuated racial segregation.
Civic and community leaders are actively working to heal divisions and create a more inclusive society. The City Council is actively speaking out against injustices, both here and nationally. They are working alongside locals to thoughtfully prioritize and implement more vigorous equity and inclusion strategies. Similarly, the City is seeking ways to improve its staff’s cultural environment, including through training and employing team members with experience in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The City has prioritized projects such as the formation of a Community Police Review Board, whose membership will strive for appropriate representation of the people. Independent but allied with the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce, a Black Chamber of Commerce has also been created to provide stronger voices for all of San Leandro’s citizens. Other efforts include fair housing initiatives and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
All of this Contributes to the open and inclusive business environment of San Leandro: a place where businesses and their employees can put down roots, prosper, and collectively contribute to positive change as a community.
Remembering the Stories That Make Us San Leandro
Celebrating San Leandro’s unique culture is a central theme of this year’s anniversary. Jacqui Diaz, the 150th Anniversary Project Manager and long-time resident of San Leandro says, “We are looking back and honoring our past, but more importantly, we are taking time to acknowledge those who made it what it is and addressing the things we need to do better.”
In tribute to the city’s heritage, the Historical Society recently hosted a walking tour highlighting many of its historical markers and significant sites. In addition to seeing many more well-known settlers’ homes, like Daniel Best and the Peralta family, the tour included the Root Park area, which was home to a large Chinese population that settled in the region and worked in the cherry orchards as early as the 1870s. It also included the arrest site of Japanese-American Fred Korematsu, who defied orders for individuals of Japanese ancestry to join internment camps in February of 1942.
Settled on land once inhabited by the Ohlone tribe, Native American ancestry is also intrinsic to San Leandro’s identity. The Library selected Tommy Orange’s critically acclaimed novel, There, There, for its three-part book discussion and 2022 Community Read. Set in neighboring Oakland, the book follows twelve characters from Native communities as they explore their identity and navigate their complex history in modern-day cities.
Reflecting on how its demographics have evolved over the years, the Main Library is home this summer, and later features an exhibit about the discriminatory housing policies and practices that negatively affected the city, state, and country. The Redlining Exhibit will feature a series of speakers and events centered around redlining, home buyer steering, and exclusionary zoning. More information for this event can be found on the Library website: https://www.sanleandro.org/162/Public-Library.
The San Leandro Cherry Festival
The first Cherry Festival dates back to 1909 when cherry orchards still adorned San Leandro’s landscape. Nicknamed the “Cherry City,” early San Leandro had breathtaking views of cherry trees in full bloom, and a cluster of cherries can still be found on its official emblem.
The elaborate first Cherry Festival required special trains to accommodate the over 25,000 visitors to the flag and banner-decorated streets. The original day-long celebration included a 21-gun salute, a coronation ceremony of the first Cherry Festival Queen, a grand parade, a luncheon, and a grand ball.
Over 100 years later, the beloved event remains a cornerstone of San Leandro’s identity. Although the festivities took a hiatus during the pandemic, a modified 2022 celebration returned with a Cherry Parade, attracting thousands of participants representing the many cultures of San Leandro.
Marchers from businesses, nonprofit groups, cultural clubs, schools, and the first Pride in San Leandro section came together to celebrate the unique makeup of the city. “As a lifelong resident of San Leandro, it is unbelievably exciting to see this embracing of different people and approaches coming together as a whole,” says Diaz.
The day also featured “The Gathering, a multi-cultural event celebrating all things San Leandro. Hosted by the San Leandro Historical Society, the event featured resource booths, a local art festival, and food and wine stalls. Artistic performances highlighted the different cultures and traditions of San Leandro, including martial arts, mariachi, and a Chinese dance and costume show. The history museum also hosted themed activities, displays of local Black Lives Matter murals, and an exhibit exploring the history of redlining and discriminatory housing policies.
This year’s Cherry Parage marked a proud kick-off of people being able to gather as a community once again. “Downtown is back and better than ever,” says Diaz. “There is this sense of Renaissance, and people are starting to ask what we can do together to make our city a better place for everyone.”