Our Families, Our Community: El Cerritans Speak
This past spring I received a grant from the California Arts Council to do a project with El Cerrito Families. I’m interviewing families from our city to find out what their dreams and fears are, what they think about making a home in this place, and what makes them unique. The first family I interviewed was the Hofmanns. Alisa Hofmann has a company called Design Set Match, which does bathroom and kitchen remodels. Ed Hofmann is a Legal Assistant. Inara is a third grader at Harding Elementary. They’ve been El Cerrito residents for almost a decade. They shared some of their story with me, and their inclusive vision of family. This interview series will continue to add stories of El Cerrito families, and we’ll learn the ways in which the stories are the same and different. After I interview them, the families I’m interviewing are also taking photos of their day to day life for a month, and what they love or find challenging about their community. Stay tuned for a photography show at City Hall! At the end of this project we will have a portrait of our community in words and photos, a reflection of who we are and who we might be in the future.
Dani Gabriel, El Cerrito Poet Laureate
Dani: Can everyone say their name and say three things about yourself and one thing about your other two family members?
Alisa: My name is Alisa Hofmann and crazy enough, I love kitchens and bathrooms. My favorite colors are orange, purple and red. And my favorite food is chocolate. Inara is not so little anymore and she is an awesome dancer. She just doesn't realize it yet. And Ed is a tech genius and he won't ever admit to that either.
Ed: Ed Hofmann. I am a legal assistant by trade. I do graphic design on the side and tech stuff on the side. I was born and raised on Guam and moved out to California in 1997. Let's see, Inara gets very giggly sometimes. And she gives me stink eye...Alisa is very good at what she does with the kitchen and bathroom models and I am super proud of them both.
Inara: My name is Inara...I'm going into third grade... I like “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” and I'm at dance camp right now... Daddy likes playing guitar...Mommy likes reading to me.
Dani: So who is family?
Alisa: For me, family is usually lots of friends and we gather together and support each other. That's really what family is for me is being there for one another.
Dani: How about you Inara? Who is family?
Ed: To me, family is anyone you have a kinship to, whether you are related by blood or marriage or some other institution and the people that you choose to be around. Yeah, with the Thursday Night Dinner, I dubbed that the “fam-unity”.
Dani: Fam-unity. Say more about Thursday Night Dinner.
Ed: So we host a weekly Thursday Night Dinner and we invite friends. Many of them who like us don't have family in the area or even in the state... And we just sort of bond together to support each other. [It’s] just feeding people you love some good home cooked food and doing it as often as you can to build up those bonds. We've been doing it for eight and a half years with no plans of stopping.
Dani: How many people usually come?
Ed: We've had an average of...20 to 25.
Dani: So what is unique about your family?
Alisa: What is unique? I think Thursday Night Dinner is what's unique...It's people coming from lots of different backgrounds and just coming and sharing and being.
Dani: So tell the story of how a Thursday Night Dinner came to be.
Alisa: We first were introduced to Thursday Night Dinner when we were finding a new church and somebody else was running Thursday Night Dinner. They invited us that first week we met them. And...we waited a few weeks before we intruded on their home because we felt kind of awkward being on the outside. But it was really [an] invitation with no requirements. It was not a potluck where you have to sign up and do things.
Ed: It's basically like having Thanksgiving every week.
Alisa: Without the turkey.
Ed: Sometimes turkey. So it has a little bit of organized chaos and there's a lot of cramming into spaces and some messes and all that. But it's a lot of good fun. One of the fun things is we've had other friends have their babies and several of their babies actually learned to walk on Thursday Night Dinner.
Alisa: Or they try bacon for the first time. Inara is an only child and there's some other only children. So they're having that opportunity of socializing like brothers and sisters, without having brothers and sisters and not being in a school environment.
Ed: So that probably is one aspect of what makes our family unique is having that weekly Thursday Night Dinner and invitations to people to join that community as well. We have a new person coming tomorrow for the first time.
Dani: What do you think is the same about your family and other families?
Alisa: We're just trying to live our lives peacefully and be a part of the community and just trying to survive and get by and go along our way.
Ed: Yeah. Working, we work really hard in the Bay area to pay rent and food and all of that stuff. I think that's pretty standard across the board is that everybody's a little crazy stressed sometimes.
Dani: So what is it like for family making a home in this place?
Alisa: This place being El Cerrito? It's interesting because we're kind of on the border of El Cerrito. So we're borderline with Albany, we have a tendency to not just stick to El Cerrito, but to go to Albany library and Berkeley events and things too. And so we're back and forth between the three fairly often. But when we do community stuff with El Cerrito, it's great. The 4th of July festival and Halloween haunted house and all of that. It’s really fun to still have that small town personality and having the Greenway where we can actually ride a bike and "Hey, let's just stop at the little park that just got rebuilt."
Ed: Yeah, El Cerrito is a pretty cool town.
Dani: So what's your biggest dream for your family?
Alisa: It's just being able to thrive in the Bay area. It's a lovely place and I can't imagine living anywhere else, particularly because our careers are really locked to this area so we'd like to stay long term. So yeah, hopefully that's in the cards.
My biggest dream is for the house that we bought, that is torn apart right now and is under remodel. We’ll be able to have everybody come over for Thursday Night Dinners and we can do it outside.
Ed: And invite neighbors.
Alisa: And invite neighbors. We're looking forward to having our 80 something year old neighbor come and join us for Thursday Night Dinner. And our other neighbor who has a couple of kids Inara's age. Right now Thursday Night Dinners are in the living room and the kitchen...but when we move we can [also] go to the backyard on a warm day, go out there and enjoy the El Cerrito breeze when it comes through, because it always does.
Dani: So what about your fears for your family? What do you worry about?
Alisa: Just the cost of living in the Bay area. And my biggest worry is that a lot of our friends who we call family are going to be moving out because they can't afford to stay.
Ed: Same here. Same fear of not being able to afford this area and also friends not being able to afford to live here and stick around. The money is an ongoing concern.
Dani: What kind of support do families here need?
Alisa: From a renter's point of view, since we have both a renter’s and a homeowner's point of view, we need rent control. We really do. It's going to price everybody out. I mean, even though ultimately we'll be a homeowner with hopefully an accessory dwelling unit underneath, I still want rent control because I think it's the right thing to do for our renter.
Dani: What's your best family story? Maybe your favorite Thursday Night Dinner story.
Ed: They all kind of just blend into one, at least for me, Thursday Night Dinner seems kind of like an episode of a TV show that you really like. And so it's a continuing story. I cook the meal and people come in and sit down and eat and you just catch up and find out where you left off the previous week and then how things are going now and things to look forward to. And so Thursday Night Dinners in my mind just blend into one giant complex story.
Alisa: Yeah...when people try and give us compliments and say, "Oh, you're so gracious." I am like, "No, you're family." It's not even a compliment I think we can accept. It's just your family. Just “you belong here.” You should come.