It is common knowledge that a person’s surroundings play a vital role in sculpting the mind, ideologies, and thought process of an individual. A stunning example of this is found in the case of the Buddha statue of Oakland, California.
11th Avenue and East 19th Street was a rough part of town, riddled with an assortment of criminal activities ranging from garbage dumping and vandalization to drug dealing, robberies, prostitution and assaults. Sick of the dystopian environment of the area where he lived—particularly the trash—Dan Stevenson and his wife Lu purchased a stone Buddha statue from a hardware and placed it on the corner. The two hoped that the presence of the statue would bring a sense of serenity to the wretched neighbourhood, or at least that its panoptic gaze would dissuade the garbage dumpers. Little did they know that this miniscule gesture would bring about a ripple effect resulting in a complete transformation of the neighbourhood.
First, the dumping stopped, and citizens made an effort to clean up the junk that was present. Then peddlers stopped dealing drugs in the area and the prostitutes left; walls were no longer vandalized with graffiti. Eventually, Vietnamese immigrants living in the vicinity started flocking to the Buddha statue and offering fruits, garlands, and incense sticks. When the word got out that Stevenson was the man behind this beautiful gesture, offerings of fruit, candies, and a variety of Vietnamese specialty food appeared at his doorstep.
Since the statue was erected, the overall crime-rate in the area had dropped by 82%. Official 2012 police statistics as reported by SFGate explain that “robbery reports went from 14 to three, aggravated assaults from five to zero, burglaries from eight to four, narcotics from three to zero, and prostitution from three to zero.”
The Buddha has faced quite a few hurdles of its own. There have been two attempts to remove the statue, but neither were met with success. Soon after installation, a thief tried to steal the statue but failed miserably after realizing that the statue was reinforced with iron bar and a strong epoxy. Then in 2012, the local Public Works Department tried to remove it after a resident in the neighbourhood complained. The department received a zealous backlash for trying to have the statue removed, eventually resulting in the officials’ forfeiting.
As of today, the statue, now cradled amidst an elaborate and beautiful 10 foot tall shrine, sees a throng of Vietnamese immigrants flocking every day for ritualistic prayers and offerings. The shrine—which is primarily looked after by a short, middle-aged Vietnamese woman named Vina Vo—is adorned with two flags, one American and the other Buddhist, while chants are played on a tiny tape recorder.
Sources: kxcdn.com Photos by Thomas Walden Levy