Western Neighborhoods Project
"I am OMI"
Interview with Queenie and Alex Dennis
May 15, 2003
Picar: So we're going to start with, tell me how you got to the OMI, to this area, how you got here, to live here.
Queenie Dennis: Oh, to live here. Well, when we were looking for homes, originally when we moved from Africa to San Francisco, we were taken to various neighborhoods, like Richmond, Portola, and then finally we liked the neighborhood very much, because it seemed like a quiet area where we were. The schools and the transportation, Safeway, we had all of the conveniences.
Picar: Was accessible for you, yes.
Queenie Dennis: Accessible for us, yes. Especially, since we have four children.
Picar: You have four children? Wow.
Queenie Dennis: Yes.
Picar: What were your parents like? I know you have your mother still here.
Queenie Dennis: Yes. My mother moved here in 1981, and she, too, she found the neighborhood very, very convenient, because at that time she used to move around on her own, use transportation. She was a member of the Senior Club at Saint Finn Barr Church. So she became a member of that community and she liked it. Then later on she joined the Senior Center on Ocean Avenue, OMI, which she is still participating in the Tai Chi.
Picar: Both of you are participating in Tai Chi, right?
Queenie Dennis: Yes.
Picar: That's good. That's good. Do you remember any of the games you played as a child?
Queenie Dennis: As a child?
Picar: Because you guys lived mostly in Africa, though.
Queenie Dennis: In India. My childhood days were in India, yes. So we played very simple games, like, you know, we call it hopscotch. You have it here.
Picar: Yes. Right. We have hopscotch, too.
Queenie Dennis: I think my husband played marbles.
Alex Dennis: Well, I played football.
Queenie Dennis: Oh, he must have played football.
Picar: Oh, you played football? Okay.
Alex Dennis: Soccer. Soccer. Soccer.
Queenie Dennis: I played a game called Carom. Do you know that?
Queenie Dennis: Carom. Carom is a board.
Picar: Okay. I think I know what it is.
Queenie Dennis: And ping-pong.
Picar: And ping-pong.
Queenie Dennis: Yes. Yes.
Picar: What year did you move here to this area?
Queenie Dennis: 1971.
Picar: Where did you play with the kids? Did they play in the streets or the parks around here or the playgrounds?
Queenie Dennis: They joined the school teams. They were at Saint Finn Barr's. So three of them were in Saint Finn Barr, one of them was at Aptos. What's the other school? Aptos and--what's the other one, the big one?
Picar: Commodore Sloat?
Queenie Dennis: No. Lowell High School. So they basically joined the teams there.
Alex Dennis: Saint Ignatius and Mercy High.
Queenie Dennis: And Mercy High.
Picar: Oh, they went to SI and Mercy?
Queenie Dennis: Mercy, yes.
Picar: I went to Mercy.
Queenie Dennis: You went to Mercy?
Picar: Yes, I graduated from Mercy.
Alex Dennis: And Saint Finn Barr, too.
Queenie Dennis: Saint Finn Barr, Mercy, yes. Right.
Picar: Well, I went to Saint Emydius and then it was Mercy.
Alex Dennis: And State College.
Queenie Dennis: State College also, yes. State and City College and then after that to Berkeley.
Picar: It's tough to get into Berkeley these days.
Queenie Dennis: Yes. And my son is now back again into Berkeley. He's getting his master's.
Picar: I know that's hard. Gosh, your kids have been around. [Laughs]
Alex Dennis: My son is a teacher, also.
Picar: Where does he teach?
Alex Dennis: At the Oceana High School. He teaches history and English for high school.
Picar: History and English, wow.
Queenie Dennis: English to eleventh and twelfth grades.
Picar: At Oceana.
Alex Dennis: My daughter studied at the State College.
Picar: What did your daughter study?
Alex Dennis: She did business administration.
Picar: Business administration. That's good.
Queenie Dennis: And then the other son did massage.
Alex Dennis: Massage therapy.
Queenie Dennis: And then the fourth one did medical assistant.
Picar: Is that the daughter?
Queenie Dennis: The daughter, yes.
Picar: Which one is the one married to the Filipino guy?
Queenie Dennis: Filipino, that's Chris, Christopher, who's done the massage. But now he works for the luggage company.
Picar: Okay. And he's the one who does a lot of yoga, right?
Queenie Dennis: No, Glen is the one. His wife has her own business on Palmetto. She has the massage and aroma.
Picar: Aroma therapy?
Queenie Dennis: Aroma therapy and facial.
Picar: Wow, that's great. I'll have to check that out sometime.
Queenie Dennis: Yes, you should go. It's really a neat thing she has, yes.
Picar: Let's see. Where did your family get their food when you were a child?
Queenie Dennis: At that time we basically had no time to--
Alex Dennis: We were never in this country, we came to this country in 1971.
Queenie Dennis: '71. And we basically got our food from Safeway. We did our own shopping at that time. We only started here just about two or three years ago. But before that it was always our food from Safeway and Albertson's.
Alex Dennis: We paid for our own food.
Queenie Dennis: So we had no time, you know, to come over here.
Picar: Let's see. Do you remember what you didn't like and liked about school?
Queenie Dennis: About the schools?
Picar: About your school, I guess.
Queenie Dennis: When I was growing up?
Queenie Dennis: Or the schools here?
Picar: When you were growing up.
Queenie Dennis: When we were growing up, if I can compare the schools today as to what it was when we were growing up, they were very strict and we didn't have as much freedom as our kids have today. But the one part I like, when we were growing up we had more--what do you call it--discipline. The kids were very well behaved.
Alex Dennis: [unclear].
Queenie Dennis: Yes. And we had a lot of morals when we were growing up, and that's what I like, what we were given, and what the kids lack today, they don't have any morals.
Picar: That's true.
Alex Dennis: But we raised our kids--
Queenie Dennis: We still raised them with the morals that we received from our parents.
Picar: That's good. I think that it should be that way.
Queenie Dennis: And they still have it, you know. They admire the way that we were being raised.
Picar: That's great. But that shows that you cared about them, too. A lot of kids don't have that these days.
Queenie Dennis: Oh, no, they don't.
Alex Dennis: We have good kids.
Picar: You have four good kids. How old is the oldest?
Queenie Dennis: Forty-one. The last is thirty-four.
Picar: Two years apart each?
Queenie Dennis: No, there was a gap. First was one year, four months, and then there's a six-year gap, and then the other two were like one year apart. The last two were like almost twins.
Picar: Oh, gosh. You were busy with the last two, huh?
Queenie Dennis: Yes, very busy.
Alex Dennis: We could afford to have four kids because the kids were never born here.
Picar: Oh, right.
Queenie Dennis: Born in Africa.
Alex Dennis: [unclear] we had the facilities of maids and cooks.
Picar: Right. And the lifestyle's cheaper there, right?
Queenie Dennis: The lifestyle is cheaper.
Alex Dennis: In East Africa.
Picar: Oh, yes.
Alex Dennis: Yes. But we are very happy here. We did our own thing.
Picar: What part of East Africa?
Queenie Dennis: Nairobi, Kenya.
Picar: Oh, nice.
Alex Dennis: Beautiful country.
Picar: Beautiful, yes. I guess a lot of lions and wildlife, I'm sure.
Queenie Dennis: Animals, yes. Lots of animals.
Picar: What do you dislike about church?
Alex Dennis: Church? We don't dislike--
Queenie Dennis: Well, I don't dislike church. I think, as a matter of fact, I'm more in the community today, belonging to all of the Bay Area's functions that they have. I didn't have the time when my kids were growing up, and today I'm now, I'm taking full advantage.
Alex Dennis: We participate in community services.
Queenie Dennis: So I can give my time to community, visit the sick and the hospitals and the homes. I like that. I enjoy that.
Picar: I know it's so hard when you're raising kids and working, that you don't have time to do those kinds of things.
Queenie Dennis: Didn't have time then, yes.
Picar: And people really appreciate those kind of things when you can do them.
Queenie Dennis: Oh, yes. Sure. Sure.
Picar: That's good.
Alex Dennis: [unclear] to my mother-in-law, who she's now about eighty-eight years old.
Queenie Dennis: Eighty-eight years.
Alex Dennis: Yes.
Picar: How old is she?
Queenie Dennis: Eighty-eight.
Picar: Oh, my god, it's just like my mom. She was eighty-eight when she passed away.
Queenie Dennis: It was good because I retired early and therefore I could bring her into my home.
Picar: See, that's nice.
Queenie Dennis: See, because I'm home. If I was working, I couldn't have done it.
Picar: Right. Yes.
Alex Dennis: [unclear] early retirement.
Picar: That's good though. Yes, my mom stayed with us till just six years ago we were taking care of my mom, because my dad--
Queenie Dennis: Oh, you were taking care of her.
Picar: Yes, I was, because my dad passed away in 1990, so my mom was by herself, so we took my mom and we took care of her until she had the stroke.
Queenie Dennis: I know, once they get a disability, then it becomes very difficult.
Picar: Yes, because we were both working, me and my husband, and the kids, and stuff, so it was hard to take care of her. She needed full-time care, so that's why Laguna Honda. It's so hard, though. It's so hard, though.
Queenie Dennis: Very hard, yes.
Picar: Do you remember what type of businesses used to be in this neighborhood? Do you remember like the El Rey Theater? Do you remember that?
Queenie Dennis: No, we moved here in '71, so basically it has been the same environment since we moved, and I don't know what was there before that.
Alex Dennis: We never went to any theater. We had no time for it.
Queenie Dennis: But we did, we went to the theaters away, like on Geary.
Alex Dennis: Once in a while.
Picar: Do you remember the Safeway over here?
Queenie Dennis: Oh, yes.
Alex Dennis: I remember the Safeway.
Picar: It was built specifically for El Dorado Terrace, that area.
Alex Dennis: Yes, exactly.
Picar: It was really bad when it closed.
Alex Dennis: It was.
Queenie Dennis: Yes.
Alex Dennis: It closed because they were having a lot of [unclear].
Queenie Dennis: A lot of problems. A lot of thefts.
Picar: They were getting robbed a lot.
Queenie Dennis: Robbed, yes.
Alex Dennis: Robbed. That's why I know that was one of the reasons they closed it and now the 24-Hour Fitness has gone there.
Queenie Dennis: It's nice now, because we have the Rite-Aid and 24-Hour Fitness. We are members of the 24-Hour Nautilus.
Picar: That's great. I know you go a lot, too.
Queenie Dennis: Then he can pick up medicines for my mother from Rite-Aid, so it's very convenient.
Picar: That's good. That's good.
Alex Dennis: And presently now with all these improvements, this has become a street.
Picar: Yes, a busy street now, especially on Faxon, like Walgreen's, too, that area, the coffee shop there.
Queenie Dennis: Yes.
Alex Dennis: And we come to the Presbyterian. This is like our street.
Queenie Dennis: Everything for us happens on this street, so we really don't have to drive miles.
Picar: That's great. Where do you guys live?
Queenie Dennis: We live off Monterey Boulevard.
Picar: Oh, right. Right. Teresita.
Queenie Dennis: Teresita, yes.
Picar: My friend lived on Marietta. One of my good friends from high school.
Queenie Dennis: Marietta, yes. I know where that is, yes.
Picar: That runs into Teresita.
Queenie Dennis: Yes.
Picar: So your family got around a lot on the Muni?
Queenie Dennis: Transportation.
Picar: The buses?
Queenie Dennis: I did that, too. When we were working it was so convenient, the Muni, BART.
Alex Dennis: Very convenient. That's why I never moved out of San Francisco when we had the options to go--
Queenie Dennis: We really didn't have to drive our car.
Alex Dennis: --to Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill, but I said, this is much better.
Picar: Well, god, the transportation here is great.
Queenie Dennis: Wonderful, yes.
Picar: You can go anywhere.
Queenie Dennis: Even if you don't have a car.
Picar: Yes. Yes, it's so easy.
Alex Dennis: And particularly property values, if you are a homeowner in San Francisco, it will appreciate.
Picar: That's right. That's right, it has. So have you noticed any other changes in the OMI, in this area, since you've came here?
Queenie Dennis: I've noticed that they have, like, especially Ocean Avenue has been a big change. It's more safer to be moving around there, and with all the improvements going on, planting of all these huge trees, palm trees, I think it has brought a lot of essence.
Alex Dennis: Life. Life.
Picar: Yes. Yes. That's good. Do you think people get along in this neighborhood pretty well, the people that you know?
Alex Dennis: I think so. They're very friendly.
Picar: Yes, I think so, too.
Queenie Dennis: Everyone is very friendly.
Alex Dennis: We are very happy with the people.
Queenie Dennis: Very happy with our neighborhood.
Alex Dennis: Different diverse community.
Picar: Yes, it's very diverse. I was listening to somebody talk the other day and he was saying that this neighborhood is now like 43 percent Asian.
Queenie Dennis: It is.
Picar: And it never used to be.
Queenie Dennis: Never used to be.
Picar: It used to be primarily African-American and--
Queenie Dennis: Irish.
Picar: --Irish Catholic.
Queenie Dennis: Italian.
Picar: Italian. Yes. So it has really changed. What fashions do you remember of the past? What clothing did people wear? I mean, if you guys came here in the seventies, people wore all those kind of go-go kind of boots kind of outfits.
Alex Dennis: As far as fashion is concerned, from the country, I used to live in a British country, you know, the children, and we all dressed very conservative.
Queenie Dennis: I noticed that over here people dress very casual.
Alex Dennis: Very, very casual.
Queenie Dennis: Very casual.
Picar: Yes, it's true.
Alex Dennis: Among the younger folks there were a lot of changes with the Gap jeans and the baggy [unclear].
Queenie Dennis: And now the Gap is saggy jeans.
Picar: I know. I know.
Alex Dennis: It doesn't hurt us. We go with the times.
Picar: That's right. Do you guys remember anything about the depression at all? You guys weren't part of that here.
Queenie Dennis: We were not here at that time.
Alex Dennis: Not here.
Picar: You weren't in this country.
Alex Dennis: But my parents suffered during the depression.
Queenie Dennis: But they're talking about here.
Alex Dennis: Oh, yes, it was all over the world.
Alex Dennis: Those were bad times.
Picar: Were you guys affected by World War II a lot when you lived in Africa?
Alex Dennis: No. I was in India. I was a little boy. It did not affect us because we were from India. It did affect the whole world, but there was no war in India, and also in Africa. They had not reached to that part. Because the Far East was affected by the war, the Philippines, and all those places. Maybe America was affected, but I was not here.
Picar: Anything that you remember about the Civil Rights Movement? Like, you know, this whole hall, the Fellowship Hall, is based on black history and civil rights. Do you guys remember anything about that era at all?
Alex Dennis: I have read a lot of the Civil Rights Movement.
Queenie Dennis: Was it prevalent in 1971?
Alex Dennis: Oh, yes.
Picar: Mostly in the sixties, though.
Queenie Dennis: Yes, sixties, even out here.
Picar: But I think late sixties, mid-sixties.
Queenie Dennis: Yes. But not here.
Alex Dennis: It did not affect us [unclear], but we know a lot about what has happened. And all has happened for the good anyway, and we're very happy about it. But I think everything has improved and what [unclear] to be passed.
Picar: Oh, yes. Definitely. Definitely. Yes. Being of Filipino ancestry myself, I remember a lot in the sixties--well, I went to Saint Emydius and Mercy, so it was all primarily white kids, and you'd be the only probably one in your class, so it was kind of hard.
Queenie Dennis: I know even when my kids went, there were not too many kids from Asia in Saint Ignatius. I think my son was one of the few.
Picar: And it was still primarily boys back then, yes.
Queenie Dennis: Boys, yes. Yes.
Alex Dennis: There's a lot of this type of--when we came out, as far as employment and everything was concerned, we were very fortunate--
Queenie Dennis: We were quite fortunate.
Alex Dennis: --to get the right.
Queenie Dennis: We didn't have experience too much of the discrimination.
Alex Dennis: We did not experience on this, though we are Asians.
Picar: Do you remember anything about the Vietnam War? Did that affect your family at all?
Alex Dennis: No.
Queenie Dennis: No.
Picar: Did any of your sons--
Queenie Dennis: No, none of our kids were in the war.
Picar: That's good. That's really good.
Queenie Dennis: Nobody was recruited. That was bad.
Picar: That was really bad, though. I remember that.
Queenie Dennis: I don't remember any of our--
Alex Dennis: The young kids had to go to war, and nothing was resolved in the end.
Picar: Yes. Correct. Because it's like now, this war in Iraq and stuff, it's like, I mean, the Vietnam War lasted such a long time.
Queenie Dennis: A long time.
Picar: Years. Years.
Alex Dennis: Iraq and Vietnam, they're two different issues.
Picar: Two different issues, yes.
Alex Dennis: That was Communists and this is something--terrorism.
Queenie Dennis: More terrorism.
Alex Dennis: And dictatorship.
Picar: Yes. But war is still war, no matter how you look at it.
Queenie Dennis: A war is a war.
Alex Dennis: Exactly.
Picar: Yes. So what's the best and worst thing about living here in the OMI? What's maybe the best thing?
Alex Dennis: The best thing about the OMI and all this, it is a meeting place, you meet with people, they're very friendly and they're doing their best with all the--
Queenie Dennis: Participate in all of the activities.
Alex Dennis: --activities [unclear].
Queenie Dennis: I mean, it's great that they have all this Tai Chi and yoga, and like all of us are taking care of our health. That's the main idea.
Picar: It's good because you feel like a lot of this has welcomed people of different races.
Alex Dennis: Sure. Sure.
Queenie Dennis: Of different races.
Picar: Yes, it's really integrated people, I think.
Queenie Dennis: It has.
Alex Dennis: Somewhere to go and sit down and talk.
Queenie Dennis: Right.
Alex Dennis: The services that they are funding of the government [unclear] is for the good of the people who come and take advantage of it.
Picar: Right, and the community.
Queenie Dennis: And the community.
Alex Dennis: The Food Bank and whatever they do.
Queenie Dennis: And the meals that they are giving us during--it saves us the time of going home and cooking.
Picar: Yes. And sometimes you don't feel like doing that.
Queenie Dennis: Cook and clean, yes.
Alex Dennis: I enjoy that very good.
Queenie Dennis: I think it's a big advantage.
Picar: Oh, yes.
Queenie Dennis: Definitely, yes.
Picar: Do you celebrate a lot of holidays here in the neighborhood with your family? Christmas?
Queenie Dennis: Oh, yes. We always have our kids come over.
Alex Dennis: That's tradition.
Picar: They all come to your house?
Queenie Dennis: Easter, Thanksgiving.
Alex Dennis: Mother's Day, Father's Day.
Picar: Great. You guys are very close with your family, it seems.
Queenie Dennis: Very close, yes.
Picar: That's great. Okay.
Picar: Well, that's all I need. Thank you very much.
Alex Dennis: So fast?
Picar: So fast.
Queenie Dennis: Good.
Alex Dennis: You got the story of our lives.
Picar: Yes, I did. This tape was made on May 15th, 2003, at the Ingleside Presbyterian Church. The people involved were Queenie and Alex Dennis, and this is an interview of them by Maria Fe Picar for the I am OMI Project. Sorry, I didn't put it in the front of the tape.
[End of interview]
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Page launched 31 October 2003.