As National Hispanic Heritage month starts to come to an end, I begin to reflect on my role within my community and of everything it’s taken to get where I am at today. Now, I’m not just speaking just career-wise, but what my own family had to undergo to get where we are at today. I was born and raised here in San Jose, California, and have always considered it a great privilege to live within such a beautiful culturally diverse city. It is something not to take for granted and during my upbringing my parents made an effort to show me the hardships they had to endure to get where I am at today.
A week shy of my son turning three months old I begin to contemplate into the future. I want to make sure he has the opportunities to experience the world as I have and to make sure he has all the tools made available to him to succeed even further. However, in order for him to have a shot at living within Silicon Valley, now one of the most expensive areas in America, we would need to undergo a paradigm shift. Just like many other cities throughout the United States there is a system in place that prevents many local children, from historically ethnic communities, from gaining proper access to opportunities that are taken for granted in more affluent areas. Many blue-collar families have become displaced due to increasing rent costs and have begun clustering into low-income areas, sometimes consisting of several different families living under one roof.
Before Silicon Valley this area was once dubbed the Valley of the Heart’s Delight and for good reason, too, this was once an agricultural paradise and for many poor Hispanics, like my own family, a great means of economic stability. California to many on the other side of the border was a symbol of the American Dream. My father was one of eleven children and growing up as a child he would go to strangers ranches in rural Mexico to work alone or with his brothers and live as a farmhand upwards of a week at a time. His family was struggling to make ends meet and my father had to follow through without questioning his parents to help not only himself have something but for his family to survive. At the same time, my grandfather would journey to the United States travelling around and working different agricultural jobs from picking grapes to cotton and sending what little money he made back to Mexico.
My grandfather would later find himself in San Jose in search of work after his brothers had established residency in Monterey. After making several rounds around California he finally settled down in Hollister, California. My father later made his way up from his rural home in Mexico to Hollister just in time for high school. It was a struggle for him to learn English and despite his limitations was later accepted to San Jose State University. He didn’t last there for very long and eventually took up work in what would later become the technology capital of the world, Silicon Valley. Presumably, it was hard adapting into a world that was so far outside anything he had experienced before. The opportunities, such as college admission, were given to him, however, the means by which to succeed within academia were not. To succeed in Silicon Valley at that time consisted of hard work, dedication and the ability to quickly adapt to the new technology. My father thrived during those years and later became a supervisor, however, the workforce later transitioned from production to computer programming. Despite his greatest efforts to learn and adapt, he could not keep up to the changing landscape and eventually had to leave it all behind.
My father’s story, like with so many others, is a recurring theme among many within the valley. My father was among the very few who was offered a chance to leave behind the agricultural (and hard labor) world and work within the technology sector. As companies in Silicon Valley began to dramatically expand so did the labor force in essence began to shift to a strictly engineering or technical labor force and that’s when it left behind many within the community. A divide was created between those with opportunities and those who were unfortunate enough to be left behind, a divide which still exists to this day. I can still remember the struggle of my father trying to find work during the mid-1990’s after the transition began taking place. He then went back to college to get his A.S. degree and certification in electronics, but even that was not enough.
Since it’s founding in 1777, the valley has been plagued with what professor Stephen Pitti describes as the ‘devil’ in his book, The Devil in Silicon Valley. The ‘devil’ being pre-existing racist systemic ideologies that have shaped the valley since its very founding. Despite the notoriety for being among one of the most ethnically diverse locations in the United States, we still see an imbalance of minorities within the technological sector. Many flocked from rural parts of Mexico in search of a better life, however, they were often met with resistance in places that prevented further progress. The valley needed immigrant populations to thrive, however, the methods by which to control and undermine the populations prevented specific rights granted to the rest of the American population. Historically, lower-pay for minorities allowed for Silicon Valley to expand and profit greatly.
Similarly, my father-in-law would tell unbelievable stories of what he had to endure coming up to work in the valley at the age of 11, by himself and without any education. Due to his age he was denied work almost everywhere, until a Japanese family on the South Side of San Jose, near what is today Almaden Expressway and Highway 85, took pity and allowed him to work. There he would work picking strawberries (at $1.20 per box) and several times while working on nearby fields he had to run and hide from immigration. I would often hear stories, not only from him but from others, of entire fields being raided by immigration agents at the very end of the harvest season to prevent the farmers from paying the field workers. For many, the chance to work is a great privilege and to this day my father-in-law works seven days a week 10+ hours a day and never takes a day off unless absolutely necessary.
Latino culture in particular has ingrained a common intrinsic notion that has been long since embedded within our upbringings. We are programmed to work hard, without question, and maintain a humble quiet coexistence wherever we may find ourselves. Paradoxically, we are constantly pushed to achieve great success by any means necessary, however, due to lack of tools or resources available we do not necessarily achieve that success. The generational gap between parents working manual labor jobs, for example within the agricultural industry, and their children preparing for jobs of the future are oftentimes conflicted. This is partially due to the conditioned livelihoods in children that see themselves achieving just as much as their parents. In other words, the expectation to achieve is there, however, in reality many do not want to part from their traditional roots and do not see themselves achieving more than their parents.
Silicon Valley today represents a purely American success story which utilizes specific markets in order to thrive. Likewise, the hierarchical nature of these companies depend greatly on its workforce. That being said, if Silicon Valley is to survive into the next century it must embrace the marginalized people that live within its surrounding communities. It’s designed not to absorb its surrounding populations but selectively bring in outside people that it depends on for creating the latest and greatest innovations. This highly selective transfer of work force, while benefiting the company, greatly damages the surrounding communities leading to gentrification and reduced job opportunities for locals.
Will companies begin to take some accountability for helping provide training and schooling for those living on the fringes of their own communities? Or, will it leave even more families further displaced and prevent them from obtaining the dream of economic stability?
We look around and often ignore those living within the shadows of many of these great companies within Silicon Valley. Workers almost comparable to the Dalit or ‘untouchable’ caste from India, those who live among the squalor of our everyday world and who come out when the lights turn off at night to maintain and clean our offices, kitchens, and other facilities. For those of us with close cultural ties, every day is an effort to live in between two worlds; reconciling between our roots and our own destiny. Had it not been for fortunate circumstances I, too, would have found myself being among those who struggle daily to survive in the Valley of the Heart’s Delight.