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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Seeing the Real Faces of Silicon Valley

By Mary Beth Meehan and Fred Turner

Mary Beth Meehan is an impartial photographer and author. Fred Turner is a professor of communication at Stanford University.


The staff of Silicon Valley hardly ever appear like the males idealized in its lore. They are typically heavier, typically older, usually feminine, usually darker skinned. Many migrated from elsewhere. And most earn far lower than Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Cook.

This is a spot of divides.

As the valley’s tech firms have pushed the American financial system since the Great Recession, the area has remained one of the most unequal in the United States.

During the depths of the pandemic, 4 in 10 households in the space with kids couldn’t make sure that they’d have sufficient to eat on any given day, in keeping with an evaluation by the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies. Just months later, Elon Musk, the chief govt of Tesla, who just lately added “Technoking” to his title, briefly grew to become the world’s richest man. The median dwelling value in Santa Clara County — dwelling to Apple and Alphabet — is now $1.4 million, in keeping with the California Association of Realtors.

For those that haven’t been lucky sufficient to make billionaire lists, for midlevel engineers and meals truck staff and longtime residents, the valley has develop into more and more inhospitable, testing their resilience and resolve.

Here are 12 of them, who initially appeared in our e-book, “Seeing Silicon Valley,” from which this picture essay is excerpted.

Between them, Ravi and Gouthami have a number of levels — in biotechnology, computer science, chemistry and statistics. In 2013, after learning in India and dealing in Wisconsin and Texas, they landed in the Bay Area, the place they now work as statistical programmers in the pharmaceutical trade.

They hire a one-bedroom condo in the bayside city of Foster City, they usually usually attend a Hindu temple in Sunnyvale, which has been a hub for the Indian group since the early Nineties.

Although the couple have labored arduous to get right here, they usually make good money — their beginning salaries had been about $90,000 every — they really feel {that a} future in Silicon Valley eludes them. Their condo, for instance, prices nearly $3,000 a month. They might transfer someplace inexpensive, however, with the site visitors, they’d spend hours every day commuting. They wish to keep, however they don’t really feel assured that they will save, make investments, begin a household. They’re undecided what to do subsequent.

Diane lives in a spacious home in Menlo Park, the metropolis the place Facebook relies. Her house is stuffed with lovely objects from a life of journey together with her husband, a Chinese businessman and philanthropist, now deceased. The couple moved to the Bay Area over 30 years in the past when he retired, they usually beloved the space — the sunshine, the ocean, the wide-open areas.

Since then, Diane has watched the space change: “It’s overcrowded now. It used to be lovely, you know — you had space, you had no traffic. Here it was absolutely a gorgeous place. Now it’s heavily populated — buildings are going up everywhere like there’s no tomorrow.

“The money that rolls here is unbelievable,” she continued, “and it’s in the hands of very young people now. They have too much money — there’s no spiritual feelings, just materialism.”

Victor got here to Silicon Valley from El Salvador greater than 25 years in the past. He lives in a small white trailer in Mountain View, a pair of miles from Google’s campus. He used to reside in an condo close by however needed to go away when the hire received too excessive.

His trailer is parked in a protracted line of trailers, some inhabited by others who’ve lost their houses. Victor, who’s now in his 80s, doesn’t have electrical energy or operating water, however the custodians in his previous condo usually sneak him in to wash and to clean his garments.

Victor at all times carries a jar of medicated ointment in his backpack, and when neighbors twist an ankle or have a stiff neck, they know to knock on Victor’s trailer door. He units out a chair for them and massages the sore spot till the ache passes.

Teresa works full time in a meals truck. She prepares Mexican meals geared towards a Silicon Valley clientele: hand-milled corn tortillas, vegan tamales, natural Swiss chard burritos. The truck travels up and down the valley, serving workers at Tesla’s headquarters, college students at Stanford, buyers at the Whole Foods in Cupertino.

Teresa lives in an condo in Redwood City together with her 4 daughters. In the fall of 2017, her dad and mom visited from Mexico, the first time she had seen them in 22 years. “Bienvenidos Abuelos,” a crayon drawing on the door introduced. Welcome, grandparents.

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“Es muy dificil para uno,” she stated. It’s actually arduous.

As a instructor, Konstance is one of the hundreds of public servants in Silicon Valley who can’t afford to reside in the locations they serve. For years she joined the commuting firefighters, law enforcement officials and nurses sitting for hours in site visitors on the freeways round San Francisco Bay, commuting from extra inexpensive locations dozens of miles away.

In July 2017, Konstance received a spot in a lottery run by Facebook. It supplied flats to 22 lecturers in the faculty district adjoining to the company’s Menlo Park headquarters. The lecturers would pay 30 % of their salaries for hire; Facebook would make up the distinction. So Konstance and her two daughters moved inside strolling distance of the household’s faculty. Suddenly, she was surrounded by one thing she’d been lacking: time. Time to make sizzling meals at dwelling quite than eat in the automotive, time for her daughter to hitch the Girl Scouts.

In 2019, Facebook introduced that it will give $1 billion in loans, grants and land towards creating extra inexpensive housing in the space. Of that pledge, $25 million would go towards constructing housing for educators: 120 flats, together with for Konstance and the different lecturers in the authentic pilot so long as they had been working in close by faculties.

At the time of the announcement, Facebook stated the money could be used over the subsequent decade. Construction on the instructor housing has but to be accomplished.

One day Geraldine obtained a cellphone name from a buddy: “They’re taking our churches!” her buddy stated. It was 2015, when Facebook was increasing in the Menlo Park neighborhood the place she lived. Her father-in-law had established a tiny church right here 55 years earlier than, and Geraldine, a church chief, couldn’t let or not it’s torn down. The City Council was holding a meeting for the group that evening. “So I went to the meeting,” she stated. “You had to write your name on a paper to be heard, so I did that. They called my name and I went up there bravely, and I talked.”

Geraldine doesn’t keep in mind precisely what she stated, however she stood up and prayed — and, in the end, the congregation was in a position to hold the church. “God really did it,” she stated. “I didn’t have nothing to do with that. It was God.”

In 2016, Gee and Virginia purchased a five-bedroom home in Los Gatos, a dear city nestled beside coastal foothills. Houses on their road price just below $2 million at the time, and theirs was sufficiently big for every of their two kids to have a bed room and for his or her dad and mom to go to them from Taiwan.

Together, the couple earn about $350,000 a year — greater than six instances the nationwide family common. Virginia works in the finance division of Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, and Gee was an early worker of a start-up that developed an internet auctioning app.

They have wished to purchase good furnishings for the home, however between their mortgage and little one care bills, they don’t assume they will afford to purchase it all of sudden. Some of their rooms now sit empty. Gee stated that Silicon Valley salaries like theirs seemed like actual wealth to the relaxation of the nation, however that right here it didn’t at all times really feel that approach.

Jon lives in East Palo Alto, a historically lower-income space separated from the relaxation of Silicon Valley by Highway 101.

By the time Jon was in the eighth grade he knew he wished to go to varsity, and he was accepted by a rigorous non-public highschool for low-income kids. He found an inherent ability for computer systems, and excelled at school {and professional} internships. Yet as he superior in his career, he realized that wherever he went there have been only a few individuals who appeared like him.

“I got really troubled,” he stated. “I didn’t know who to talk to, and I saw that it wasn’t a problem for them. I was just like ‘I need to do something about this.’”

Jon, now in his 30s, has come again to East Palo Alto, the place he has developed maker areas and introduced tech-related schooling tasks to members of the group.

“It is amazing living here,” stated Erfan, who moved to Mountain View when her husband received a job as an engineer at Google. “But it’s not a place I want to spend my whole life. There are lots of opportunities for work, but it’s all about the technology, the speed for new technology, new ideas, new everything.” The couple had beforehand lived in Canada after emigrating from Iran.

“We never had these opportunities back home, in Iran. I know that — I don’t want to complain,” she added. “When I tell people I’m living in the Bay Area, they say: ‘You’re so lucky — it must be like heaven! You must be so rich.’”

But the emotional toll may be weighty. “We are sometimes happy, but also very anxious, very stressed. You have to be worried if you lose your job, because the cost of living is very high, and it’s very competitive. It’s not that easy — come here, live in California, become a millionaire. It’s not that simple. ”

Elizabeth studied at Stanford and works as a safety guard for a significant tech agency in the space. She can also be homeless.

Sitting on a panel about the problem at San Jose State University in 2017, she stated, “Please remember that many of the homeless — and there are many more of us than are captured in the census — work in the same companies that you do.” (She declined to reveal which company she labored for out of concern of reprisal.)

While typically homeless co-workers could usually serve meals in cafeterias or clear buildings, she added, many instances they’re white-collar professionals.

“Sometimes it takes only one mistake, one financial mistake, sometimes it takes just one medical catastrophe. Sometimes it takes one tiny little lapse in insurance — it can be a number of things. But the fact is that there’s lots of middle-class people that fell into poverty very recently,” she stated. “Their homelessness that was just supposed to be a month or two months until they recovered, or three months, turns out to stretch into years. Please remember, there are a lot of us.”

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