Seeing the Actual Faces of Silicon Valley

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Mary Beth Meehan and

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


The employees of Silicon Valley hardly ever seem like the lads idealized in its lore. They’re generally heavier, generally older, typically feminine, typically darker skinned. Many migrated from elsewhere. And most earn far lower than Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Cook dinner.

This can be a place of divides.

Because the valley’s tech firms have pushed the American economic system because the Nice Recession, the area has remained probably the most unequal in america.

In the course of the depths of the pandemic, 4 in 10 households within 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 Research. Simply months later, Elon Musk, the chief government of Tesla, who just lately added “Technoking” to his title, briefly grew to become the world’s richest man. The median house worth in Santa Clara County — house to Apple and Alphabet — is now $1.4 million, in keeping with the California Affiliation of Realtors.

For individuals who haven’t been lucky sufficient to make billionaire lists, for midlevel engineers and meals truck employees and longtime residents, the valley has turn out to be more and more inhospitable, testing their resilience and resolve.

Listed below 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, laptop science, chemistry and statistics. In 2013, after finding out in India and dealing in Wisconsin and Texas, they landed within the Bay Space, the place they now work as statistical programmers within the pharmaceutical business.

They hire a one-bedroom condo within the bayside city of Foster Metropolis, and so they frequently attend a Hindu temple in Sunnyvale, which has been a hub for the Indian group because the early Nineteen Nineties.

Though the couple have labored onerous to get right here, and so they make good cash — their beginning salaries have 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 visitors, they’d spend hours every day commuting. They want to keep, however they don’t really feel assured that they will save, make investments, begin a household. They’re unsure what to do subsequent.

Diane lives in a spacious home in Menlo Park, the town the place Fb relies. Her house is crammed with stunning objects from a lifetime of journey together with her husband, a Chinese language businessman and philanthropist, now deceased. The couple moved to the Bay Space over 30 years in the past when he retired, and so they beloved the world — the sunshine, the ocean, the wide-open areas.

Since then, Diane has watched the world change: “It’s overcrowded now. It was pretty, you recognize — you had house, you had no visitors. Right here it was completely a beautiful place. Now it’s closely populated — buildings are going up in every single place like there’s no tomorrow.

“The cash that rolls right here is unbelievable,” she continued, “and it’s within the fingers of very younger folks now. They’ve an excessive amount of cash — there’s no non secular emotions, simply 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 few miles from Google’s campus. He used to reside in an condo close by however needed to go away when the hire obtained too excessive.

His trailer is parked in an extended line of trailers, some inhabited by others who’ve misplaced their properties. Victor, who’s now in his 80s, doesn’t have electrical energy or operating water, however the custodians in his previous condo typically 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 on the Complete Meals in Cupertino.

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

“Es muy dificil para uno,” she mentioned. It’s actually onerous.

As a trainer, Konstance is likely one of the 1000’s of public servants in Silicon Valley who can’t afford to reside within the locations they serve. For years she joined the commuting firefighters, law enforcement officials and nurses sitting for hours in 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 Fb. It supplied residences to 22 academics within the college district adjoining to the corporate’s Menlo Park headquarters. The academics would pay 30 p.c of their salaries for hire; Fb would make up the distinction. So Konstance and her two daughters moved inside strolling distance of the household’s college. Abruptly, she was surrounded by one thing she’d been lacking: time. Time to make scorching meals at house moderately than eat within the automobile, time for her daughter to affix the Woman Scouts.

In 2019, Fb introduced that it might give $1 billion in loans, grants and land towards creating extra inexpensive housing within the space. Of that pledge, $25 million would go towards constructing housing for educators: 120 residences, together with for Konstance and the opposite academics within the unique pilot so long as they have been working in close by colleges.

On the time of the announcement, Fb mentioned the cash could be used over the subsequent decade. Development on the trainer housing has but to be accomplished.

At some point Geraldine obtained a cellphone name from a pal: “They’re taking our church buildings!” her pal mentioned. It was 2015, when Fb was increasing within 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 it’s torn down. The Metropolis Council was holding a gathering for the group that night time. “So I went to the assembly,” she mentioned. “You needed to write your identify on a paper to be heard, so I did that. They known as my identify and I went up there bravely, and I talked.”

Geraldine doesn’t keep in mind precisely what she mentioned, however she stood up and prayed — and, in the end, the congregation was capable of preserve the church. “God actually did it,” she mentioned. “I didn’t don’t have anything 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. Homes on their avenue value slightly below $2 million on the time, and theirs was large enough for every of their two kids to have a bed room and for his or her mother and father to go to them from Taiwan.

Collectively, the couple earn about $350,000 a 12 months — greater than six instances the nationwide family common. Virginia works within 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’ve needed to purchase good furnishings for the home, however between their mortgage and little one care bills, they don’t suppose they will afford to purchase it all of sudden. A few of their rooms now sit empty. Gee mentioned that Silicon Valley salaries like theirs appeared like actual wealth to the remainder 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 remainder of Silicon Valley by Freeway 101.

By the point Jon was within the eighth grade he knew he needed 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. But as he superior in his profession, he realized that wherever he went there have been only a few individuals who regarded like him.

“I obtained actually troubled,” he mentioned. “I didn’t know who to speak to, and I noticed that it wasn’t an issue for them. I used to be similar to ‘I must do one thing 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 training initiatives to members of the group.

“It’s wonderful dwelling right here,” mentioned Erfan, who moved to Mountain View when her husband obtained a job as an engineer at Google. “Nevertheless it’s not a spot I wish to spend my complete life. There are many alternatives for work, nevertheless it’s all concerning the expertise, the velocity for brand spanking new expertise, new concepts, new every little thing.” The couple had beforehand lived in Canada after emigrating from Iran.

“We by no means had these alternatives again house, in Iran. I do know that — I don’t wish to complain,” she added. “After I inform folks I’m dwelling within the Bay Space, they are saying: ‘You’re so fortunate — it have to be like heaven! You have to be so wealthy.’”

However the emotional toll may be weighty. “We’re generally glad, but additionally very anxious, very pressured. It’s a must to be anxious in case you lose your job, as a result of the price of dwelling could be very excessive, and it’s very aggressive. It’s not that simple — come right here, reside in California, turn out to be a millionaire. It’s not that straightforward. ”

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

Sitting on a panel concerning the concern at San Jose State College in 2017, she mentioned, “Please keep in mind that most of the homeless — and there are lots of extra of us than are captured within the census — work in the identical firms that you just do.” (She declined to reveal which firm she labored for out of concern of reprisal.)

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

“Generally it takes just one mistake, one monetary mistake, generally it takes only one medical disaster. Generally it takes one tiny little lapse in insurance coverage — it may be a variety of issues. However the reality is that there’s numerous middle-class people who fell into poverty very just lately,” she mentioned. “Their homelessness that was simply purported to be a month or two months till they recovered, or three months, seems to stretch into years. Please keep in mind, there are a whole lot of us.”

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