Seeing the Real Faces of Silicon Valley

Seeing the Real Faces of Silicon Valley

Seeing the Real Faces of Silicon Valley

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 not often appear to be the males 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 Prepare dinner.

It is a place of divides.

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

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

For individuals who 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.

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

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

They lease a one-bedroom residence in the bayside city of Foster Metropolis, and so they commonly attend a Hindu temple in Sunnyvale, which has been a hub for the Indian neighborhood since the early Nineteen Nineties.

Though the couple have labored laborious 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 residence, for instance, prices virtually $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 Fb relies. Her house is full of lovely objects from a life 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 liked the space — the sunshine, the ocean, the wide-open areas.

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Since then, Diane has watched the space change: “It’s overcrowded now. It was pretty, you understand — you had area, you had no site visitors. Right here it was completely a stunning place. Now it’s closely populated — buildings are going up all over the place like there’s no tomorrow.

“The cash that rolls right here is unbelievable,” she continued, “and it’s in the palms of very younger folks now. They’ve an excessive amount of cash — there’s no religious 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 pair of miles from Google’s campus. He used to reside in an residence close by however needed to depart when the lease bought too excessive.

His trailer is parked in a protracted 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 residence 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, consumers at the Complete Meals in Cupertino.

Teresa lives in an residence in Redwood Metropolis together with her 4 daughters. In the fall of 2017, her mother and father visited from Mexico, the first 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 stated. It’s actually laborious.

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, cops 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 gained a spot in a lottery run by Fb. It provided residences to 22 academics in the college district adjoining to the firm’s Menlo Park headquarters. The academics would pay 30 p.c of their salaries for lease; Fb would make up the distinction. So Konstance and her two daughters moved inside strolling distance of the household’s college. Immediately, she was surrounded by one thing she’d been lacking: time. Time to make sizzling meals at residence relatively than eat in the automotive, time for her daughter to hitch the Woman Scouts.

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In 2019, Fb introduced that it could 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 residences, together with for Konstance and the different academics in the authentic pilot so long as they have been working in close by faculties.

At the time of the announcement, Fb stated the cash could be used over the subsequent decade. Development on the instructor housing has but to be accomplished.

In the future Geraldine obtained a telephone name from a buddy: “They’re taking our church buildings!” her buddy stated. It was 2015, when Fb 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 Metropolis Council was holding a gathering for the neighborhood that evening. “So I went to the assembly,” she stated. “You needed to write your title on a paper to be heard, so I did that. They referred to as my title and I went up there bravely, and I talked.”

Geraldine doesn’t bear in mind precisely what she stated, however she stood up and prayed — and, finally, the congregation was in a position to preserve the church. “God actually did it,” she stated. “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, an expensive city nestled beside coastal foothills. Homes on their road value just below $2 million at 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 yr — greater than six occasions 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 a web based 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 . Some of their rooms now sit empty. Gee stated that Silicon Valley salaries like theirs appeared like actual wealth to the relaxation of the nation, however that right here it didn’t at all times really feel that method.

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

By the time Jon was in the eighth grade he knew he needed to go to school, and he was accepted by a rigorous personal highschool for low-income kids. He found a flair 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.

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“I bought actually troubled,” he stated. “I didn’t know who to speak to, and I noticed that it wasn’t an issue for them. I used to be identical to ‘I have to 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 neighborhood.

“It’s superb residing right here,” stated Erfan, who moved to Mountain View when her husband bought a job as an engineer at Google. “But it surely’s not a spot I wish to spend my complete life. There are heaps of alternatives for work, however it’s all about the know-how, the velocity for brand spanking new know-how, new concepts, new every thing.” The couple had beforehand lived in Canada after emigrating from Iran.

“We by no means had these alternatives again residence, in Iran. I do know that — I don’t wish to complain,” she added. “Once I inform folks I’m residing in 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 completely satisfied, but in addition very anxious, very pressured. It’s a must to be apprehensive for those who lose your job, as a result of the value of residing may be very excessive, and it’s very aggressive. It’s not that straightforward — come right here, reside in California, develop into a millionaire. It’s not that straightforward. ”

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

Sitting on a panel about the subject at San Jose State College in 2017, she stated, “Please do not forget that many of the homeless — and there are various extra of us than are captured in the census — work in the identical corporations that you simply 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 occasions 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 quantity of issues. However the reality is that there’s heaps of middle-class folks that fell into poverty very lately,” she stated. “Their homelessness that was simply imagined to be a month or two months till they recovered, or three months, seems to stretch into years. Please bear in mind, there are rather a lot of us.”

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