Mary Beth Meehan and
Mary Beth Meehan is a freelance photographer and writer. Fred Turner is Professor of Communication at Stanford University.
The workers of Silicon Valley rarely resemble the idealized men in its tradition. They are sometimes heavier, sometimes older, often female, often darker skinned. Many have migrated from elsewhere. And most earn much less than Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Cook.
It is a place of divisions.
With tech companies in the valley driving the US economy since the Great Recession, the region has remained one of the most unequal in the United States.
Deep in the pandemic, four in ten families in the region with children couldn’t be sure they would have enough to eat on any given day, according to an analysis by the Silicon Valley Institute for Area Studies. A few months later, Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla, who recently added “Technoking” to his title, briefly became the richest man in the world. The median price of homes in Santa Clara County – home to Apple and Alphabet – is now $ 1.4 million, according to the California Association of Realtors.
For those who weren’t fortunate enough to be on billionaire lists, mid-level engineers, food truck workers, and longtime residents, the valley has become increasingly inhospitable, putting test their resilience and determination.
Here are 12 of them, which originally appeared in our book, “See Silicon Valley», From which this photo essay is taken.
Ravi and Gouthami
Between them, Ravi and Gouthami have several degrees – in biotechnology, computer science, chemistry and statistics. In 2013, after studying in India and working in Wisconsin and Texas, they landed in the Bay Area, where they now work as statistical programmers in the pharmaceutical industry.
They rent a one-bedroom apartment in the bay town of Foster City and regularly attend a Hindu temple in Sunnyvale, which has been a hub of the Indian community since the early 1990s.
Although the couple have worked hard to get here and are making a lot of money – their starting salary was around $ 90,000 each – they feel like a future in Silicon Valley is eluding them. Their apartment, for example, costs almost $ 3,000 a month. They could move to a cheaper location, but, with the traffic, they spent hours every day commuting. They would like to stay, but they are not convinced that they can save, invest, start a family. They don’t know what to do next.
Diane lives in a spacious house in Menlo Park, the town where Facebook is based. Her home is filled with beautiful items from a lifetime of traveling with her late husband, a Chinese businessman and philanthropist. The couple moved to the Bay Area over 30 years ago when they retired, and they loved the area – the sun, the ocean, the great outdoors.
Since then, Diane has seen the neighborhood change: “It is now overcrowded. It was lovely, you know – you had space, you had no traffic. It was absolutely a beautiful place here. Now it’s very crowded – buildings are climbing everywhere as if there is no tomorrow.
“The money rolling in here is incredible,” she continued, “and it’s in the hands of very young people now. They have too much money – there are no spiritual feelings, just materialism.
Victor arrived in Silicon Valley from El Salvador over 25 years ago. He lives in a small white trailer in Mountain View, a few miles from the Google campus. He lived in an apartment nearby but had to move out when the rent got too high.
His trailer is parked in a long line of trailers, some inhabited by others who have lost their homes. Victor, who is now 80, has no electricity or running water, but the guards in his old apartment often sneak around him to bathe and wash his clothes.
Victor always carries a jar of medicated ointment in his backpack, and when the neighbors twist their ankles or have a stiff neck, they know he’s knocking on the door of Victor’s trailer. He sets them up in a chair and massages the sore spot until the pain subsides.
Teresa works full time in a food truck. She prepares Mexican dishes for a clientele in Silicon Valley: hand-ground corn tortillas, vegan tamales, organic Swiss chard burritos. The truck travels through the valley, serving Tesla headquarters employees, Stanford students, Whole Foods buyers in Cupertino.
Teresa lives in an apartment in Redwood City with her four daughters. In the fall of 2017, her parents traveled from Mexico, the first time she had seen them in 22 years. “Bienvenidos Abuelos,” announced a pencil drawing on the door. Welcome, grandparents.
Today in business
“Es muy dificil para uno,” she said. It’s really difficult.
As a teacher, Konstance is one of thousands of Silicon Valley public servants who cannot afford to live in the places they serve. For years, she joined the firefighters, police officers, and nurses who roamed for hours in traffic on the freeways around San Francisco Bay, commuting from more affordable locations tens of miles away.
In July 2017, Konstance won a place in a lottery organized by Facebook. It offered apartments to 22 teachers in the school district adjacent to the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park. Teachers would pay 30 percent of their salary for rent; Facebook would make the difference. Konstance and her two daughters therefore moved a short walk from the family school. Suddenly she was surrounded by something she lacked: time. It’s time to cook hot meals at home instead of eating in the car, time for her daughter to join the Girl Scouts.
In 2019, Facebook announced that it would donate $ 1 billion in loans, grants and land to create more affordable housing in the area. Of this pledge, $ 25 million would go towards building housing for educators: 120 apartments, including for Konstance and the other teachers of the original pilot, as long as they worked in neighboring schools.
At the time of the announcement, Facebook said the money would be used over the next decade. The construction of teachers’ accommodation is not yet complete.
One day, Geraldine received a phone call from a friend: “They are taking our churches!” said her friend. It was in 2015, when Facebook was expanding in the Menlo Park neighborhood where she lived. Her stepfather had established a small church here 55 years ago, and Geraldine, a church leader, couldn’t let it demolish. The city council was holding a meeting for the community that evening. “So I went to the meeting,” she said. “You had to write your name on a piece of paper to be heard, so I did. They called me and I bravely went there and talked.
Geraldine doesn’t remember exactly what she said, but she got up and prayed – and ultimately the congregation was able to keep the church. “God really did it,” she said. “I had nothing to do with it. It was God.
In 2016, Gee and Virginia bought a five-bedroom home in Los Gatos, an expensive town nestled at the foot of the coastal foothills. The houses on their street cost just under $ 2 million back then, and theirs was big enough for each of their two children to have a bedroom and their parents to visit them from Taiwan.
Together, the couple earns about $ 350,000 per year, more than six times the national household average. Virginia works in Hewlett-Packard’s finance department in Palo Alto, and Gee was one of the first employees of a startup that developed an online auction app.
They wanted to buy some nice furniture for the home, but between their mortgage and childcare expenses, they don’t think they can afford to buy it all at once. Some of their rooms are now empty. Gee said Silicon Valley salaries like theirs sounded like real wealth for the rest of the country, but here that wasn’t always the case.
Jon lives in East Palo Alto, a traditionally low-income area separated from the rest of Silicon Valley by Highway 101.
By the time Jon was in eighth grade he knew he wanted to go to college and he was accepted into a rigorous private high school for low-income children. He discovered computer skills and excelled in school and work placements. Yet, as he progressed in his career, he found that wherever he went, very few people looked like him.
“I am really confused,” he said. “I didn’t know who to talk to and saw that was not a problem for them. I was just like ‘I need to do something about this.’ “
Jon, now in his 30s, returned to East Palo Alto, where he developed creative spaces and presented technology-related educational projects to community members.
“It’s amazing living here,” said Erfan, who moved to Mountain View when her husband got a job as an engineer at Google. “But it’s not a place I want to spend my whole life. There are many opportunities for work, but it’s all about technology, speed for new technologies, new ideas, everything new. The couple had previously lived in Canada after emigrating from Iran.
“We have never had these opportunities at home in Iran. I know that – I don’t want to complain, ”she added. “When I tell people that I live in the Bay Area, they say, ‘You are so lucky – it must be like heaven! You must be so rich. ”
But the emotional toll can be heavy. “We are sometimes happy, but also very anxious, very stressed. You have to worry if you lose your job because the cost of living is very high and very competitive. It’s not that easy – come here, live in California, become a millionaire. It is not that simple. “
Elizabeth studied at Stanford and works as a security guard for a large area tech company. She is also homeless.
Sitting on a panel on the issue at San Jose State University in 2017, she said: “Remember that a lot of homeless people – and we outnumber those counted in the census – are working. in the same companies as you. “(She declined to disclose the company she worked for for fear of reprisal.)
While sometimes homeless coworkers can often serve food in cafeterias or clean buildings, she added, they are often white-collar workers.
“Sometimes it only takes one mistake, one financial mistake, sometimes it just takes one medical disaster. Sometimes it takes a very small break in insurance – it can be any number of things. But the point is, there are a lot of middle class people who have fallen into poverty very recently, ”she said. “Their homelessness which was supposed to last a month or two until they recover, or three months, turns into years. Remember that there are many of us. “