Desis of Silicon Valley Speak: An Oral History

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In 2016, KQED reported that 350,000 Asian Indians have moved to California over the last fifteen years based on data from AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders). It is well-known that the trend followed the dot-com boom in the late 1990s when software and computer engineering professionals from India moved to Silicon Valley and the South Bay in record numbers. Affluent cities in areas such as Cupertino, Palo Alto, Fremont, and Milpitas experienced what The Mercury News reported as a diversification in the Asian community owing to the rise in the Asian Indian population. One constant story left untold amidst this demographic transformation is the impact of the growing Asian Indian or ‘Desi’ population on the region. The Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Library at San Jose State University is creating an oral history project to record first-hand stories of ‘Desis’ in Silicon Valley. An oral history is a field of study in which audio and /or video recordings of first-hand interviews are collected, preserved, and interpreted to understand periods of history or events through the lived experiences of the interviewees or participants.

For the purpose of this study, the use of ‘Desi’ refers specifically to the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley and the South Bay. What social and cultural changes have occurred in the past thirty years as a result of the growing ‘Desi’ population? How has the ‘Desi’ identity been transformed by Silicon Valley? Why and how is Silicon Valley ‘home’ for so many Desis?

A tenure-track faculty member at the MLK library has received a university grant to build the first phase of the oral history project. She has started conducting interviews with Desis from various backgrounds – magazine founders, radio station founders, IT professionals, boutique owners. She invites members of the Indian community to participate in the oral history project in order to record and preserve the stories of our community. She will scale the project in 2020 and the next few years. Email mantra.roy@sjsu.edu if you are interested in participating.

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