Tag Archives: American

Desis of Silicon Valley Speak: An Oral History

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.

Yin-Yang of Diwali and Halloween

Wrinkled brows, scorching cuts and decisive strokes greeted me as I went upstairs a few days before Diwali. We have to get started on our Halloween decorations, said the daughter cutting out a spider. The toddler son was lying on his stomach on the floor, helping his sister by coloring the ghost she had cut out from white paper, white. A cozy, merry scene with the sunlight streaming in from the windows.

When bees create their colonies, I am sure they didn’t care about a little mess. Neither did my bee-lings. I navigated the crayons strewn on the floor and walked past the strands of paper littering my path to peek at the objects of art.

A morose skeleton was being drawn and I shuddered at the image. I hated to damp out their enthusiasm, but I said, “Sorry guys. That weekend is Diwali and I won’t have skeletons and cobwebs hanging off the front door on Diwali.” (This year, Diwali fell on a week-end and Halloween the day after, on a Monday.) A mutinous roar went up. “Amma–Diwali is the opposite of Halloween. It is the festival of lights. You’ll put up those little diyas everywhere and light everything up and then you’ll make everyone dress up beautifully–it is the complete opposite of Halloween”.

I disagreed. They may be celebrated differently, but they are both meant to fight evil. Ward off evil–whatever. The concept is to banish your demons. Even the inner demons. So, Diwali and Halloween are like that Yin-Yang thing. Black and white together. Both are there in us and in the world around us. I felt like a teapot spouting philosophy from my long snout to a couple of trouts in the stream. I sometimes think children must feel we played tag with Confucius and hide-and-seek with Buddha. I tried desperately to gain ground again.

You can always find light in the darkest of places if only you remember to turn on the lights. Do you remember who said that?

Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban

“Albus Dumbledore!” sighed the daughter. “Dementors–yes! Maybe we will do dementors also this time”.

“Also Voldemort–we can draw Voldemort and hang him outside,” piped the toddler son. He has no fear of He-who-must-not-be-named, and his sister beamed with pride at her little Gryffindor brother.

Guys! Guys! I won’t have Voldemort hanging on my front porch on Diwali either. Does Halloween have to be gory? Think of some themes and see if you can come up with decor that does not drip blood. Something positive, a call to action and also save our souls. How about that? I said.

When the daughter said, “Fine,” I left them to their own devices and pottered around the house.

I must say that I was mighty impressed with the resulting effort.

yinyang2

“We picked your favorite theme-nature, amma. So, you can put up some of this stuff for Diwali too. Then after Diwali, the next day, we can quickly put up bats and pumpkins all around and we are set,” she said.

I agreed. On the Diwali rangoli, we placed a large pumpkin surrounded by little lamps. The rain helpfully washed away the rangoli that very night leaving a damp, morose spot for the pumpkin the next day. All very satisfying. Happy Diwali and Happy Halloween. May we learn to take care of our world, the living beings we share it with, and balance our yin and yang for a beautiful whole.

This article was originally published November 3, 2016 and pulled from our archives. 

Anyone Can Become an Entrepreneur

With a billion people becoming connected via smartphones with the computing power of supercomputers, India has the ability to build a digital infrastructure that is as monumental as China’s Great Wall and America’s interstate highways. There are opportunities to create dozens of new companies as valuable as Reliance.

Just one thing could hold India back: That the people who should be availing themselves of these opportunities continue to believe that entrepreneurship isn’t for them but is the domain of young college graduates like those from Silicon Valley.

The reality is that even Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs aren’t young and don’t have special backgrounds. They merely saw an opportunity and seized it. Anyone can become an entrepreneur.

I know, because I made the same transition.

I was 33 years old. I had developed a revolutionary technology at First Boston, a New York-based investment bank, and IBM offered to invest $20 million in it — provided that we spun the technology off into a new company. I was asked to take the job of chief technology officer.

I didn’t come from an entrepreneurial family and starting a business was something I never even thought of. My father was an Indian government official; my mother, a teacher. I had no entrepreneurial aspirations and had a wife and two children to support. Taking this position would entail relinquishing a great job that paid a hefty six-figure salary, for a startup that could easily go out of business and didn’t pay well. So it wasn’t an easy decision; but I took the plunge.

Our startup, Seer Technologies, grew to 1,000 employees and had annual revenue of $120 million in five years; then we took it public. The IPO was fun, but the experience thereafter was like a nasty hangover. The excitement had gone. Sick of the big-company politics and the obsession with meeting short-term revenue goals, I wanted out.

Microsoft tried recruiting me, telling me it would offer stock worth a fortune, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of working for another big company. So I chose to start my own company again. Having tasted entrepreneurship, I had become unfit for the corporate world, and there was no returning to it. My only regret was having wasted so much of my life in it. I was 40.

Some people say that my transformation was a fluke; that entrepreneurs are born, not made. They also say that successful entrepreneurs are young and have special entrepreneurial traits. Research — including my own Duke and Harvard team’s — says otherwise. But my health suffered due to the stress of running my second company, and I had to switch careers. I still didn’t want to go back to the corporate world; so I became an academic. And the question of what makes an entrepreneur is one of the earliest I researched.

My Duke and Harvard team researched thousands of American entrepreneurs. We found that the majority, like me, did not have entrepreneurial parents and entrepreneurial aspirations at school or university. They’d started companies through tiring of working for others; they’d had a great idea and wanted to commercialise it; or they’d woken, one day, urgently wanting to build wealth before retiring.

We found that 52% of entrepreneurs surveyed were — just as were Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Naveen Tewari, and Vijay Shekhar Sharma — the first in their immediate families to start a business.

While in college, only a quarter had caught the entrepreneurial bug, and half hadn’t even thought about it by then.

Family entrepreneurship, prior interest, and extreme interest, then, hadn’t heavily influenced their successes. So what had? Tertiary education — though not which university they’d graduated from — provided a huge advantage.

But what about all we hear of IIT graduates’ dominating Silicon Valley? It is a myth. My research team found that only 15% of the Indian immigrant founders of tech and engineering companies were IIT grads. Delhi University graduated twice as many Silicon Valley company founders as did IIT-Delhi, and Osmania and Bombay universities both trumped nearly all of the other IITs. Education matters but not the school.

We also found that, in the tech world, older entrepreneurs are not the exception but the norm. The average founder of a high-growth company had launched his venture at 40. Most were married and had, on average, two or more kids. They typically had six to 10 years of work experience and real-world ideas; they’d simply tired of working for others and wanted to rise above their middle-class heritage.

There is no real difference between Indian entrepreneurs and American ones. So if anyone tells you that you’re too old to be an entrepreneur or that you have the wrong background, don’t listen. Go with your gut instincts; pursue your passions. You’ll come to wonder why you wasted your time working for your idiotic boss.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University at Silicon Valley and author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future

This article is published with permission from the author.

Senate Should Pass Proposed Legislation Protecting Religious Institutions

Washington, DC (April 19, 2018) — With hate crimes motivated by religious bias on the rise, according to the latest FBI statistics, it’s vital that Congress pass legislation making threats against religious institutions a Federal crime and imposing criminal penalties for causing damage or destruction to religious property.

As such, the Hindu American Foundation strongly urges the Senate to pass S. 994, the Protecting Religiously-Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017.

This legislation amends the existing Church Arson Prevention Act to cover bomb threats and other credible threats of violence to community religious institutions and community centers.

The House version of this legislation, HR 1730, was passed last December with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Expressing support for this legislation, HAF leaders say: “Religious communities are feeling increasingly insecure, given the recent uptick in hate motivated incidents and threats, including the recent spate of bomb threats and vandalism against Jewish community institutions and cemeteries, the burning of a mosque in Texas, the vandalism against two Hindu temples in Washington, and the hate crime shooting of Hindu immigrants, Srinivas Kuchibotla and Alok Madasani in Kansas.”

HAF has sent a letter urging passage of S. 994 to Sen. Charles Grassley, Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, and to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member, Committee of the Judiciary. Read the full letter here.

The bill is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

Turning American

ASIAN AMERICAN DREAMS by Helen Zia. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 319 pp. $26.

Asian American Dreams by Helen Zia
Asian American Dreams by Helen Zia

A week before his wedding In 1982, a Chinese American man named Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit by two white men who mistook him for a Japanese and vented at him their anger at the demise of the American auto industry. Although the perpetrators pleaded guilty to Chin’s beating death, a white judge sentenced them only to probation, thereby initiating the political mobilization of an entire Asian American community. Eventually, the murderers were found guilty of the racially motivated crime in a federal civil rights court in 1984, only to be acquitted upon appeal three years later by a mostly white jury in Cincinnati. “Vincent’s soul will never rest. My life is over,” Vincent’s mother wailed upon hearing the final verdict.

Through moving stories like these, Helen Zia chronicles the Asian American struggle for civil rights in her first book, Asian American Dreams. Each chapter of Asian American Dreams offers a tale from a different ethnic community.

Bong Jae Jang, the Korean owner of the Red Apple Market in Brooklyn, was arrested in 1990, for example, after Jiselaine Felissaint, a Haitian immigrant, accused him of beating her. The African American community in Brooklyn boycotted the Red Apple and other Korean stores. The lack of political will on the part of New York Mayor David Dinkins made it possible for the standoff to continue for seventeen months.

Interspersing these tales are brief autobiographical essays chronicling the author’s passage from her childhood in a working class Chinese family in New Jersey, to medical school, to the auto assembly line in Detroit, and finally, to her current life as a social activist and writer.

The Vincent Chin case explains Zia’s initiation in politics, since she happened to be living in Detroit at the time and was instrumental in organizing the Chinese community there.

The chapters in the book open up like petals of an Asian water lily; from stories of individuals battling against personal discrimination and prejudice, they progress to stirring tales of civic struggles in which entire neighborhoods, cities, and communities are involved. These stories might have taken on maudlin overtones, had they not been fortified with rigorous accounts of the legal, social, and political activism springing fourth in their wake.

A case in point is the saga of the migrant Filipino workers seeking redress for segregation and hardship they faced in the salmon canneries of Alaska during the early part of the twentieth century. The story becomes especially poignant because of the strong political clout exerted in Washington by Wards Cove, the only cannery to resist settlement until the end. In this tale, as in many others, the politics in the immigrants’ native country comes into play as well, since, ironically, the Filipino workers’ union was directly in conflict with the Marcos loyalists in America.

Not all the pictures Zia paints can be seen in such black and white tones, however. There is the story of the fifteen-year-old girl Natasha Harlins, shot and killed by a Korean shopkeeper in South Central L.A. on suspicion of robbing a bottle of orange juice. The account of the subsequent Los Angeles riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict will bring goose bumps to most readers, particularly since the white establishment’s indifference to the destruction of one minority at the hands of another is unmistakable.

Aftermath of the L.A. Riots
Aftermath of the L.A. Riots

The struggle moves on to a much broader stage, literally and figuratively speaking, when Jonathan Pryce arrives on Broadway to play an Asian pimp despite protests by Asian American actors.

Alas, Hollywood style happy endings are not in store for the major players in these stories. Most do not deliver impassioned speeches after stunning victories in court, nor do they walk out of their inner city ghettos and into a Beverly Hills sunset. Instead, it is through the very defeat of their specific causes that a larger change in American attitudes and institutions is often brought about. Asian American actors alone would play Asian characters on Broadway in future, for example, and the racist content of shows like Miss Saigon would come under increasing scrutiny.

Zia shifts gears as she discusses the successful affluent South Asian immigrant community. Her observations about the class distinctions within the Indian immigrant community are astute, as are her remarks about the conflicting demands faced by women and girls in the group. Zia points to Hindu role models many young women are asked to imitate, while also fulfilling the high academic expectations of their parents. She uncannily notes the rise in domestic violence and the recent spurt in Indian women’s organizations to combat it.

Silicon Valley Indians might feel offended by Zia’s indictment of The IndUs Entrepreneurs (TiE) for their failure to embrace social and political causes. It is ironic, she notes, that the very people who became entrepreneurs and millionaires as a result of the discrimination they faced in the form of glass ceiling in the Silicon Valley refuse to act against it. Her comments are so much on the mark that one wonders why she is not equally incisive about internal conflicts within her own Chinese American community.

The closing chapters of the book are devoted to a chronicle of the Asian American struggle for legalization of same-sex marriages. Unfortunately, as Zia reveals her own sexual orientation as a lesbian, the reader’s interest waivers and the book peters out, even as the author makes a convincing case that the banning of same-sex marriages is akin to the refusal of equal rights for Asians in prior decades.

For a weighty non-fiction book engaging in a serious discussion of law and politics, readers will find Asian American Dreams a moving, at times disturbing, but on the whole an inspiring book. Every Indian American must read this book and realize that the opportunities we have in this country might seem limitless but they are of relatively recent origin and cannot be taken for granted. operates on three levels; the microcosm of Zia’s own life, the challenges that the communities involved in the specific cases face, and the broader issues of race, gender, and ethnicity that put them in context. Zia proves herself a skillful narrator as she stages these tales against the bigger backdrop of national and international politics. begins with a well-documented history of the first immigrants to arrive in America from China, Japan, and India, only to be treated as slaves. Unable to own property, to vote, or to bring wives into this country, they persevered, to eventually participate in the civic life of America.

Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED