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De Bugging Silicon Valley: The Conference at De Anza College

The De Bugging Silicon Valley Conference, sponsored by the California Studies Association (CSA), at De Anza College April 24, 2009, in Cupertino, was jam packed with ideas. I flew up from Burbank, arriving around 10:15, and missed the opening remarks by Brian Murphy, President of De Anza College, as well as  by Nari Rhee and Richard Walker from CSA.  At  the workshop on "The Economic Crises and the Valley"  three panelists--Arshok Bardhan, Center for Real Estate Research, UC Berkeley;  Richard Walker, Geography professor from UC Berkeley; and Chris O'Brien, business writer for the San Jose Mercury News-- gave fascinating analysis of the economic crises. All three agreed Silicon Valley was not immune to the economic cirses and not going to save the U.S. economy. Also all three agreed this crises was different from the earlier one after the dot.com bubble burst.

In that earlier crises Silicon Valley had been the epicenter of the economic crises and lost 200,000 jobs, but this current economic crises started with foreclosures and then the financial collapse of Eastern banks and then spread westward, now hitting the Valley with layoffs at high technology companies. O'Brien told how after the dot com bubble burst  Silicon Valley lost jobs month after over a period of 3 years and then started to recover. Now, the Valley has lost jobs month after month for 15 months so the Valley could possibly be 1/2 through the crises.

In the "Emergering Critical Scholars:  Defining Landscapes and Workers in the Global Economy" panel, Richard Simpson from Stanford told a fascinating story of how Stanford University owned a lot of land so in 1957 the university developed the Stanford Industrial Park looking like a college campus with office buildings it rented amidst the greenery. The Stanford Industrial Park was widely imitated with many Silicon Valley business erecting buildings looking like college classrooms amidst the green lawns. I had just been driven from the San Jose Airport to De Anza College through the Apple office buildings which did indeed had low-slung tan buidlings amidst much greenery looking just like a college campus. Despite all the greenery,  employees were discouraged from walking to work or taking rapid transport and instead drove, with parking lots hidden behind the office buildings, so the landscape is designed to use carbon-intensive automobiles. Nari Rhee, panel moderator, said her parents worked on an assembly line in building that looked like a college campus on the outside but was a big warehouse assembly line on the inside.

Willow Lung Aman, UC Berkeley Landscape Architecture, spoke and showed photos how Asian and Latino immigrants were moving into the Silicon Valley suburbs, changing both the look of house exteriors with small fountains and Asian mini-bridges over tiny streams. What's fascinating about Lung Aman's talk about suburban Freemont was that Asian immigrants--Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Afghani, and  Korean--were joining together to shop at the same supermarkets or shopping plazas or retail areas. The new Silicon Valley suburbia has Asians as well as Latino immigrants bringing new landscapes with a mishmash of Asian and Spanish-language signs and shops and a new politics.

 Unfotunately, I missed hearing the "Right to the City" panel, but I had heard Raj Jayadev, editor of the vibriant multi-cultural magazine Silicon Valley De-Bug, the year before at the previous CSA conference, and grabbed a copy of the vigrant magazine Raj and others put out. The August/September 2008  Culture Without Bordersissue had a wonderful photo essay 'The Architecture of Exclusion" showing how the city of San Jose limits the right to the city with skatestoppers; baning the car cruising traditional to San Jose; signs sayning no skateboarding post in downtown San Jose;  uncomfortable bus benches designed so homeless can't sleep on them etc. De Bug is exploding with virbrant photos and art as well as voice-from-the streets articles about youth and immigrant culture and struggles.

During the lunch historian Glenna Matthews shared her lifetime occupation of studying the history of Silicon/Santa Clara Valley where she showed how  ethnic diversity has always been part of this region starting in mid-19th century Santa Clara Valley with Italian and Irish immigrants as well as Chinese, Californios, and Anglos; she also discussed how a small group of dilligent union organizers worked for a decade in the 1930s to organize unions in the dominant industry, the fruit canneries; union membership in the Valley has fallen from those peak years.

After lunch I headed to the lovely brand new Euphrat Museum, Visual and Peforming Arts Center, at De Anza college with its art show "Looking Back, Looking Ahead" with artists making images about Silicon Valley itself. Angela Buenning Filo showed us her amazing photos of Silicon Valley urban landscapes:  her strikingingly beautiful photos of the outside of a office building; a computer room; a series of photos of  blank white signs outside empty office buildings without any name of any business since the business had moved out; and her stunning photos in Banglore, India, of high tech offices there. Consuelo Jimenez-Undewood, San Jose State University, shared us her textiles she had made:   her Yaqui Indian shawl like those made by Yaqui women; a shawl held together by thousands of safety pins reminding us immigrant women crossing the border don't have time to fix their shawls but hold them together with safety pins; her flags encorpating both the colors of the Mexican and the U.S. flags; and her flag replacing stars with flowers. The art show proved that yes, visual artists, are using  high technology landscapes and immigrant cultures to make a stunning new art.

My panel "Satire, Romance and Silicon Valley in Fiction" had two leading writers about the Valley:  Ellen Ullman has published one of the best memoirs about working as a computer programmer Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Disconents as well as the brilliant novel The Bug about computer programmers trying to find a mysterious, elusive compuer bug. Ullman, a long-time computer programmer, said her writing was better received by readers fascinated by novels and by major book review media than by computer programmers themselves some of whom critized the computer codes she had included in her novel. She was highly critical of Google for unauthorized scanning of her novel.

Paulina Borsook has published "Love Over the Wires," a novella examining online romance and the first fiction published in Wire magazine as well as Cyberselfish, a great book-length critique of liberterian values enshrined in Silicon Valley high technology culture. Borsook made the point that the high technology liberterians benefited from huge outpouring of federal research dollars into developing computers and also state and federal education higher education monies but wanted little government regulation or taxes and gave little back in charity to the Valley. Borsook thought that since she had published Cyberselfish  Silicon Valley had changed little. Recently she attended  a green technology conference and heard the same rhetoric.

After my panel, Lawrence Coates, novelist who had written a novel called The Blossom Festival, about this region in the 1930s, came up to speak to me. He had attended the literary panel. Yes, there is a developing literature--novels, memoir, poetry--about Silicon Valley/Santa Clara Valley as well as an emerging visual art about the region. At the same time as my panel there was an Open Forum where academics, community activists, and others came together to start a South Bay Studies Working Group.De Anza College President Brian Murphy promised to help with a web site for the South Bay Studies Group. Yes, folks, not only is there California Studies there is officially now South Bay Studies to continue looking at Santa Clara/Silicon Valley.