Picture to be designed by Daniela
Thomas Brack, Andreas Werder, Alexander Otth
2 The MBE 4 Silicon Valley Handbook
The Valley – a Melting Pot
BY CAR, BY PLANE, THEY COME. They just show up. They’ve given up their lives
elsewhere to come here. They come for the tremendous opportunity, believing that in no
other place in the world right now can one person accomplish so much with talent, in-
itiative, and a good idea. It’s a region where who you know and how much money you
have never been less relevant to success. They come because it does not matter, that
they are young or left college without a degree or have dark skin or speak with an ac-
cent. They come even if it is illegal to do so. They come because they feel that they will
regret it the rest of their lives if they do not at least give it a try. They come to be a part
of history, to build the technology that will reshape how people will live and work five
or ten years from now. They come for the excitement, just to be a part of it. They come
because they are competitive by instinct and can’t stand to see others succeed more
than they. They come to make enough money so they will never have to think about
Po Bronson, The Nudist on the Late Shift, 1999.
With this work, we want to show what the reasons for people are to immigrate to
California, especially into the region of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay
Area. Further we want to find out how well integrated the immigrated people in the
Silicon Valley and the S.F. Bay Area are. How do they live as foreigners, how do
they communicate with their families and friends, what is their cultural identity and
how do they feel in this area where people are highly educated? Three portraits
should help us to get some insight into the thinking of Silicon Valley immigrant
Could the Silicon Valley model be the cultural model for the whole world?
The MBE 4 Silicon Valley Handbook 3
Is the Silicon Valley a melting pot?
What is the ethnical composition of the Valley’s population? How does the Silicon
Valley differ from California and the rest of the United States?
USA (282.4 Mio.) California (33.8 Mio)
0.10% 0.30% 16.80%
3.60% 5.50% 2.40%
Santa Clara County (1.7 Mio.) Population, percent change, 1990 to 2000
California (2000: 33.8 Mio.)
White persons, percent, 2000 13.60%
12.10% 4.70% 12.40% Black or African American persons, percent, 2000
American Indian and Alaska Native persons, percent, 2000
Asian persons, percent, 2000
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, percent, 2000
0.70% Persons reporting some other race, percent, 2000
Persons reporting two or more races, percent, 2000
An investigation of the statistics (Source: California QuickFacts from the US Cen-
sus Bureau) shows us that the percentage of white people in California – compared
to the rest of USA - is decreasing from 75.1% to 59.5%. In the Santa Clara County
(the heart of Silicon Valley) the share of white people represents only 53.8%.
Therefore more than 35% of the inhabitants are „Asian persons“ and „some other
race“ in Santa Clara County. Among the non-native population are strong ethnic
minority groups such as the Chinese and Indian community. More than one million
Indians live in the United States, a lot of them in California.
Another interesting fact is that the median household money income (1997) in San-
ta Clara County ($59‘639) was more than 60% higher, than in the rest of USA
($37‘005). This also might be a reason for people to immigrate into this region (we
also find this statements some answers of the questionnaire).
4 The MBE 4 Silicon Valley Handbook
Questionnaire for the Silicon Valley Portraits
How did we proceed? What questions did we ask? - First of all, we wanted to get
an idea on the biographical background of the interviewed persons. Where were
they born and where did they and their family come from, what their native lan-
guage was, where they got their education and what their professional background
was. Then, we asked them about their motivation to move to the U.S. and in par-
ticular to California and the Bay Area. The next block of questions was about their
cultural roots and if they maintained regular ties with their families back home. We
also asked them about their cultural identity and if it had changed since they had
been living in the United States. We wanted to know if they were pursuing any ac-
tivities in cultural, ethnic or religious organizations, clubs or committees of their
home country in order to maintain their identity. An important question to get an
idea about their willingness to assimilate was if they planned to return to their na-
tive country or if they planned to naturalize and stay in the United States. The last
block of questions was about their perception of the special atmosphere in the Sili-
con Valley and of the Californians’ attitude towards ethnic minorities such as
Friends helped us to get in touch with immigrants who lived and worked in Silicon
Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. It wasn’t easy to get the interviews. The
questionnaire was rather lengthy and had some highly personal or even intimate
questions. For reasons of data privacy, we avoid to reveal their full name and only
give with their first name in the portraits. Some 30 friends of friends got our ques-
tionnaire by electronic mail, most of them probably just discarded it and didn’t
bother to respond. Five questionnaires were sent back. From those five people we
compiled the portraits hereafter. One of them (from Eugene Ciurana), which we
consider as remarkable, we give in full length below.
Portrait 1: Interview with Eugene (35), Mexican
MBE4: Can you give us a brief biographical overview of yourself? In particular,
where and when were you born?
EC: In Puebla, Pue. Mexico on 18. November 1966. I grew up in Celaya, Gto.
Mexico, where I lived from 1969 til 1982.
MBE4: Where did you get your education?
EC: Primary school: Instituto Patria, Celaya, Gto.; Secondary school: Federal
School General Francisco Villa; Exchange student: Molalla Union High School,
Molalla, OR USA 1983; Acting school: National Institute of Fine Arts, Celaya,
Gto. Mexico; associate degree in dramatic arts and history of art, 1985; Prepara-
The MBE 4 Silicon Valley Handbook 5
toria (bachillerato): Escuela Preparatoria Profesional Celaya, Gto; University:
Autonomous University of Guadalajara; Computer Engineering.
MBE4: Where are your cultural roots? Where does your family come from and
what is your native language?
EC: Spain and Mexico; I'm about 25% Indian, the rest is Catalonian. Originally
my family comes from Ciurana, Spain. My native language is Spanish
MBE4: When did you first consider leaving your native country, to immigrate to
EC: On July 13, 1983; after returning to Mexico from my experience as an ex-
change student (I returned on July 12, 1983). I decided at that moment that I
didn't like living in Mexico anymore.
MBE4: Why did you choose California as your future place to life and work? Was
there anything special about the San Francisco Bay Area that attracted you?
EC: Silicon Valley. I sold my first software company to an IBM subsidiary in Mex-
ico in late March 1990. On April 23, 1990 I received an invitation to join IBM at
the Palo Alto OSI development center. I worked for IBM from May 20, 1990
through November 25, 1990, when I submitted my resignation and joined a startup
company (IIS), which eventually became LAN SuperVision, Inc.
MBE4: Have you been supported by any social, cultural or political institution or
any government agency in your move?
MBE4: Since when have you been living in California, and where? Have you
moved around since your immigration to the U.S.?
EC: 1990: Mountain View and Palo Alto, CA
1990 - 1993: Walnut Creek, CA
1993 - Today: San Francisco, CA
MBE4: What is your professional background?
EC: Systems architect, involved in technology development since 1984 when I re-
ceived my first programming assignment. Other activities involved acting profes-
sionally (theatre, TV) and singing (cafés, bars, music lounges). My full profes-
sional life was spent in software development from 1984 (co-founder Laboratorio
Electronico Digital, Celaya, Gto. Mexico) until today. Most of my professional
experience has been around development of mission-critical embedded and control
systems. Other activities included technology consulting for M2 Technologies,
Technical Solutions Group, and the Nonlethal Group, all of which provided tech-
nology advise in the area of nonlethal weapons development and doctrine for the
6 The MBE 4 Silicon Valley Handbook
Office of Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) of the U.S. De-
partment of Defense.
MBE4: Do you maintain ties to your family? Do you visit your family periodical-
ly? What is your family’s attitude towards your residence in the U.S.? With what
means do you typically communicate?
EC: Yes; once a year, and they come to visit me three to four time per year; they
fully support my decision to live in the United States or wherever I chose to estab-
lish my residence. We communicate through e-mail, and the phone.
MBE4: Do you have friends from your native country in the U.S., California or
even in the Bay Area? If so, do you meet them on a regular basis? Do you partici-
pate in cultural, ethnic or religious organizations, clubs or committees, which hold
regular meetings, reunions or services? If yes, how important is this to you to
maintain your own cultural identity?
EC: I have many friends throughout the world. I pride myself with being able to
visit every major city between Hawaii and the Ural Mountains and having some-
one I can call to spend time with or in case of emergency. I meet my Bay Area
friends on a weekly basis, and they're usually at my house or we go out for din-
ner/drinks/ movies/dancing/etc. I find my social calendar quite busy, mostly in the
evenings. I am a member of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce and ac-
tively participate in various Russian social events (I'm fluent in Russian plus I love
Russian women). Other activities include amateur kickboxing, since I train and
compete periodically. My trainer is Bunkerd Fairtex from Thailand, retired as
world champion in 2000 with 350 professional fights, most won by KO. Bunkerd
introduced me to many aspects of Thai culture. Other activities include motor-
cycle riding and competition, and skydiving competitions and training.
I think that maintaining my cultural identity in such a rich environment, as Silicon
Valley is stupid. There are so many people here from so many parts of the world
that preserving customs is counterproductive. Moreover, I think it promotes se-
gregation and a form of racism. Thus I find that my group of friends includes
people from many countries. My closest friends, in order of closeness, are from
Russia, Canada, US, Ukraine, Japan, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Kirgistan, Swit-
zerland, Austria, Holland and Mexico.
MBE4: Have you noticed a shift in your own cultural identity? Do you consider
yourself assimilated? Are you U.S. citizen or do you consider applying for the U.S.
EC: Shift in cultural identity: I think that we're all citizens of the world. No, I
don't consider myself assimilated; it's better that way. I'm a multi-cultural dude
instead of a Mexican-American or whatever. I'm a US legal resident since 1993. I
The MBE 4 Silicon Valley Handbook 7
haven't considered applying for US citizenship because it doesn't appear to offer
me any distinct advantage over holding a Mexican passport. In fact, in some ways,
holding a Mexican passport is an advantage. Mexicans don't need visas for any
free country except for the US, for example. Besides, I did my military service in
Mexico (1985-1986). That means I earned my Mexican citizenship.
MBE4: Do you think that there is a special atmosphere in the Silicon Valley? Do
you perceive the Silicon Valley (and the S.F. Bay Area) and their inhabitants as
more liberal, progressive, technological, professional, entrepreneurial, open
minded, multicultural than other areas in the U.S.?
EC: Yes, there is definitely a special atmosphere in Silicon Valley; in many ways
it's a pure meritocracy (you get what you work for). The atmosphere of excitement
is unmatched in any other place, and I can't help but laugh anytime someone tells
me about the "cool environment" in one of the Valley's wannabe places such as
Silicon Glen, Silicon Alley, Silicon Gulch, etc. They don't have the unique combi-
nation of factors that make Silicon Valley unique. From The Silicon Valley Way by
Elton B. Sherwin, these are the things that make the valley unique:
The Stanford University and the University of California: These two great
universities created the nucleus of the high-tech industry, which now at-
tracts top talent from around the world.
Venture capital: The availability of financing for high-risk projects enabled
many small firms to obtain financing unavailable in other regions and
The concentration of high-tech companies: 7,000+ high-tech companies
foster a culture of innovation. Parent sand grandparents expect their child-
ren to work for unknown companies and change jobs frequently. Engineers
and executives jump to small, high-risk companies, confident that other op-
portunities will be available should their current company fail.
MBE4: How do you perceive the attitude of the indigenous people in California
towards ethnic minorities such as yours?
EC: Are there any people indigenous to California? I thought everyone here was
from somewhere else... Seriously, it depends on where you are in California. No-
body will even notice if you're from somewhere else in Silicon Valley, since almost
everyone isn't from here either. All you have to do is drive 50 miles away from Sil-
icon Valley in any direction and you'll find there is plenty of prejudice against an-
yone being different. Not very different from Switzerland, or Mexico, or Russia, or
anywhere else, actually, and I don't see that as a California-only situation. Even
San Francisco is not as open-minded as people think. For example, try supporting
a conservative agenda in this city and you'll discover how rapidly people will fight
8 The MBE 4 Silicon Valley Handbook
you and/or turn you into an outcast. The Bay Area is accepting of only certain
things/nationalities/attitudes. Now, I personally find the term "ethnic minorities"
offensive. That's for two reasons: There are many places in California where
Mexicans outnumber any other ethnic group. Using such terms promotes segrega-
tion. The only way the United States will turn into the melting pot it's touted to be
is if everyone (blacks, whites, yellows, reds, Martians, whoever) stops using such
labels when referring to people.
MBE4: May we ask what your future plans are? Do you plan to return to you na-
tive country or do you plan to naturalize and stay in the U.S.?
EC: The next big deal for us is to attain "escape velocity" in our business so we
can either be acquired or launch an IPO. This will take from 1-3 years, depending
on our implementation of strategy. I have no plans to return to live in Mexico. My
future plans include a home in Mexico (which I already own) where I can spend a
couple of months a year, a home/apartment somewhere in Europe (Paris, Zug,
Moscow, or Amsterdam) for a couple of months, and the rest of the year in San
MBE4: Thank you very much, Eugene, for sharing some very personal thoughts
Portrait 2: Kolya (35), Russian/American
Kolya was born in 1966 in Massachusetts, is an American citizen and grew up in
Northern New England. His family moved into the United States from Russia dur-
ing the World War II before he was born so that he is a second-generation immi-
grant. He was raised in part by Russian grandparents, speaks Russian fluently and,
though American, never seemed to fit in or to understand people. His vocabulary,
modes of expression, and attitude toward life were very different from his peers. It
is only now that he understands why.
Kolya has a background as computer scientist and now works as a product manag-
er for a streaming audio news company where he manages the integration of his
product with major ISPs and portals. He moved to California in 1988. He considers
the Silicon Valley to be more dynamic and entrepreneurial than the rest of the U.S.
He likes that “there are more ideas floating around and a tremendous sense of op-
portunities.” To him, the Bay Area in general, is more progressive than other parts
of the United States. His original motivation for moving to the Bay Area was very
special, however: he followed his girlfriend from college. He has been living in
San Francisco and Berkley for a while now.
His cultural identity is somewhat amorphous because he spent at least half his
childhood in a household that was culturally and linguistically Russian. He consid-
The MBE 4 Silicon Valley Handbook 9
ers the Russia he perceived in the home of his mother’s parents as something of a
cultural anachronism. He still frequently visits his family as they all live in the
United States. Did he ever suffer from being a second-generation immigrant? “As
a child, when I told anyone that I was Russian, I was frequently greeted with some
form of hostility. Partly because of the Cold War and partly because there were
not many Russians around in the towns I lived in. Now that he lives in an area
(San Francisco) with lots of Russians and now that Russia is no longer perceived
as an adversary of the U.S. my Russian background generates very little response“
What are Kolya’s plans for his future? Since he is American he cannot really return
to the country his parents came from. However, he plans to spend more time
abroad and at some point he will probably live in Europe, or Brazil. He speaks
Chinese but has no intention of living in Asia on more than a temporary basis.
“Culturally I find the U.S. quite alienating. Part of this may have to do with my
experience growing up as a second generation Russian in the U.S. and part of it
may be the sense that I have nothing in common with the vast majority of Ameri-
cans,“ Kolya tells us.
Portrait 3: Shiv (49), Indian
Shiv was born 1952 in Sonepat, a town 30 miles north of New Delhi. His family is
Hindu and migrated from Pakistan to India in 1947. They settled in Amritsar,
where he also did his elementary schooling in a government school. He went to
middle school and high school in New Delhi. In 1969, he applied for the entrance
exam for IITs (Indian Institutes of Technologies; most premier engineering institu-
tions in India). He was lucky enough to pass the test. Accordingly, he joined IIT
Kanpur, an institute started in 1961 and aided by America. There he completed his
B.Tech. (Bachelor of Technology) in Electronics Engineering in 1974.
Shiv learnt two languages in the primary school – Hindi and Punjabi. He considers
Hindi as his native language. He started learning English language in middle
school. English was the medium of instruction in High school and IIT Kanpur.
His immigration into the United States happened in 1991 and did not follow a spe-
cific plan whatsoever. IIT Kanpur was aided by America and many students who
chose to do a Masters degree went there at that time. After IIS Shiv joined the re-
search and development division of a business conglomerate which also produced
minicomputers and designed hardware for five years. The same company opened
an office in Fort Worth, Texas in 1982/83 for software exports where was he post-
ed to for eight months in 1988. This was the first time when he even thought of
spending some more time in the United States. Back in India, he got a job offer in
January 1991 through his professional contacts, which he decided to accept. So
10 The MBE 4 Silicon Valley Handbook
within a week Shiv was in the US. His family joined him six months later. Initially,
he and his family just wanted to spend a few years in the U.S. and then return back
When he got the job in the bay area, he was excited to be in the area where high
tech action was. He wasn’t happy with his first job and eventually he changed it
but preferred to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where he’s been living
now since 1991. “This was because of the weather and I also wanted to stay in the
area where action was,” he adds. Officially, he immigrated in 1996.
He has always missed his family – his parents and his three brothers and their
families -who live in New Delhi - and still misses them as well as they miss him.
Along with his immediate family he visits India every two years and spends four to
five weeks there. But considering the overall situation they no longer insist that he
come back, specifically considering the future of Shiv’s sons. Communicating with
them has become more easily with the Internet. Initially, they used to communicate
with a letter and a phone call every week, now they are relying more on the Inter-
net. They still phone once in two weeks and chat once a week, but letters have be-
come very infrequent.
What about Shiv’s friends? “I have friends in the bay area and in the US in gener-
al. Many of my batch mates are also in the bay area,” he mentions. He meets his
inner circle of friends on regular basis once in two months on the average. Then
there is the Trivalley Indian Association – a cultural organization. “This organiza-
tion celebrates major Hindu festivals and we attend the same. There are Hindu
temples in the bay area. I try to make it once a month.” As a first generation im-
migrant, it is quite important for Shiv to maintain his cultural identity. “I try to
maintain it as far as possible,” he insists. Then there is also the IIT Kanpur Asso-
ciation to which he has attended a couple of gatherings. Though he considers him-
self assimilated, he doesn’t believe that there has been a shift in his cultural identi-
He definitely doesn’t see any problem in being a member of an ethnic minority in
California. As compared to Texas, he definitely perceives the Bay Area to be more
liberal and multi cultural. He believes that the reason for this is the education level
of people and general knowledge, which is high on average in the Silicon Valley.
Asked about his future plans and about the possibility to return to India, he admits
that this is a very tough question. He is still debating for applying for the US citi-
zenship. But he misses his family and this could be a reason to go back to India.
He is still undecided, though: “On the other hand, looking at the kids’ future, I am
inclined to stay here.”