Everyone has a letter and a number attached to them. The H-4 housewives wear canvas shoes and take brisk walks around the green at the heart of North Park Apartments; the B-2 grandparents push their American-born grandchildren on little tricycles; the H-1B techies play volleyball and the B-1 consultants stroll.
I am an F-1 OPT sitting next to a Chinese mom on a cement bench, watching all of this. All the picnic tables are occupied: an Indian man sits idly at one, six Indian women in sarees sit conversing in Tamil around another. As I sit facing the five-acre Moitozo park, I see three high-rise condominiums on each side, named after mighty trees native to central or northern Europe. Ahead of me, the sunlight is slowly fading behind the hills. Orange farms stretch nearly all the way to the next set of condos, built in less than six months, to meet the growing housing demands of the valley. A nip in the air prompts a young woman walking past to tie her dupatta around her head; her anklets crash noisily into her runners. The crowd, gathered around the park in printed kurtas and chiffon sarees, is linguistically divided. The Tamils and Telugus sit on park benches to the left; the Hindi speakers to the far right; the Bengalis and everyone else are transient.
I have just arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area, to spend a few weeks living with a techie couple from Tamil Nadu, India, one of whom I went to school with in Chennai. The North Park Apartment Village in North San Jose, at the heart of which I sit, is popular amongst the Indian techies, with its offer of one, two, three bedroom apartments and town houses with in-built gadgets and an “an array of resort-style amenities.”
Many of these men and women have come — in several waves — to Silicon Valley to work for American tech giants and spend their days building virtual platforms geared to bring down barriers between humans. So why are they isolating themselves hundreds of kilometres away from home in hi-tech ghettoes formed along ethnic networks?
They bring with them temples, pure vegetarian restaurants, a fanatic love for movie stars and a competitive spirit that has forced a reverse gentrification in Bay Area schools: the brown kids with their soaring grades are driving away the white kids. Nearly every second restaurant on El Camino Real, a highway that runs through the heart of the Bay Area, is an Indian one; the competition so fierce that specialising in a particular food item is the only way to survive. One offers the juiciest biryani, another the crispiest medu vada. There are numbers to match this change too. A 95 per cent white population in 1940s, has now come down to around 50 per cent in the Bay Area; the Asian quotient has steadily increased to about 33 percent. A Vietnamese-American Uber driver tells me that real estate wars in the area are now fought between the Indians and the Chinese: “It comes down to who has the hard cash to seal the deal.” The Chinese often win.