Is San Jose's Roots a Thing of the Past?

As San Jose grows as a tech mecca, commentator Hector Gonzalez wonders where the iconic cultural "jewels" that made San Jose's identity have gone, and the implication of the loss on the city.

(Performers at the last Music in the Park in San Jose.)

There has a been a conflict imposed on the identity of our city as the San Jose we remember from the 80's and 90's is not the San Jose it is today. It's about how the tech world drastically changed our city, and how the art world and alternative cultures were affected by the tech industry. I offer no solutions, but more a narrative of why there is such an internal conflict amounts many of us who grew up in San Jose and are trying to find our place in a city that has left us behind. 

It may sound strange to new Bay Area arrivals, but 20 years ago, before the massive power houses such as Google, Facebook and Ebay arrived in the South Bay Area, San Jose had its cultural jewels. 

My friend Donald Armstrong, an Oakland native in his late 40's said "San Jose folks used to have the low cars with the thick rims that stood out, candy paint and bumping high energy music -- that was the San Jose style."  Some of the most notable break dancers both in the Bay Area and worldwide came from our humble city. One day I recall being around a graffiti elder telling us younger guys, this was over 12 years ago, how he had seen graffiti hand styles from a magazine in France copying hand styles originated in San Jose.
People from all regions of Northern California would flock to the San Jose flea market, where as a young boy one of the earliest memories I have of interacting with Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian people was at the Flea Market where such ethnic groups spoke fluent Spanish. I remember very vividly walking pass the produce section and them calling my family by saying "Amigo, Amigo ven a qui, frutas y vegetales."  The Flea Market is schedule to be replaced by condominiums and a Bart train station. 

From the 1970's up until 1995, tens of thousands of people would show up to downtown San Jose for the Cinco De Mayo celebration. The city would block off roads, and there would be stages with free concerts and food everywhere. The city shut that down, and recently the Music In The Park festival was also shut down by the city only a couple of years ago. The question is why and for whom. If we the people who are from here embraced it, than for what and for whom are these things being shut down?

For the past decade, post 911, and post the Dot Com boom, San Jose has been stuck in a dichotomy. The world see's us as a technology powerhouse but in reality that's not our full story. Our story, at least for me, and many of the people I grew up with is a story of cheery trees, strawberries and immigration. 

There was a moment in time when the tech world had a place for us. We used to be their labor force. It's what made our City turn from strawberry picking fields into the assemblers of computers. I recall one time my Uncle who could hardly speak English and living legally in the United States with a workers permit given to Salvadorian refugees, buying a car from a white gentleman. The man brought us into his house to sign off on the paper work. During the exchange the man and my uncle engaged in a conversation as they had found a commonality. It turned out that the man was a motherboard manufacturer and my uncle was a motherboard assembler. I found it fascinating because my uncle was trying to articulate himself speaking broken English about building computer parts, parts that would be used by people all over the world made in San Jose.  Maybe it was 911, the Dot Com boom, I don't really know, but all those jobs left to be done overseas and with it left our connection to these companies. To some degree the companies that now remain are strangers.
San Jose today, at the core is confused. It's become boring and predictable. The city grew so fast that not many people remember or even know about the orchards that occupied this town no more then 30 years ago. It's a forgotten past, but the optimism for the future is also questionable. The City is broke, city developers build to cater to the technies making the city clean and one of the safest cities in America.  It's also a city where artists, alternative thinkers, musicians, have little to no room for expression.

The past is long gone and the city will keep growing and flourishing. Many of us hope that the City doesn't forget about it's roots and the people who made San Jose what it is today. 

About Hector Gonzalez

Hector Gonzalez is a writer, hip hop artist and proud father originally from San Jose, and now is based out of Southern California. He has been published in numerous books and publications and also has performed across the U.S as an emcee by the name of "Hegotistic".

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I learned a lot s a non native of San Jose who spent the better part of the first decade of the new millennium there. I learned that old school car culture wasn't just an east coast thing. I learned about Cesar Chavez and about how immigration and many other things. San Jose had so much to show me when I arrived in 2002. I have watched the change spoken on in this article. The modern San Jose seems to be forgetting what it once had to show. This is a City with a future that is forgetting never to forget your past. A few bobbles have burst in Silicon Valley. Even before it was a tech capital it held host to GE and the semiconductor industry. That's what polluted the land and made it cheep for tech and .coms. It always gets me when San Jose is billed as a New center of innovation. This once capital city has been a center of innovation almost since it began as a pueblo by a river. the art community in San Jose is historically and still its most endearing quality. How so many artist create so much with so little.

this is a great article. I was born here but grew up in Stockton. But I would visit all the time growing up I noticed all these changes. And San Jose has fell off In my opinion as far as cultural roots. San Jose culture is technology and money now.

Right on Hector, I just gotta say that are city is split in 2, there's Silicon Valley and San Jo....and the two rarely have anything to do with each other. San Jo culture is alive it just don't fit the dot com image...there for its swept under the rug.

I agree with you David.

hey, cool piece. one thing i can point out, especially being born and raised in the valley is that san jo residents do not like san fran claiming that they are now the silicon valley. true that san fran runs tech valley companies in the east bay, but san jose is the capital of silicon valley. for some strange reason, san francisco thought they could jump on the claim and get credit for it too, which irritates san jose residents who were born and raised...and paved the way for tech newbies in the valley. God Bless. little jbozz

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