Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists: The Lives of Mexican Immigrants in Silicon Valley

Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists: The Lives of Mexican Immigrants in Silicon Valley

Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists: The Lives of Mexican Immigrants in Silicon Valley

Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists: The Lives of Mexican Immigrants in Silicon Valley

Synopsis

This highly accessible, engagingly written book exposes the underbelly of California's Silicon Valley, the most successful high-technology region in the world, in a vivid ethnographic study of Mexican immigrants employed in Silicon Valley's low-wage jobs. Christian Zlolniski's on-the-ground investigation demonstrates how global forces have incorporated these workers as an integral part of the economy through subcontracting and other flexible labor practices and explores how these labor practices have in turn affected working conditions and workers' daily lives. In Zlolniski's analysis, these immigrants do not emerge merely as victims of a harsh economy; despite the obstacles they face, they are transforming labor and community politics, infusing new blood into labor unions, and challenging exclusionary notions of civic and political membership. This richly textured and complex portrait of one community opens a window onto the future of Mexican and other Latino immigrants in the new U.S. economy.

Excerpt

In the midst of East San Jose, which contains the largest concentration of Latinos in the Santa Clara Valley of Northern California, lies Santech, my fictitious name for a poor urban community made up of barrack-like apartment buildings inhabited mostly by Mexican immigrants. The barrio consists of six blocks in a distinct, self-contained area surrounded by a larger neighborhood made up of modest single-family homes. The residents named the barrio after a public elementary school that most of their children attend. Next to the apartment buildings, and divided from them by a concrete wall, is a housing project for low-income Mexican American, Vietnamese, and other immigrants, surrounded by several well-kept grassy playgrounds.

When I first visited Santech, I was shocked by the disrepair of the neighborhood and its buildings: five of the barrio’s blocks were lined with identical, blighted two-story buildings, some of which had been condemned by the local housing authorities. Everywhere were broken windows, walls with graying paint, damaged roofs, stairs with missing steps, and decks that looked as if they were going to collapse. On the ledges above the windows were cans, piles of scrap metal, bottles and glass, broken chairs, cardboard boxes, and other old items kept by the neighbors living upstairs. The front and back yards of the buildings, which looked as if they had been lawns at some point, were covered only by bare, hardened soil. The streets and parking lots were full of potholes, and behind the buildings the garbage containers were overflowing with rotting trash; abandoned refrigerators, mattresses, stoves, and ripped-up furniture lay piled next to them.

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