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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Growing up in the Bay Area

<ve a complicated relationship with the Bay Area. I was born at the Stanford University Children’s Hospital, lived for two years in the modest peninsula suburb of Mountain View, and have spent the rest of my non-college life living in west San Jose.

If you look on Stalkernet, you will see that I supposedly live in a nowhereville called Campbell, but technically this is an untruth. I live across a dry, cement-floored creek from the town of Campbell, while still a citizen of San Jose.

This proximity led the local post office to consider my address to be Campbell, despite paying taxes to and voting for the government of San Jose. The resulting explanatory inconveniences have only further strained my relations with my hometown.

San Jose, let me make clear, is the tenth-largest city in the United States, with a population of over one million, although surveys have also found it the “most forgettable” of America’s largest cities.

I would like to say this statistic does my home little justice, but that would be a lie. San Jose has very little going for it beneath the surface. For one, there is little to do for miles. Perhaps the city’s most famous attraction, the Winchester Mystery House, is a cheesy tourist trap, and we have few better places to visit of which to speak.

What, then, is San Jose, this metropolis without a center?

Built on the suburban, commuter-centric model also adopted by Los Angeles, San Jose has a suburban character and little public transit. It’s a huge city, one that can take an hour to cross by car with few places of interest to show for it.

As Silicon Valley has boomed, its “capital” of San Jose has as well, increasing in population, congestion, intensity, and expense. San Jose is the most expensive city in the United States, with traffic to rival Los Angeles and a culture of stress unparalleled anywhere.
Few people from the rest of the country are familiar with this side of the Bay Area. California life is supposed to be laid-back and low-pressure, or so many assume. When I tell Carleton friends about my experiences at home, few can relate, simply because my experiences at home growing up were so extreme.

Growing up in the Bay Area, I was immensely privileged, with access to excellent education and sound financial status. Anywhere else in the country, my family would have been rich, except maybe Manhattan, but in San Jose we were comfortably affluent.

People often see this side of Bay Area life. It’s what’s most obvious. Yet Silicon Valley is only one piece of the political miasma that I grew up in. Schooling in San Jose was intense from an early age.

Kids, parents and teachers each vied to ensure students were performing as best they could, with often disastrous results for mental health. I do not exaggerate when I say Carleton is much less stressful for me than high school was, or perhaps even middle school.
Somewhere during my childhood, I internalized the beliefs of the people around me that I must define myself by productivity, that we must measure the world quantitatively, that achievement is the root of happiness.

Each of these claims, of course, is bunk. It’s taken me a long time to begin to unlearn them. Only this year have I started to allow myself to have unstructured free time, and I still haven’t fully reconciled my desire to be an English major with the STEMlord indoctrination of my youth that tells me numbers are the only way to discover meaning in existence.


These toxic beliefs have many root causes, but chief among them is the place in which I grew up. The Bay Area, sometimes for better but far more often for worse, is dominated these days by high-tech industry. The racism, sexism, classism, and elitism of Silicon Valley have all wormed their way outside of the tech sector and into the very underpinnings of the Bay Area.

Late in high school, I began to grow disillusioned with the Bay Area, and especially with San Jose, which beyond tech contained almost nothing. I wanted to escape to someplace less stressful. So I came to Carleton.

Living at Carleton has been just as educational an experience as attending Carleton for me. My freshman fall, I was struck by just how many white people there were here. Living in San Jose, I had often been the only white person in a room. I had never known there could be spaces this white.

It may seem paradoxical, but I don’t think I could have ever begun to understand white privilege without coming to a space so blindingly white. When one group of people dominates conversations so much, it’s easier to notice power imbalances. Back home, white privilege was of course real too, but I was cluelessly blind to it because of the extreme diversity around me.

Here, it’s impossible for me to ignore. Especially in relation to my home. Trump’s rise makes a lot more sense in the context of Rice County than it does in the context of Santa Clara County. Somewhere in my first year at Carleton, I realized that the Bay Area’s inclusiveness was a positive I’d never paid attention to, because I’d always taken it for granted.

I don’t know if I ever would have left the Bay Area had I realized just how much there is going for it. Progressivism, inclusiveness, diversity, great weather, natural beauty, and, let’s face it, a lot to do if you get out of San Jose. I never knew how important all these were to me until I left them behind for college.

I doubt I would’ve appreciated any of those things had I never lived anywhere else, especially anywhere as different as rural southern Minnesota. So in a strange way I am glad I came to Carleton, for giving me a counterpoint to my childhood that casts it all in a very different light.

Without the Bay Area, I doubt my politics, worldview, interests, hobbies, and tastes would be what they are. They always struck me as normal growing up. But then I came to Minnesota and saw the world is a bigger place than that. So I learned that I am a product of the Bay Area, and I always will be. I daresay I’m also a product of San Jose. I will own that now, gladly.

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