Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists

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

Christian Zlolniski
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 262
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppv3s
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  • Book Info
    Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93917-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    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...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Mexican Immigrants in Silicon Valley
    (pp. 20-45)

    Capitalist development is by nature an uneven process, generating contradictions and inequality as well as a mix of exploitation and opportunity in the economies of advanced and peripheral regions in the world (Blim 1992: 16). Silicon Valley in Northern California is no exception. In this region, futuristic-looking buildings featuring advanced architectural designs with glass walls, aluminum fronts, and dark-tinted windows house the research and development facilities, assembly plants, and administrative headquarters of the most prominent high-tech corporations in the world. Surrounded by neatly maintained lawns, these high-tech buildings offer a sharp contrast with the smokestack factories of older U.S. manufacturing...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Subcontracting of Mexican Janitors in the High-Tech Industry
    (pp. 46-72)

    It is early afternoon on a sunny, hot summer weekday in 1992. Luis and his roommates are watching a rented movie on their VCR, comfortably seated on two sofas in the living room in the two-bedroom apartment they rent in Santech. A stereo with two big speakers and a bookcase with a few CDs complete the furniture of the living room. Born in Nueva Italia, a town in central Michoacán in Mexico, Luis is in his midtwenties and loves all kinds of technological gadgets like video and photo cameras and VCRs. His biggest passion, though, is soccer. An amateur player...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Working in the Informal Economy
    (pp. 73-105)

    Santech is one of the favorite sites of dozens of street vendors, who daily come to sell a large variety of products, including fresh fruits and vegetables, tortillas, beauty products, kitchen cookware, jewelry, pirated CDs, and others. Many residents of the barrio are themselves also directly involved in the informal economy. Some sell homemade food, candies, and sodas at home, often leaving the doors of their apartments open when the weather allows it in order to invite their clients to stop by. A few women run informal child-care centers in their homes, and others work as seamstresses repairing clothes for...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Mexican Families in Santech
    (pp. 106-144)

    When I first arrived in Santech, I was shocked by the large number of residents crowded together in the barrio’s small, two-bedroom apartments. Whether employed in formal or informal occupations, most Mexican immigrants in Santech lived with relatives and boarders in extended family households, sharing rent, utilities, and other living expenses.¹ Rather than being stable, many of these households seemed to be in permanent flux, with constant changes in size and composition. It seemed that every time I visited a family, new people had joined their household and former members had left. In addition, households did not always coincide with...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Community Politics in the Barrio
    (pp. 145-172)

    It is 4:15 in the afternoon on a Tuesday in October 1992. A group of women, including Laura and Silvia, start arriving at the library of a public school half a mile from Santech. They have come to attend a neighborhood meeting, called by Elena, a well-known Santech woman who is the informal leader of many social and community political affairs in the barrio. Most women come accompanied by their children. As they arrive, they cheerfully greet each other and start chatting. Some complain that they could not find anybody to look after their children and so had to bring...

  11. Conclusion: Subproletarians in a Postindustrial Economy
    (pp. 173-184)

    Silicon Valley is the most successful high-technology region in the world. With a high concentration of technicians, professionals, and managerial workers, it is also one of the wealthiest metropolitan areas in the United States. Yet the rise of the high-technology industry in this California region is also associated with economic unevenness, social inequalities, and contradictory mixes of economic opportunity and exploitation. In fact, the explosion of this industry is the single most important factor behind the demand for Mexican immigrant labor in Silicon Valley since the 1970s. The new immigrants came to work in the myriad new jobs created in...

  12. Epilogue: After the Dot-Com Demise
    (pp. 185-210)

    It is July 2004. After several years, I am back in San Jose to see how changes in the region have affected the people whose lives I portray in this book. I am excited about the opportunity to visit many of my former informants, but also anxious about possibly being unable to find those with whom I have not kept in touch. On the second day in San Jose, I attend a baptism party organized by Anselmo for his newborn child. The day before, while helping him prepare for the party, I had asked Anselmo how he was doing now...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 211-224)
  14. References
    (pp. 225-238)
  15. Index
    (pp. 239-249)