Kid's Quill: The Young and the Temporary

July 1, 2001

The old question, “Who am I?” has a new wrinkle for teens in the Internet age – especially kids whose job prospects and neighborhoods are changing before their eyes. The transformation is perhaps most dramatic in Silicon Valley, where the fabulous wealth of entrepreneurs and engineers rests in part on an army of low-paid tech workers. Despite the media hype about new high-tech jobs, these two young men feel displaced and demoralized by the rapid “progress” they see around them.

San Jose Homeboy: An Endangered Species

By Victor Saldana

All around me, decisions are being made about the San Jose of the future. Cisco is taking over the southside. BART is on its way in. Downtown adds a new high-tech firm every other day. The destiny of the city that my friends and I call home is being set without us and I feel nerve-wracked.

San Jose is more than just the city I live in; it’s the language I speak, the music I dance to, the style of the clothes I wear. My identity is a San Jose homeboy – a cross of Chicano, Filipino, and Vietnamese culture. It used to be the norm, now it seems out of place. With all the changes in the city, my identity is fading.

Back in the day, I was sure of myself. Now I’m just a bundle of questions: Who will I be in a city that I don’t know anymore? Will I be able to have a permanent job in the new Silicon Valley? Will I be the last native son forced to be part of the Modesto refugee camps since no one can afford Silicon Valley anymore? (Nothing against Modesto; we just call it that because so many of us are ending up there.)

Before, when my homeboys and I would get together at barbecues at Cunningham Park on the eastside, we used to be deep, at least 30 of us and twice as many homegirls. Cunningham Park, Santa Clara Billiards and the old low-rider clubs cruising on Santa Clara Street are where I came to know myself. My father and I listened to San Jose’s Radio Aztlan. He would listen to the oldies, while I waited for the “high energy music” – a style of music where artists were so down they just went by first names: Tiana, Daize, Tonasia. I developed a dialect of fusion English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese – a language only someone from the 408 area code would know.

Now, there are barely a handful of us left at the old spots. Some of my friends blame the high-tech yuppies, some blame the immigrants (even though most of us come from immigrant backgrounds), and some blame the messed-up schools. Whatever the reason for the new San Jose, we all feel as if an exit is being built for us and what we represent.

Some of us are trying to fit into the new San Jose by losing our slang and learning new languages, like HTML and Excel. Others try to escape their identity by wearing nice business clothes and acting as if they’re part of wealthy Silicon Valley. They talk big, especially to women, about how they are working at Intel, Applied Materials or 3Com, making bank.

The reality is that they are low-wage workers who were placed at those big companies through temporary agencies, and they are doing assembly work and material handling. The impressive-sounding companies are where they work, but they are not their employers. Lying to themselves just makes them more depressed. In small groups, they talk about the high rents and wonder whether or not they will be able to survive here.

Others just talk themselves into believing that it’s cool to move to Modesto or some other Central Valley cow town. They say stuff like, “You guys have to move out of crowded San Jo, come out here where the rent is hella cheap.” But they know, as we know, that nothing is out there. That’s why they always hang out in the areas they used to live in, clinging to past memories.

So what will become of the San Jose homeboy? I think we will become memories spoken by people who don’t even live in San Jose. Our identity will be part of history drawn on murals, like the ones on the rocks at Alum Rock Park.

From Special Ed to the Assembly Line

By Edward Nieto

When I began school, I thought I was extra smart because I was put in “special” education. Even more so because my name is Ed. (Get it? Special Ed!)

But in junior high, I learned what being in special education really meant. I remember sitting on the bus and glancing over at some elementary school kid’s homework. Since I was obviously older, he asked me for help with his assignment. I couldn’t believe it. This kid was on times tables, and I was still on plusses and minuses. He had spelling words like “forbidden.” I was still on “cow.”

The high school education system had given up on me before I even got there. While mainstream classes were having discussions and learning, special ed students were stuck watching “The Little Mermaid” for the umpteenth time and doing crossword puzzles for homework. My senior year math teacher told me all I had to do was show up and I would pass. I spent that year reading comic books.

Toward the end of high school I had a lot I wanted to learn, but counselors recommended that I just take vocational training. I tried to plead my case. I wanted to know what others my age knew. But they said I had two choices: take the classes they offered or drop out. At the end of the year, the teacher told my mother I was particularly bad at math, so I shouldn’t get a job as a cashier. He said she should not expect much from me. “He is doing well in his welding class,” he said, “so maybe he should be a welder.”

I hated welding. Here I was wanting to go out there and rule the world and everyone was shoving sticks in my wheels.

I chose not to listen to them and enrolled in De Anza Community College. I was doing great in all my classes. Hell, I was doing better in the mainstream classes than in the other ones I had been forced into because of my learning disability. I was really looking forward to taking computer classes. But because of being labeled “learning disabled,” I could not take classes until I completed tests. At the end of a two-week testing spree, they had a meeting with me and said, “Look, we know it’s nice to go around saying you go to college, but college is not for everyone and you’re not De Anza material.”

So once again I was faced with a tough choice. I could try sticking it out at De Anza until the teachers blacklisted me, or, like many other college dropouts, I could tell those people to shove it. I chose the latter.

Just like everyone else my age, today I’m doing temp work in Silicon Valley. I have done at least 10 different temp jobs in the last few years. I have built computer monitors, made boxes for printers and shipped computers. I never really wanted to do manufacturing and assembly work – it’s really boring – but I ended up settling to pay the bills.

I thought I might learn computer skills at some of these places, but none of them offer any training in how to actually use the technology we work on. So I’m learning HTML on my own and picking up some technological skills by using my brother’s computer. Like most things, the only way to really learn something is by teaching yourself.

Both articles are reprinted with permission from Silicon Valley De-Bug, a publication by young workers, writers, and artists in the Silicon Valley sponsored by Pacific News Service. Contact: and

Articles to be considered for publication must have been previously published. Youths will be paid for work published on this page. Submit articles to: Al Desetta, Youth Communication, 224 W. 29th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10001. (914) 679-6314, adesetta@

Saldana, Victor. "San Jose Homeboy: An Endangered Species." Kid’s Quill. Youth Today, July/August 2001, p. 48.

Nieto, Edward. "From Special Ed to the Assembly Line." Kid’s Quill. Youth Today, July/August 2001, p. 48.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.