Campus: San Francisco -- March 1, 2006

SFSU professor's book explores unique Chinese community in Silicon Valley

Bernard P. Wong researches the most diverse, engaged, educated Chinese community in America

In recent years Silicon Valley has become more than just a hotbed for high technology. The region is home to a burgeoning Chinese American community unlike any other, according to "The Chinese in Silicon Valley: Globalization, Social Networks and Ethnic Identity" (Rowman and Littlefield), a new book by San Francisco State University anthropology Professor Bernard P. Wong.

Wong finds that Chinese Americans in Silicon Valley - which he defines as an unofficial geographic area from Palo Alto to San Jose, and winding around the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay to Fremont and Union City - differ greatly from those in the urban Chinatowns of the United States. For example, they are more educated, speak Mandarin instead of Cantonese, and are more likely to become politically active.

In addition, public schools in Silicon Valley now offer Mandarin classes and popular extracurricular activities such as Chinese painting and drawing, ping pong, martial arts, Chinese ballet, and dragon boat racing.

Most first-generation Chinese Americans in Silicon Valley come to the United States as college exchange students, Wong said. After graduating, they work their way up the corporate ladder, with some ultimately becoming entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

"Members of these social communities network to engage in a struggle that includes consensus building with other transnationals," Wong writes, "forming coalitions with Asians who have similar goals, working against racial profiling and discrimination, and campaigning for equality in America."

Some of the largest, most vibrant Chinese communities in Silicon Valley are found in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Milpitas, Fremont and Cupertino. In many of these cities, Chinese Americans are elected to the school board and, later, city council and mayor.

Wong also found that Silicon Valley's Chinese American population is unique in that it is comprised of people from a wide range of regions in China: from Shanghai and Szechuan to Beijing, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As a result, many "subcultures" have emerged.

"People are proud of their dialects," Wong said. "They teach their children Taiwanese dialects like Minan and Hakka in Silicon Valley. This is very unusual for the United States."

In his research for the book, Wong interviewed about 100 Silicon Valley residents and analyzed demographic data. He spoke with CEOs, venture capitalists, engineers, programmers and technicians from such companies as Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Acorn Campus and National Semiconductor.

Wong, who grew up in Southern China, has studied Chinese diasporas for 35 years, conducting research in San Francisco, the Philippines, Singapore, New York City, Peru and Japan. He earned his doctorate in anthropology from University of Wisconsin, Madison. He lives in the Marin County town of Corte Madera.

The SFSU Anthropology Department offers bachelor's and master's degrees in archaeology, biological/physical anthropology, cultural anthropology and visual anthropology. It was founded in 1949 by renowned California archaeologist Adam E. Treganza, whose aim was to bring anthropology into the community and train teachers and others to understand and appreciate the state's multicultural society. One of the largest campuses in the California State University system, SFSU was founded in 1899 and today is a highly diverse, comprehensive, public, urban university.

NOTE: Bernard P. Wong may be contacted directly for interviews at (415) 338-7518 or bernardw@sfsu.edu. He is available for interviews in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. For a copy of his book, contact Matt Itelson of the SFSU Office of Public Affairs and Publications at (415) 338-1743 or matti@sfsu.edu.


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