SUNNYVALE, Calif. — The Hindu temple here was one of the largest in California when it opened in a converted electronics warehouse in 1994--big enough, its founders thought, to last a good two decades.
They were wrong. Temple membership has grown from 380 families to 4,800 as the Silicon Valley's Asian Indian population has surged in the last decade, part of an international high-tech migration that has both repeated and rewritten the standard California tale of demographic change.
Like other waves of new arrivals, the software workers have transformed shopping districts, schools and restaurant menus, altering the very sights and sounds of the place. They have also punched a hole in the immigrant stereotype of the poorly paid toiling in service jobs while their children struggle in overburdened schools.
The high-tech boom drew an ethnic melange of the skilled and educated from around the world, immigrants with college degrees, middle-class incomes and children who have often raised the academic bar in public schools.
"I almost wish they came into kindergarten not knowing so much," said Fremont kindergarten teacher Karen Ottoboni, who had in her Ardenwood Elementary class five Chinese, one Israeli, two Filipinos, two African Americans, two whites and five Asian Indians. "I'm on the verge of teaching the first grade here."
Though evident in other high-tech centers around the nation, the pattern in many ways "is an exception," said David Asquith, an associate professor of sociology at San Jose State. "It's sort of a new ballgame. Most of the immigration from Asia or Mexico or Latin America has tended to be . . . at the lower end of the wage scale."
A study published in 1999 by the California Public Policy Institute found that nearly a quarter of the Silicon Valley's high-tech companies were headed by Chinese or Indian immigrants. "They have made this valley thrive," Santa Clara County Supervisor Pete McHugh said of the region's newcomers.
In Santa Clara County, the heart of the Silicon Valley, no ethnic group has grown as dramatically as Asian Indians, whose numbers have more than tripled in the last decade, effectively moving their California capital from Los Angeles County to the Silicon Valley.
Statewide, the number of Indian residents nearly doubled over the decade to 314,819, keeping California the national leader. U.S. census figures show that of the Asian subgroups in the state, the Indian population shot up the fastest during the 1990s.
Signs of Indian Presence Abound
Whether it is manifested in bustling temples or weekend cricket matches in the parks, Indian life has taken root in this land of software geeks and outlandishly priced tract houses. There is even a term for Indians who live and work in the Silicon Valley--"Silicon desi."
Indian restaurants abound. There are Indian video stores, groceries, sari shops and festivals with parades. The Sikh temple in San Jose is raising $50,000 a month to erect a new facility on 42 acres.
The recently opened Naz 8 Cinemas in a Fremont shopping center in Alameda County show only films from South Asia. Indian performers stop on entertainment tours.
"They find whatever they can find in India," said Raj Bhanot, co-founder of the Hindu Temple and Community Center of Sunnyvale. "They're not missing anything, basically."
They also find a high-tech meritocracy that helps blunt the jarring sense of dislocation that can accompany a move from one society to another.
"The Silicon Valley values your talent more than your race, color, sex or religion," said Vish Agarwal, a Palo Alto management consultant who first immigrated to the East Coast and moved to the Bay Area a few years ago.
"The Bay Area is much more cosmopolitan and accepting of foreign cultures," he added.
It helps that many Indians arrive with a command of English and skills sought by an industry that roared through the 1990s.
They still face the shock of astronomical housing prices. And they have not been immune to the tech slowdown of the last year.
Indians, many of whom are here on special work visas, have lost jobs. Some have packed up and returned to India. Others are scrounging for any kind of work in order to stay.
"It's almost like admitting defeat," if they return home jobless, said Bina Murarka, editor of India-West, an East Bay-based weekly she and her husband launched 26 years ago. "They'd rather stick it out."
The newspaper runs about 150 pages every week, fat with entertainment, business and restaurant ads. Recent editions contained the musings of a Silicon desi, Hindu outrage over McDonald's use of beef flavoring in its French fries and classified ads offering a glimpse of one of the major cultural collisions within the Indo-American community:
"Punjabi Sikh parents seeking tall, handsome, athletic, educated, family-oriented and clean-shaven Punjabi Sikh gentleman for 27 years old, 5'7" very beautiful American-born daughter, established professional career and completing her doctorate education."