For hundreds of years, people have come from other parts of the country and around the world to seek their vision of the American dream in the San Francisco Bay Area, first in gold, later the railroad, and still later in the rich farmland that inspired the area’s nickname, the Valley of Heart’s Delight. In the middle part of the 20th-century, the area became the global leader in tech innovation and the idea of Silicon Valley was born, drawing entrepreneurs and engineers from around the world.
All of these immigrant groups have left their mark on our Silicon Valley neighborhoods by bringing their foods, cultural celebrations, and community institutions, especially in the area’s many ethnic and immigrant neighborhoods. Here are some ways you can experience the flavors and cultures from ten countries around the world right here in Silicon Valley.
The best way to experience the mix of Japanese culture on the Bay Area is to visit San Jose’s Japantown, one of the last three remaining historic Japantown neighborhoods in California and arguably, the most authentic. Here are some ways to experience Japanese culture and the community’s heritage in San Jose’s Japantown:
- Japanese American History Museum of San Jose, a museum that collects, preserves, and share Japanese American art, history, and culture, with a focus on memorializing the Japanese American internment during World War II. 4535 N. 5th Street, San Jose.
- San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin is a lovely Buddhist community that lets you enjoy authentic Japanese temple architecture and garden design. 640 N. 5th Street, San Jose.
- Shuei-Do Manju Shop, a traditional Japanese confection shop that once had the honor of being visited by the Emperor of Japan on a visit to the Bay Area. 217 Jackson Street San Jose.
- Santo’s Market, a family-owned market that opened in 1946. They sell Japanese groceries, confections, homemade pickles. They also have coffee and smoothies. 245 E. Taylor Street, San Jose.
- Obon Festival, an annual summer celebration held each July featuring traditional Japanese performers, music, dance, and food.
Beyond Japantown, you can visit Hakone Garden in Saratoga and the Japanese Garden in San Jose's Kelly Park to view traditional Japanese gardens in Silicon Valley.
http://www.diadeportugalca.orgSan Jose has a large Portuguese immigrant community, mostly coming from the North Atlantic Portuguese community on the Azores Islands. The city’s Little Portugal neighborhood stretches from Santa Clara Street, just west of the 101 freeway, to Alum Rock Street. Here are some ways you can experience the Portuguese heritage in San Jose's Little Portugal neighborhood.
- Five Wounds Portuguese National Church, an elegant landmark cathedral that is center of the area’s Portuguese Catholic community. The church holds services in Portuguese four times a week. Website. 1375 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
- Café Docanto, a small café where old Portuguese-speaking men watch soccer and drink rustic wine and Portuguese coffee. 77 N. 33rd St., San Jose
- Popular Bakery, a traditional Portuguese bakery. Be sure to try the egg custard tarts, “pastais de nata.” 1636 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose
- Bacalhau Grill & Trade Rite Market, a quick service Portuguese grill in the back of a Portuguese and Brazilian grocery store. 1555 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose
- Adega, a modern take on traditional Portuguese cuisine. This restaurant recently opened on the site of long-time family-owned restaurant, Sousas. 1614 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose
- Dia de Portugal Festival, an annual summer celebration of the Santa Clara Valley’s Portuguese heritage, held each summer in June at Kelly Park in San Jose. Website.
As in the rest of California, the Mexican influence on Silicon Valley is incredibly important. Before California was part of the United States, this region was Mexico. The Mexican American and Mexican immigrant community are still two of Silicon Valley's largest cultural communities.
While Mexican culture can be felt all around the Bay Area the East Side of San Jose has long been the center of Mexican and Chicano culture in the community. In the 1930s, civil rights leader Cesar Chavez moved into the Mayfair neighborhood and he got his start registering voters and organizing language classes for his mostly Mexican neighbors.
Here are some places to experience Mexican and Mexican American culture right here in Silicon Valley:
- Mexican Heritage Plaza, a cultural facility built on the site of one of the first grocery store boycotts for farm workers’ rights, organized by Cesar Chavez. The associated, School of Arts and Culture organizes art and theater performances, children’s after-school programs and summer camps, and multicultural events celebrating all the communities in the Bay Area. 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose.
- Shopping and authentic eats at Story and King. In addition to the American chains like Target and Jamba Juice, the shopping centers surrounding the intersection of Story Rd and King St have lots of traditional Mexican grocery stores, shops, and boutiques.
- MACLA (Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana). This contemporary art space features work of artists from across Latin America and latino artists here in the Bay Area. It's one of my favorite art museums here in Silicon Valley. 510 South 1st Street, San Jose
After Orange County, California the Bay Area has the second largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. The community is centered on San Jose and Vietnamese restaurants, shops, and markets are spread throughout the city especially in East San Jose and South San Jose.
Here are some places to experience Vietnamese culture right here in Silicon Valley:
- Explore the shops and restaurants across the Little Saigon Business District. This business district is made up of several shopping centers, including San Jose Vietnam Town (900-909 Story Road, Grand Century Shopping Mall (1111 Story Road), and others.
- Visit the Viet Museum (Museum of the Boat People & the Republic of Vietnam), a museum that shares the experience of the Vietnamese immigrant community in San Jose from the 1950s to present day. The museum is located in a historic home (the Greenwald House), in History Park at Kelley Park, San Jose.
- Celebrate Tet, the Lunar New Year and the most important holiday in Vietnam, celebrated each spring. There are a few local Tet festivals but one of the largest is at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.
The large number of high-tech and well educated Indian university graduates make India one of the largest source of immigrant workers in Silicon Valley's tech workforce. Over the years a large and vibrant Indian and Indian American community
Here are some places to experience Indian culture right here in Silicon Valley:
- Explore the local shops and restaurants in the Bay Area’s two largest Indian communities in Sunnyvale and Milpitas. Some places to try, India Cash & Carry (Sunnyvale), Nirvanahh (several locations), and others.
- Visit the Indian Community Center. This nonprofit community center organizes public language, fitness, and yoga classes, a weekly farmers market, senior programs, and children's programs. 525 Los Coches St., Milpitas.
- Sikh Gudwara San Jose. Visit this magnificent structure to admire the traditional Sikh gudwara (temple) architecture, tributes to the deities, and perhaps be offered a free meal, traditionally given to all visitors, called langar. Follow all temple rules, as noted -- remove your shoes, cover your head, etc. 3636 Murillo Ave., San Jose.
- Celebrate traditional festivals. Holi (festival of colors), Diwali (festival of lights) and other celebrations every year in Silicon Valley.
California has long been a center for Chinese immigration. Back in the 1800’s, Chinese laborers came to Northern California to work on the railroad and start businesses to support the San Francisco Gold Rush boomtown. San Jose’s Japantown (see above) is on the site of the original Chinatown, Heinelenville. When Japanese migrants originally came to San Jose, they settled near the Chinese because the foods and culture was more familiar to them than white neighborhoods.
Like the Indian immigrant community, the Chinese population has grown in recent decades because of the growth in highly skilled high-tech graduates of Chinese universities.
- Explore the local shops and restaurants in Silicon Valley’s largest Chinese communities in North San Jose, Milpitas, and Cupertino. Some places to try:
- Celebrate the Lunar New Year, the most important annual holiday in China. Check out this post for more tips on how to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Silicon Valley.
In the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, lots of Italian immigrants settled in the Santa Clara Valley to work in agriculture. Some of the earliest and most influential local farm families were from Italy. While the majority of Italian serving businesses in this community are gone, the local Italian American Heritage foundation is trying to revitalize one of the historic “Little Italy” districts near downtown San Jose. Local volunteers are currently fundraising for an Italian Museum and programs to attract more historic Italian businesses.
In the meantime, you can visit some Italian businesses in and around Little Italy. Here are some ways you can support the Italian heritage in San Jose.
- Paesano Ristorante Italiano. An excellent Little Italy restaurant featuring modern Italian cuisine in a historic Victorian home. 350 W. Julian #1, San Jose.
- Bel Bacio Italian Coffee Shop, a Little Italy / Downtown San Jose coffee shop featuring Italian espresso drinks in the comfort of a historic Victorian home. 350 W. Julian #4, San Jose.
- Chiramontes Sausage, visit this historic small business, the last Italian business located in the Luna Park business district near downtown San Jose. 609 N. 13th Street, San Jose.
- Italian Family Festa, an annual San Jose summer festival and fundraiser for the Little Italy project. Featuring Italian food, wine grape stomping, and family-friendly activities.