Census: Majority of Santa Clara County families speak foreign language at home

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Sep 23 15:11:34 UTC 2008

 Census: Majority of Santa Clara County families speak foreign language at
By Mike Swift Mercury News Article Launched: 09/22/2008 09:01:00 PM PDT

  After decades of immigration from Asia and Latin America, Silicon Valley
has hit a linguistic milestone that is rare in America: For the first time,
a majority of Santa Clara County residents speak a language other than
English at home. In 2007, Santa Clara was one of just 10 counties in the
United States where more than 50 percent of residents speak a foreign
language at home, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data being released
today. Most of those counties are home to Spanish speakers on the Mexican
border or multilingual populations in large cities like New York, Los
Angeles and Miami. But Santa Clara County, which is suburban in character,
is home to a different kind of phenomenon, with highly educated workers and
students drawn to the high-tech job mecca of Silicon Valley as orchards and
farm fields gradually gave way to office space and cul-de-sacs.

The change has been steady and consistent. As recently as 1990, less than
one-third of South Bay residents spoke a foreign language at home. But by
2000, that number grew to 45 percent, as new arrivals from India, Mexico and
China joined earlier immigrants from Vietnam, the Philippines and other
countries. About 51 percent of Santa Clara County households speak another
language at home. Spanish is the most common foreign language, spoken by
about 312,000 people. About 280,000 people speak Chinese, Vietnamese or
Tagalog at home. Silicon Valley's ability to emboss cultural diversity onto
a suburban boilerplate makes it unique not just in the United States now,
but to some degree in the nation's history, said Hans Johnson, a demographer
with the Public Policy Institute of California.

The valley does not reflect the traditional 20th century immigrant story of
moving into a poor ethnic neighborhood and scrimping and saving for the next
generation. "What's really driving this is the addition of highly skilled,
high-tech workers who come directly into the middle class here in the United
States," Johnson said. The linguistic and cultural diversity of Silicon
Valley is also greater than other tech centers in the United States, said
Bill Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. "I think it's the
origin of the whole area, the fact there's been a strong Asian presence in
Northern California for a long time," Frey said. "Silicon Valley is
different than Austin or the Research Triangle or even Route 128" outside

The growing number of Chinese and Spanish speakers in Santa Clara County
doesn't mean English is losing ground. Even as the number of Spanish
speakers has grown rapidly this decade, 51 percent of Spanish-speakers were
also fluent in English in 2007, up from 48 percent in 2000, the new Census
data show. That diversity is showing up in Milpitas, which looks a world
away from Ellis Island, but it's one of just nine U.S. cities where a
majority of the population is foreign-born, according to today's Census data
on about 800 cities with at least 65,000 residents.

The Milpitas Unified School District has students who speak at least 42
languages, but a weekend afternoon presents a typical American suburban
scene of yard sales, ice cream trucks, guys tinkering with boats in the
driveway, and yard signs for politicians running for mayor or city council.
Some of that foreign-born population gathers at the India Community Center
near Calaveras Boulevard, where a creative-writing class might be mostly in
Hindi, but where much of the talk, whether it's a discussion of the
presidential election or the merits of arranged marriage, is in English.

Because people from across India speak so many different languages, English
"is the only language in which we can communicate with everybody here," said
Prabhakar Kulkarni, a retired doctor from Mumbai who speaks the language
Marathi at home with his wife, Rajani.

It's what they grew up speaking in Mumbai and still feel most comfortable
with, even though they have lived permanently in the South Bay since 1995,
and their California-born grandchildren have trouble speaking Marathi back
to them.

While there are plenty of ethnic tongues in Milpitas, there's little or no

on image to enlarge.)
turf, said Police Chief Dennis Graham, who grew up in town.

"There is no such thing as a ghetto in Milpitas, where one group of people
live exclusive of other ethnic groups," Graham said. "If you look at the
diversity we have in Milpitas, we have very little racial tension here."

At Murphy Park down the street from James Staten's house, the battle for
playing fields tends to be between people playing cricket and those playing
soccer, rather than those playing baseball or football.

"We represent the changing face of America," said Staten, a 51-year-old New
Jersey native who has lived in Milpitas for 15 years and who is a teacher in
San Jose. "That's one of the things I like about it — you have people from
all walks of life."

Contact Mike Swift at mswift at mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3648.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOMEIn 2007, the 10 U.S. counties with the
highest percentage of households that spoke a language other than English at
home:CountyPercentageHidalgo, Texas83.9%El Paso, Texas75.6Miami-Dade,
Fla.70.7Imperial69.3Hudson, N.J.57.2Los Angeles56.6Bronx, N.Y.55.4Queens,
N.Y.54.9Monterey51.3Santa Clara50.6 Note: includes only counties of at least
65,000 people residents born outside U.s.In 2007, the 10 U.S. counties with
the highest percentage of foreign-born: CountyPercent born in another
countryMiami-Dade, Fla.50.4%Santa Clara37.5Los Angeles36.2San
Francisco35.3San Mateo33.9Monterey30.8Alameda30.7Orange30.4Broward,
Fla.30.4Imperial 28.9Languages most spokenFor those who speak a language
other than English at home in Santa Clara County, here are the most common

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