Here we have a look back at Silicon Alleys 2023. As another year concludes, the alley denizen once again exudes gratitude for the previous year’s pursuits and looks forward to the future. The hometown curiosity must continue.
Perhaps more than any other year, a local exploratory mentality returned to the forefront, demonstrating that if a columnist deploys a sense of exploration that he would normally reserve for a foreign place, and uses it around his own city, then all sorts of enlightenment just might emerge. Most people in San Jose don’t have a grip on the rest of the city outside their own neighborhood, which is why this process becomes vital.
The first column of the year—January 4, 2023—featured a report from Jalandhar, India, in which the columnist traced his own family roots from Willow Glen to Seventh and San Salvador, and then all the way around the world to Punjab. This was not the first time such stylings appeared in this space, but this time around, it transformed the way in which I already experienced the city of San Jose, the way in which I traced various tracks left by my own ancestors, as well as those of others. The hauntings, the territory and the process of experiencing history all became dimensions of the same creative process. Research and writing and traveling became intertwined. It was so fun.
Speaking of which, in the previous year’s wrap-up I spoke of the “research muses.” This year they surfaced yet again in myriad ways. About halfway through 2023, the San Jose Public Library made a monumental announcement: The entire digital archives of the San Jose Mercury News were now freely available for anyone with a San Jose Public Library card. Anyone can now rifle through old newspaper stories for research purposes or even just for entertainment.
The word “archives” did not imply a collection that only resonated with old crackpot historians. Not at all. Any interested party can now search by year, by month, by author, subject or any assemblage of keywords. Looking for obituaries from the ’40s? A prohibition-era crime story? Letters your great grandmother wrote to the editors? How about which films ran at the Century Theaters in 1976? Or automobile ads from 1959? This type of access will help educate tens of thousands of people and maybe even inspire other donors to step forward, so the library can purchase even more newspaper archives.
As such, the archives made this columnist’s life much easier. I would encourage anyone to check it out. Libraries exist to allow access and inform the public. It’s that simple.
My mom, a career librarian, taught me the Dewey Decimal System when I was about six. I feel like research has been my muse ever since. Libraries are part of my “mother story.” Jungian psychologists will have a field day with this, I realize. But it’s true.
Which brings me right back to my own half-Indian, half-Anglo Willow Glen heritage. (The acronym is HI-HAWG). Far as I know, I am the only HI-HAWG in San Jose, which only gets loopier as I get older.
As a result, this year more of the columns verged on embroidery, overtly or between the lines. Local history felt like a giant family of stories, all weaving together with the spatial landscape of San Jose. And if it wasn’t my family history, it was someone else’s family history. The ways in which the stories and people of the past seem to haunt this town’s pathways became natural for me to articulate. If one knows how to be creative and curious and exhibit a traveler’s sensibility, then all sorts of magical techniques emerge to embroider the threads of local history and hopefully employ some comic relief, or even dark poetic relief in the process.
Honestly, that’s what it all comes down to. If I had to describe this column to someone new, as I often find myself doing these days, then I would use exactly those words. Travel, exploration and poetic relief.
Toward the end of 2023, the headlines in this column, when taken together, function as poetry: “Parallel Inspiration.” “Historical Blips.” “Downtown’s Fire and Ice.” “San Jose Proud.” “Wandering Lone Wolf.”
I can’t say it all. But that certainly comes close.