I grew up amid a whirlwind of start-ups, coding and technology. People learned the word “entrepreneur” before they learned algebra. My entire life, I lived a hop, skip and a jump away from the most revolutionary companies in the world. As I matured, I realized that medicine, engineering or coding were not what I ultimately wanted to pursue, and this isolated me further and further from the community I called home. I detested the looks of hesitation and awkward pauses that I got when I told people that I wanted to major in journalism in college — and then the looks of relief when I said that I probably wanted to go to law school. There is a short list of acceptable humanities paths to pursue in the Bay Area — and law school is one of the few.
Throughout high school, I grew more and more resentful of what I thought the entirety of the Bay Area was. I wanted the same number of opportunities that “the STEM kids had.” I aggressively branded myself as a “humanities person” by emphasizing that I never wanted to touch other subjects. I did this just to make a statement, even though I had greatly enjoyed math and science. I felt that barely anyone truly appreciated what I wanted to do and I vowed leave home as fast as possible, and never move back.
A year into college, my negatively tainted view of my hometown was only amplified. Los Angeles seemed significantly more cultured to me — with its countless museums, well-attended indie film screenings and media companies in every nook and cranny. Whenever I went home, I raved about how much I loved Los Angeles and how central it was to my college experience. But my love for Los Angeles and determination to make it my home felt both forced and necessary. Don’t get me wrong: I fell head over heels in love with the city and continue to appreciate it every single day. But, at least some part of my infatuation stemmed from a feeling that I had something to prove.
This past summer, despite my attempt to be rebellious and escape the Silicon Valley, my desire to be with family and friends pulled me back home. And I had a completely different experience than my first 18 years spent at home. During my writing and public policy internships, I uncovered an entirely new side to the Bay Area that I had never witnessed or taken the time to discover. I found people who were completely dedicated to projects and initiatives that perfectly aligned with my interests. I learned about companies and opportunities in my field of study that only the resources of the Silicon Valley could make possible, such as start-ups that attempted to increase voter registration and connect politically engaged individuals, companies using their resources to build subsidized, affordable housing for community members that they displaced, or the utilization of virtual reality to bring journalism and media closer to audiences. The intersection of technology, politics and media offered endless opportunities that I had never even considered. I realized that in my stubbornness to escape from my hometown, I had never really given it a chance.
I did not have an epiphany that completely changed the way I saw my hometown. The Bay Area is far from perfect. The drive and meritocracy that are idealized rapidly turn into cutthroat competition, especially for adolescents and younger generations. The culture of diversity and equality that the Silicon Valley prides itself on is greatly lacking, as evidenced by several cases with Uber, Google and other work environments that perpetuate the “bro culture.” And, in an attempt to produce the best and grow in the most profitable way, the Silicon Valley can often forget to account for the marginalized communities and consequences of their actions.
I am well-aware of the problems that run rampant where I grew up. After all, I spent the last five years dwelling on everything I hated about it. But it did feel good to fall in love with the place that I still continue to call my home. To recognize the strengths and benefits of living in a place that had the characteristics of the Silicon Valley. To find opportunities that were exciting and innovative. And most importantly, for the first time, I felt confident that I could contribute significantly to my community. Whether it be attempting to solve the social and economic problems that plague the area or working for one of the companies that I had once completely dismissed, I felt that I had the responsibility to return to make it better. And that’s how you know that something is truly important to you.
Nayanika Kapoor is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political economy. Her column, “In-Transit,” runs every other Friday.