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December 7-13, 2005

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Harsh Reality

Why isn't Victor Garza happy? Garza, the chairman of La Raza Roundtable, the county's largest coalition of Latino and Mexican-American organizations, has spent the last 30 years battling for his community. And this past week was surprisingly good to him—state Sen. Elaine Alquist and Assemblymember Joe Coto convened a legislative hearing in north San Jose on Nov. 30 that Garza calls "historic." The hearing, titled "Barriers to Latino Educational Achievement: The Silicon Valley Experience," was the first time, says Garza, that area Latinos were able to talk about educational issues with the people who have the power to do something about it. Chatting up state legislators is a start, but there's something that's really been bugging Garza, representing as it does a prime example of what barriers there are for Latinos in Silicon Valley education. That something: San Jose State. The problem is very simple—there's an undeniable dearth of Latino educators at our beloved institute of higher learning. "All I do is walk around campus," says Garza. "There's none. We had more Latinos in the 1970s than we have today, and that's a shame." Garza hadn't yet put together the hard numbers to back up his claim, so Fly did a little research. Turns out it's worse than we thought: In fall of 2003, San Jose State University had a total of 768 full-time faculty, according to the most recent numbers available from the provost's office. Of those 768, 30 were described as being of Hispanic origin; 535 were non-Latino white. Yikes! In the early 1970s, Garza remembers marching from San Jose to Sacramento to protest issues concerning Latino education. "It took us four days to get there," he recalls. "On the fifth day, we marched up the Capitol's steps. Today, 30 years later, we're doing the same thing. It's shameful."

Victory for Open Space

The citizen protest against a proposed day-care center in Mountain View's Rengstorff Park may end up a small victory in the fight to preserve some of Silicon Valley's rapidly disappearing open space. In October, Fly reported that local residents were up in arms when they discovered the city planned to gobble an acre of their popular community park to build a high-end child-care facility. The City Council had railroaded through the process without enough public input, opponents said, but Councilmember Tom Means claimed plenty of notices were mailed out. Three weeks after Fly's scoop, city officials held a public meeting and discovered that the people were, in fact, right. Councilmember Greg Perry says that after 2002 no letters about the day-care center and its location were sent out. That's why, three years later, residents seemed so surprised when their local government was trying to close the deal. As part of the grassroots effort, Peter Messina conducted an informal survey and discovered that the area didn't need another day-care center. He found that there are already nine of them within four blocks of the park, eight of which have vacancies. He also dug up a 2001 city planning study, which determined the neighborhoods surrounding Rengstorff Park were the most densely populated in Mountain View and most in need of more open space. Apparently, city leaders finally got the message. At their next meeting they unanimously voted to consider an alternate location for the day-care center in the Rengstorff area, on a spot that is currently occupied by an interim senior center. A final decision on the site will likely be made in January. Meanwhile, Messina is pleased with the progress. "The City Council has listened to the community when they were unhappy about something," Messina says. "To me, that's being pretty responsive."

Swami, How I Love Ya

Swami Beyondananda practices fundamentalism and says he's a man on a celibate path—he tries to "celibate" wherever he goes. The 59-year-old spoof-guru predicts: "Living in the now will be the wave of the future." His inspiration comes from a dream in which Jesus told him, "For Christ's sake, lighten up!" That's exactly what he got the audience to do at the East West bookstore in Mountain View last weekend. Also known as Steve Bhaerman of Santa Rosa, Swami Beyondananda has called himself a "cosmic comic" for 18 years. He fills his Indian spiritualist role with a sparkly turban, a curvy salt-and-pepper moustache and a small figure of Bullwinkle hanging on a necklace, which he refers to as his "moosifix." During the Saturday night act, his clear voice slipped in and out of a fake Indian accent. The jokes were chock-full of puns, alternating between religious and political themes that were surprisingly kid-friendly and nonoffensive—at least to the liberal, mostly Caucasian, middle-aged crowd. Ironically, the Swami's persona and humor were largely based on playful digs at the American adaptation of Eastern mysticism—a trend that was all too obvious at this New Age haven. For instance, Swami told the audience about his Jewish friend who had a Hindu ashram and prayed to Jesus and Buddha. "Any one of them could be right!" he said. But no one seemed to take it personally because the comedian's message was essentially progressive and positive in an all-we-need-is-love way. Only conservatives might have been miffed at zingers like, "Thanks to the Patriot Act, George Bush can have a man on Uranus by the end of the week," and "We have an administration that's pro-life, provided you're unborn or brain-dead." Everyone, it seemed, left with more than enough of their "daily laughsative." For more information about Swami Beyondananda, go to www.wakeuplaughing.com.

Fly Wants to See The Bright Lights

Hey, Fly is on the lookout for Silicon Valley's most light-crazed, decoration-happy neighborhoods. Give us a buzz by December 14: vnormand@metronews.com.


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