Closing the Digital Divide

Just because they live in the epicenter of technology, doesn’t mean Hispanic professionals in Silicon Valley are benefiting as much as they should be from being at the heart of this thriving industry.

When James Duran’s wife went to a local meeting for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley, she came home and urged him to get involved. That was 10 years ago and after stints as a member and board member, he’s now the chamber chair and more devoted than ever to advocate on behalf of small, local Hispanic businesses. And with 400 members, Duran has his work cut out for him.

“We’re underrepresented in the high-tech community because many Hispanics still lack the educational background to make it in these fields,” says James Duran, chair of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley spends a great deal of time addressing the very diverse needs of its members, who come from businesses of all sizes, types, and industries. Sometimes members need help handling matters with city hall, while others need assistance with their internal business practices. These are issues the chamber has always helped address, even back when it was called the Mexican American Chamber of Commerce in 1955. When the chamber was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1973, the demographics of the area had already changed drastically; that continues to be the case today. The biggest difference in how the chamber operates, however, has come as a result of the chamber gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the local community.

“We’re now heavily involved in public-policy issues, but that wasn’t always the case,” Duran says. “Thirty years ago this chamber wasn’t viewed as a player in the local community. We’ve proven ourselves and now we have a seat at the table.”

One of the most challenging issues that the chamber’s members are up against is the digital divide. As Duran says, just because members live in the center of technology, doesn’t mean Hispanics in the area have access to what many now consider to be everyday conveniences, such as laptops and Internet access at home. This lack of technology know-how also affects how well Hispanics are represented in Silicon Valley’s world-renowned technology industry.

“We’re underrepresented in the high-tech community because many Hispanics still lack the educational background to make it in these fields,” Duran says. “A large percentage of  Silicon Valley’s population is Hispanic, but Hispanic employees only represent between 3 and 5 percent of the workforce at the Googles and Ciscos of the world. Unless we get more of our sons and daughters into the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematic] fields, we’ll continue to see this disparate growth in Silicon Valley.”

To combat this problem, the chamber is partnering with local organizations and businesses to create programs to close the digital divide and introduce younger generations to STEM fields. “Our ultimate goal is to create sustainable programs for the good of our community,” Duran says.

Other Orgs

Silicon Valley has a number of Hispanic professional organizations aimed at making an impact on the local community. Besides the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Silicon Valley, there is:

Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers

The Association of Mexican American Educators of Silicon Valley

Hispanic Net

National Society of Hispanic MBAs (San Jose chapter)