For a crash course on what Dia de Portugal is, check out my post from last year. This year, I decided to let my camera do the talking.
Memorial Day weekend in Downtown San Jose is full of costumes and characters. Black robed and regalia decked grads and their families share the streets and local business with cosplaying anime fans. The convergence of Fanime and SJSU’s graduation is a yearly reminder that San Jose isn’t an overgrown suburb; it’s a city of over a million characters.
Here are some highlights from my SJSU graduation and Fanime photoshoots.
Greetings, fellow Bay Area foodies. By now, you’ve heard that San Jose got it it’s first Michelin-starred restaurant: Little Portugal’s Adega. You’re probably dying to get a reservation, right? Yeah, you and everyone else—including yours truly, who’s been putting off going for nearly a year.
If I’m stuck waiting for my reservation with the rest of you, then let me tell you where you should be eating while you’re waiting for your reservation at Adega.
Translation: Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for codfish, the Portuguese national dish. It used to be that a woman wasn’t allowed to get married until she knew how to make bacalhau 365 ways: one for each day of the year. You can’t have Portuguese Christmas Eve dinner without bacalhau on the table. However, it’s not the fresh cod you’re used to having in your fish and chips. Instead, it’s preserved in salt and canned.
What you should order: Treat this place as your homework before you go to the Adega and you’ll see why they earned that star. Bacalhau and Bife à Portuguesa (think Portuguese style steak frites) are always on the menu, while Carne de Porco Alentejana (Pork Alentejo style) is a rotating special. These dishes are elevated into something special on Adega’s menu, but it’s important to know the classics first.
From Trade Rite Market, I can’t recommend São Jorge cheese enough. Cheese from Topo is fine, but grab the cheese from Beira if it’s there. I probably know and just might be related to the owner of the cow it came from.
Translation: This bakery didn’t win a popularity contest. Or did it, because it’s the last one standing in Little Portugal?
What you should order: Queijadas, or Portuguese tarts. One of each flavor. Seriously.
If you must choose just one, definitely get the classic pastel de nata, or custard. The best ones are found in the Belem neighborhood of Lisbon, but these are cheaper than a trans-Atlantic flight. But who says you have to choose? My favorite flavor of queijada is orange, but if you’re feeling adventurous, the bean flavored queijada is for you.
Translation: This cafe is on the corner of 33rd and Alum Rock, giving it its name: the Cafe on the Corner. It definitely takes me back to the neighborhood cafes you’ll find all over Portugal, whether it’s my family’s village in the Azores or tucked into a side street in Lisbon. Keep in mind that this place is as old school as it gets, so bring cash.
What you should order: As someone who drinks more than her share of Starbucks sugar-bombs (all hail the Salted Caramel Mocha!), I surprise people when I order just a shot of espresso. That’s what you get when you order um cafezinho in Portugal, and Portuguese coffee doesn’t need fancy syrups to cover up bitter beans. If you’re hungry, grab a queijada as a snack or a linguiça sandwich.
Why Little Portugal?
You might be surprised to hear that San Jose has a Little Portugal. You probably remember when Little Saigon was in the news, but Little Portugal? Whenever I mention the community to other San Jose natives, I usually get a blank stare. Maybe if I bring up Five Wounds Church, its white and red bell towers a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sight along US 101 as you approach the 280/680 interchange, I’ll get a few vague nods.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a neighborhood that feels more Little than like Portugal got lost in a city of over a million people; there aren’t even that many Portuguese there anymore. The changes have come in that slow and steady way that makes the end feel inevitable.
Growing up in the 90s, there were four Portuguese bakeries on Alum Rock Avenue: Five Star Bakery was across the street from Fast Bicycle, Faial Bakery was on Alum Rock and Jose Figueres, and Padaria Açoreana, along with all the other businesses in the building across the street from the Mexican Heritage Plaza, was kicked out for renovations. (The newly renovated and repainted building currently stands empty and covered by graffiti.) Only Padaria Popular remains, just a few doors down from Adega.
In my Portuguese classes this year, I have about a dozen 7 to 11-year olds in one class. It’s a decent uptick from last year’s seven or so kids per week. We expanded to a second class for younger children this school year; that teacher has a handful of students. It’s a far cry from when I was one of dozens of children in three or four classrooms at Five Wounds.
The purple banners that used to line the streets, covered in grapes and reading Little Portugal in gold have long since faded and been replaced with new banners in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese urging you to Shop Alum Rock. Of course, that’s only happening because VTA has torn up Alum Rock Avenue, leaving a gash running down the heart of a neighborhood that’s already dying a death of a thousand cuts.
In the face of this slow decline, seeing Adega literally become a star in a neighborhood I thought was fading fast made me more proud that I had any right to be. I’ve never been there. I probably won’t be able to go there for a while.
However, I have been in and out of Little Portugal for over thirty years. My childhood was spent in Portuguese classes on Monday and Wednesday nights, Mass every Sunday, catechism on Saturday mornings, and dance practice at Grupo de Carnaval more nights than I can count. I know what Little Portugal has been.
Adega offers a glimpse of what Little Portugal can be. I’ll end with some words Content Magazine shared from Carlos Carreira, one of Adega’s owners:
“We looked at other options, other locations,” Carlos recalls. “Ultimately this made the most sense. For years this area was known—and still is—as Little Portugal. So it made the most sense to have an authentic Portuguese restaurant in what for so many people is—and hopefully will be again—Little Portugal. I think that’s actually been one of the keys to our success. We are meeting everyone’s expectations, in part because no one is expecting such a nice place here.”
I’m one of those people hoping for what Little Portugal can be again. Don’t just come for one meal—come explore our community.
Though my funemployment may finally/hopefully be coming to an end, I am still working on my writing-based side hustles because no one seems to want to hire me as a writer. (Recruiters seem to think I’m the perfect polyglot contract minion candidate instead.) That means reading up on content writing, marketing, social media, SEO, and all the buzzwords a writer’s gotta know if she wants to make a living with her words.
However, the dream is to write in and about my community. When I saw This Is Your Life in Silicon Valley in my Facebook feed, it seemed like just the sort of content I should be reading and maybe even emulating. I know it was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek bit of satire, but it left me a crying mess instead of being inspired or even amused.
I hate to give that indulgent piece of writing more clicks, but please do read it before reading this so you have some context. Or don’t and just share this so maybe I go viral and get gets some eyeballs on my writing. That’d be cool too.
I wake up at 7:30 am to the sound of everyone else in the house getting ready for work, or in my dad’s case, coming home from work because he’s been running his non-tech company’s graveyard shift since I was in middle school. Ashamed to remind everyone that I’m still at home and jobless, I grab my laptop and stay in bed, checking my email and waiting for the house to quiet down.
There are a few of the usual automated rejections, thanking me for my application and encouraging me to apply for other opportunities. One looks like it was actually written by a human, so I respond with my thanks for their quick and personal response. Maybe they’ll remember me when something else comes up.
There’s another email from [name redacted] from [kinda sketchy sounding recruiting company redacted], introducing himself yet again (seriously, I get an email from him at least once a week) before throwing a job description for something I am interested in but wildly unqualified for. 5+ years of marketing, computer science, technical writing, an MBA? Have you even read my hella entry level resume, [name redacted]? Or is this a form letter you send out to everyone with an English degree who posted their resume on Indeed/Monster/etc?
I shower and grab a quick breakfast, reminding myself how lucky I am that I have parents that love and support me enough to let me keep living at home for free as I figure out how to turn my degree into a job. I’m ashamed now for hiding out this morning because I didn’t want to deal with being grilled about the job search. That conversation usually ends with being told what I should have done: stayed with the underpaid job that turned out to be an overworked internship or just stuck with getting my teaching credential because what else do you do with a BA in English?
I leave the house that my parents managed to pay off without even a GED between them, let alone a degree (Portugal was a dictatorship back in the day, so they only got four years of reading, writing, and arithmetic.) and walk to the bus station. I’m playing Pokemon GO as I do, headphones on, and yet it doesn’t drown out the honk and the catcall I get for the audacity of wearing shorts on an August day. I catch nothing but the usual suburban suspects: Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Meowths.
I take the 522 to the Alum Rock Transit Center, where I switch over to the light rail. I like to write on the train because it makes me feel like I’m going somewhere. I look through job postings on LinkedIn and Indeed. I’ve seen and applied for several of them already, but I save the promising ones and start working on cover letters for them. I hate cover letters but I know that if I want a writing job, they gotta see how I write. I work quidditch into every single one of them because that is a thing I am good at and I know it makes me stick out from the herd.
I get off the light rail at Saint James and put only one headphone in. Like the Pokemon GO loading screen says, you gotta be aware of your surroundings. There’s a comment about my ass that I ignore because the last time I talked back to a leering resident of Saint James Park, I got called a bitch and followed for a few blocks. I mentally wrestle with wondering what’s more important: fighting the misogyny inherent in our society or having empathy for someone who doesn’t have a home in one of the most income disparate parts of the country. Both are #SiliconValleyProblems no one has an answer for, least of all a #WhiteGirlFeminist like me.
I walk to my favorite Starbucks, which is on the other side of town from my home in Evergreen. It’s my favorite not just because it’s on the west side of town, a welcome escape from the east side, but because the barista I have a crush on in spite of being very happily not single works here. He played Ferdinand in The Tempest once; it’s my favorite Shakespeare play and he played the part to boyishly charming perfection. I try not to think about the fact that an artist has to work a service job to survive.
Instead, I think about every well-intended article I’ve read telling me to save instead of going to Starbucks, but I feel like a real, professional, glamorous freelance writer when I work here and I’m not just gonna use their free wifi without ordering something. I work on content for the blog I’m going to launch with David soon. It’d be cool if we could monetize it to the point where we could make a real job of it, or at least a decent side hustle. Scoring a content writing gig, a copywriting position, or even (dare I dream?) a job writing for the Metro based on our work would be cool too.
I crank out some drafts fueled by coffee and dreams, forgetting that I’ve forgotten lunch. One of my buddies, another English major trying to make his way in the world, is starting a writing consulting business and asks if could use some side income. The answer is obviously yes. Later on, the boyfriend texts me. Want to meet for dinner? I remember that I’ve forgotten lunch, so the answer is obviously yes.
He works for Google, but by “works for Google,” I mean that he’s valuable contract minion who’s been strung along with the promise of having an inside track for an FTE (full time employee, for those of you who don’t speak fluent Google) position that he’s long since given up on. He still lives at home too, because a contract is only as stable as it is profitable to keep from moving the same job to Austin or some other, cheaper up-and-coming tech hub.
I look at jobs in Portland and Salt Lake City as I wait for him to pick me up, but I don’t apply because even though I have friends out there, my family and the Portuguese community I grew up in are here and I don’t know who I am without them. Little Portugal was here before Silicon Valley and I try not to think about how one is dwindling as the other is booming.
We get burritos at La Vic’s and I add orange sauce (though I think Iguanas‘s is better) and Mexican food to the reasons why I can’t leave San Jose. We discuss the article he shared on Facebook, the one about the people who got here and made it first are making it hard for anyone else to even afford living here, let alone buy a house. Until I get a job, his income alone isn’t enough to rent a place. I have to wonder which is worse: living at home with no job, or living at home with a job that doesn’t pay enough.
We drive through Little Portugal as we head back to the east side. Instead of the purple banners with grapes and other vaguely Portuguese symbols I remember, there are signs urging you to Shop Alum Rock. I wonder if that helped more than what the small businesses here, Portuguese or not, got as a payout for their lost business because of the unending road “improvements.” Then again, those improvements are supposed to help the 522, which is how I get around.
He drops me off at home. My dad’s gone to work by now, my brother’s locked up in his room grading papers (he has a tenure-track job teaching high school history, but it’s in Morgan Hill which means the pay is worse than if we were teaching in San Jose, hence why he too is still living at home), but my mom’s in the living room waiting for me with the usual questions. How was your day? Did you find a job yet?
Not yet, I reply. She wonders what I could possibly be doing all day out of the house but not actually working. I’m so smart, I got such good grades, I volunteer for so many things. Even I’m shocked at how busy I am for someone with supposedly all the free time in the world. The usual questions behind us, we settle down and watch Food Network together before we head to bed. I remember how lucky I am that my family cares so much and that it’s probably just as hard for them to watch me struggle instead of succeed.
We talk about the plan for tomorrow: picking up my seven-month-old nieces for their weekly stay with us. My sister and brother-in-law both work, staggering their days off so that one of them is home with the twins. On the days they both work, they’re at our house. Can’t beat the childcare costs at Grandma’s, right? They have to pay their mortgage (on a house in Tracy because there is no way they could afford a house in San Jose) somehow, not to mention save up to help pay for the girls to go to college.
I dream of a 9-5 and being able to put a down payment on a house.
I was born and raised here and I’m beginning to doubt I can stay here. I also recognize how privileged I am. I got a great education without crippling student debt from West Valley College and San Jose State. I’m lucky enough to live for free in one of the most expensive markets in the country, leaving me the luxury of looking for at least an okay job instead of just any job. I’m not saying we need to kill Silicon Valley and roll things back to the Valley of Heart’s Delight, but at the way things are going, I don’t know if I can make a home in the place I’ve always called home. I know I’m not the only one, but no one is gonna write an HBO show about us.
Phew, that felt good to get out of my system. If you related to this more than you laughed at This Is Your Life in Silicon Valley, like this, share this, talk about this. I’ll even give you a hashtag: #MyLifeInSiliconValley. I don’t care that the original article was meant to be satire; it still perpetuates the ideas people have about living here. We don’t all have the luxury of writing indulgent satires of our lifestyles. For many of us, trying to live here is no joke.