Growing up with five siblings in San Jose’s working-class east side gave Andrew Bigelow personal insight into Silicon Valley’s yawning gap between rich and poor. Especially once his parents scrimped enough to send him to Archbishop Mitty High, the expensive parochial academy known for its football team and schooling the offspring of well-heeled valley residents.
“I started to realize that there were two worlds at play,” he says, one of gangs and gunfire and another of relative ease and opulence.
That realization shaped much of his work once he started writing, rapping and producing music in his later teens. And it’s the driving theme in his song “Gold Out West,” whose video debuts as part of an art event and panel discussion on wealth inequality and the dearth of housing and jobs Thursday evening at Camera 12 Cinemas.
“I believe in the power of music to bring these very real issues to light, put them on blast and make the conversation bigger,” says Bigelow, who goes by the stage name SoCiety.
Inspiration for the piece came to the 23-year-old last fall, after a 30-mile march with a cohort of fixed-income residents organized by affordable housing advocates. They walked from Story and King roads to the pristine corporate campuses of Apple and Google as part of a procession to protest the region’s stark economic disparities, where an ascendant tech economy disrupts and displaces the impoverished.
“The contrast really struck me,” he says. “On the outside, people observe Silicon Valley as one of the wealthiest places in the world. But for a lot of us, we see through another lens. For me, I view it through the experience of my parents, my family and my community. We see the struggle and the poverty and the violence, which is as much a part of this place as the latest technology.”
While the affluent and networked-in see opportunity as always on the horizon, the disadvantaged consider it out of reach.
“When talking about wealth and opportunity, there was always, like, a past tense to it,” he says. “Like, this is how it used to be—these streets were paved with gold. But growing up post-recession, it is no longer. ”
He hopes the discussion will spawn solutions by bringing together various groups faced with dwindling opportunity and rising costs of living in the shadow of enormous wealth.
“We live in this world of incredible contrast,” he says, “that is San Jose culture, that is Silicon Valley culture. It’s not this perfect, innovative tech enclave that the outside sees. It’s full of success stories of people who have found a way to make a lot of money, of companies making millions of dollars. But there are so many people here whose lives haven’t changed.”
“Gold Out West”
video premiere and community forum
Camera 12 Cinemas,