Most people don’t know where Santa Clara is but 121 million of them are going to be watching the Super Bowl take place here. Maybe they’ll be indifferent to the little city that is playing host to the country’s biggest sporting event. Maybe they’ll wonder, “Why the heck Santa Clara?” Maybe, if they’re snowbound, they’ll see the balmy 74-degree weather and be seized with envy.
An estimated 1 million people are here in the San Francisco Bay Area to participate in the organized insanity that will be Super Bowl 50. There are parades, exhibits, and themed parties galore. In San Francisco, the official Super Bowl city, sponsors have constructed “Super Bowl City” (it’s like Super Bowl City-ception) – an NFL-themed extravaganza of interactive experiences, concerts, and family-friendly festivities. And over it all, Homeland Security and the FBI are keeping a watchful eye to ensure that so many Americans gathered in one place stay safe.
Santa Clara is 45 minutes south of all the sound and fury. It’s home to Levi’s Stadium, which is where the actual game will be played, and in comparison, it’s pretty chill. The biggest changes I’ve noticed are the manmade mountains of tortilla chips and salsa piled at the front of every grocery store and the huge tequila display in the middle of the produce section, right next to the limes. I hear hotel rooms are going for triple what they normally would. Ordinarily, people visit Santa Clara for business, to see relatives, or to drop their kid off at Santa Clara University.
So far, the loudest ruckus has come from the local youth soccer league whose fields, which are adjacent to the stadium, were unceremoniously co-opted by the city so the NFL could build a media compound on top of them. It’s strange and poignant that little kids have had their soccer season disrupted so that reporters can cover a game played by a bunch of grownup millionaires, and the media coverage of it has been ironic, to say the least.
Santa Clara is my hometown. I admit the thought hadn’t fully crystallized in my consciousness until the eyes of the world were turned on my adopted city. My husband and I are transplants, having grown up in New York and Hawaii, respectively, but Santa Clara has been our home for the last 15 years. I didn’t realize how much it had become home until I started reading Super Bowl coverage and found myself deeply annoyed by all the “where the hell is Santa Clara” commentary. Apparently, one way to trigger my loyalty and protectiveness is to slight what I love.
Because here’s the thing: Santa Clara is the world. It’s nestled in the beating bosom of Silicon Valley. You use technology that originated in and around Santa Clara every single day. The neighborhood I live in is right on the border of Cupertino, home to Apple. I could walk to the campus from here.
Santa Clara isn’t what you’d call a destination city. Not yet, anyway. With a population that hovers around 120,000, it’s the kind of place where you’re always running into someone you know at the supermarket or the Art & Wine Festival or the library, but because of the way the high tech industry connects us to the international community, it feels bigger than that. Anywhere you go, there’s a chance you’ll hear Farsi, Korean, Mandarin, Urdu, Japanese, insert-foreign-language-of-choice being spoken. To someone like me, who grew up in a polyglot, multicultural place like Hawaii, this is so freaking cool.
In a one-block radius, you can easily find some of the best ethnic foods you could ever wish for. Literally five minutes from my house, I can find: authentic Tokyo-style ramen, South Indian Chettinad cuisine, Korean barbecue, and Mongolian stir fry, right alongside coffee shops and fast food joints. Moms in sweatpants and T-shirts (*cough* ME *cough*) stroll the sidewalk next to ladies in hijab and saris.
And everywhere, simply everywhere you look, there is construction. Growth. Expansion. The old giving way to the new. Condos and office buildings have replaced what once were acres of orchards and farmland. I’m not sure what all this will mean for the place I’ve chosen to raise my children, but the energy is vibrant. I’m so grateful to be in this pulsing nexus that somehow still manages to feel cozy.
I don’t know what visitors to my town think when they show up on game day, or how we look to the rest of the country. But the focus of the cameras made me look at Santa Clara in a new light, after a decade and a half, and call it home.