Tomás Jiménez is a professor of sociology and comparative studies in race and ethnicity at Stanford University. His research and writing focus on immigration, assimilation, social mobility, and ethnic and racial identity. He is the author of The Other Side of Assimilation: How Immigrants are Changing American Life and Replenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans, Immigration, and Identity. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/National Steinbeck Center event entitled “Did Americans Ever Get Along?” in Salinas, California, he talked in the green room about restoring vintage shoes, working in Congress, and searching for housing in Silicon Valley.
We’re in Salinas. What’s your favorite type of lettuce?
I want to say iceberg but it’s not so nutritional, and I probably eat more spinach. So, kale? I’m a middle-aged Silicon Valley man.
What is your favorite hobby?
I have a very quirky hobby: I buy and restore vintage dress shoes. Mostly Florsheim.
What’s the best place to eat in Palo Alto?
My house. My wife is an amazing cook. The restaurants are terrible in Palo Alto.
Raiders or 49ers?
49ers. I grew up in the Bay Area in Santa Clara, where they now play.
Biking or hiking?
Biking. But not all dressed up in a bicycle outfit. I hate their kind.
What’s the last book you read?
Of books that have been published, Scott Carney’s What Doesn’t Kill Us.
What’s the biggest way that relationships with immigrants change U.S.-born people?
You previously were at UC San Diego. What do you miss most about San Diego?
It felt like I was on vacation all the time.
What was the most important thing you learned when you worked in Congress on a fellowship?
One is that I learned that people in their 20s run the House of Representatives, which is frightening in some ways. My experience in Congress also taught me to be less cynical than we probably should be when we think about Congress. I met so many hard-working, smart, earnest people. Every time I start to get super-cynical, I try to remember those people.
One project of yours involves looking at old U.S. history textbooks, going back to 1930. What’s the worst textbook you’ve come across?
David Muzzey, he wrote a million editions of textbooks, and lot of them were nativist and racist.
Some of your research involves people looking for housing in Silicon Valley. What’s the craziest story you’ve heard about anyone’s search?
This is not unusual, sadly, but it’s crazy. We interviewed a guy who bought a box truck for $10,000 off of Craigslist. He put a hole in it, installed a vent, bolted down a dresser, put a mattress on the floor, and he called it his house. This is a guy who makes a quarter million dollars a year, and he works at a place that you’ve heard of but that I shouldn’t mention.