On MLK Day, the nation remembers Martin Luther King Jr. and all his contributions to civil rights. He is certainly one of the few that have changed the face of this country for the better, using nonviolence to make it live up to its founding creed. What is I think less well known is how that struggle impacted Silicon Valley for the better.
The Immigration Act of 1965 changed the demographics of immigration into this country, and that act was a direct consequence of the civil rights struggle. The prior dispensation enforced quotas based on existing populations already here, which effectively meant that non-white immigration was more or less a trickle. The focus on human rights and civil rights made such a system untenable, and in 1965 a fairer immigration system was put into place.
For Silicon Valley, this had very consequential and positive effects. Newly minted tech companies needed engineers to fuel their growth, and the new immigration system allowed them to hire engineering talent in a way that was not possible before. Then of course, these new foreign engineers liked what they saw here, became Americans and started their own companies, adding to the economic activity of the Valley. It was the inception of Silicon Valley's virtuous cycle of company formation.
This cycle then created what we think of as distinctive features of the Valley - these engineers, the founders of their companies and regular employees could if they were lucky strike it rich, which meant that the limited real estate they then went to buy went up in value. Enter the phenomenon of the $2M shack.
New restaurants then opened to cater to those missing the foods of the home country, leading to a diverse food scene - one of the most interesting in the nation. Some locals liked the new foods, and now it's hard to think of the Bay Area food scene without Indian, Vietnamese or Chinese restaurants.
So on this MLK Day, people in Silicon Valley should be grateful to MLK Jr. not only for the equality of rights that we take for granted for all people, but also for being a central reason why Silicon Valley is what it is today.