Computer chips were “the dope of the ’90s.” And during those years, Silicon Valley was the Wild West. In this splendid piece for The Believer, Natalie So takes us back to a dark, frenzied time in the Bay Area: when computer-related crime was on the rise and Asian gangs targeted businesses for computer chips. So uncovers a largely forgotten chapter of Silicon Valley’s past — one that includes the many immigrants working in technology, before the dot-com boom, that helped build the industry. But it’s also an incredible record of family history.

Not until twenty years later would I learn just how frequently these robberies were taking place. Even though millions of dollars’ worth of computer chips were stolen, this era of Silicon Valley would largely be forgotten. Computer hardware would eventually give way to the dot-com bubble, after which social media, the cloud, big data, and later, Bitcoin, NFTs, and other increasingly intangible technologies would come to the fore. But for a time, the boom of personal computing transformed Silicon Valley into the Wild West, a new frontier that drew every kind of speculator, immigrant, entrepreneur, and bandit, all lured by the possibilities of riches, success, and the promise of a new life. The Silicon Valley of the ’90s was in many ways an expression of the quintessential American story, but an unexpected one: one that involved organized crime, narcotics trafficking, confidential informants, and Asian gangs. It is also part of my family history. Grace, as it turns out, is my aunt. And the company being robbed? It was my mother’s.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.