A husband, wife and their 6-year-old son had just returned from the airport to their suburban home in Fremont. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, Sept. 11, as they unloaded luggage from their car. Seemingly out of nowhere, two men appeared, one pointing a handgun.
“He said, ‘You’ll get hurt if you do anything,’” the husband later said, asking that his family and their street not be identified for fear of being further victimized. “They took us into the bedroom and made us kneel down. I was very scared that we might be shot.”
But the invaders were not there to kill — they wanted gold. The men ripped chains off the wife’s neck, tore at the husband’s bracelet and then ransacked the home until they found the rest of the jewelry, worth as much as $25,000. The thieves have not been caught.
That the family had so much gold is not unusual. As immigrants from India, it is their tradition to own and wear gold. The precious metal indicates prosperity, is a means of savings, and some gold jewelry can signify a woman’s marital status. It is a common wedding gift in many Indian cultures.
Thieves, it appears, have learned of these traditions, leading to a rash of robberies throughout Silicon Valley’s Indian-American communities in recent months. Indian-Americans are one of the fastest-growing Bay Area populations, and in Santa Clara County alone their number nearly doubled, to 111,000, in the past decade, according to the United States census.
The exact number of gold thefts is difficult to determine because the crimes have happened in several jurisdictions and victims’ ethnicity is not always made public. But interviews with the police, government and civic leaders, and representatives of the region’s Indian-American community confirmed the trend and growing alarm.
“It increased significantly nine months ago,” said Anu Natarajian, a Fremont city councilwoman. “It’s not a random thing that’s happening. People are afraid. People are nervous about it.”
Sgt. Jeff Swadener of the Fremont Police Department said Indian-Americans were known for owning high-quality gold of 20 and 22 karats. With the price of gold surging since the recession began ($1,614 per ounce on Thursday), that makes them lucrative targets.