F is for Fresno, on your way to Yosemite…


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“Fresno is a good place. It’s the world, and how good can the world be in any case, wherever you go? How much different from Fresno is Paris? If you are there, you are there, and you can see and feel a culture, and you can see and feel a culture in Fresno, too.”

~ William Saroyan

Americans do light fireworks at New Year’s Eve, but not to the same extent as they do in The Netherlands, where, if you don’t watch out, you can lose a limb because it’s sheer pandemonium at night, and especially in places like The Hague, where they burn car wrecks at street intersections. Yes, maybe the Dutch aren’t as dull as you thought…

Years ago, when we helped my brother-in-law and his wife move into Fresno on New Year’s Eve, there was so much noise outside at midnight, that I was ready to walk out and see the fireworks which I was used to doing in Holland. I was putting on my shoes when my husband was looking at me funny: “What do you think you’re doing?” My husband asked, concerned.

“I’m going to watch the fireworks…”

“Those ain’t fireworks,” he said, as he prepared for an uncomfortable night on an air mattress. “Those are gun shots.”

And he was right. As I peeped out the window, I saw how Mexicans were emptying their guns into the air to celebrate the New Year. I would have had to join the gang, if I wanted to watch their fireworks…

Fresno is one of California’s great agricultural hubs and more than half the population is Mexican. It produces more raisins than any other city in the world and when my brother-in-law moved there years ago, it was also the #1 city for car thefts. Besides stolen vehicles and raisins, the city seems to specialize in gangs. Fresno is no destination like Yosemite, but you may have to hit Fresno to get gas to make it to Yosemite… an armpit of a city, some might say, but then again, I don’t want to stereotype, because Donald Trump is doing more of his fair share of that.

Fresno (Spanish for ash tree) came into existence (like so many things in California) after the Gold Rush. Before WWII, there were in fact many ethnic neighborhoods like  Little Italy, Germantown en Little Armenia. Little Armenia grew after the Armenian genocide in Turkey. Why? The San Joaquin Valley in which Fresno is located, reminded them of Armenia and their dream was to work hard to be able to buy land and start a farm to begin a new life.

The Armenians weren’t exactly received with open arms. An article by Margaret Bedrosian shows that there was lots of discrimination: Armenians were seen as thrifty and unreliable and they didn’t smile enough in public (!). The Armenian-American author William Saroyan, who moved to Fresno as a little boy, used the Fresno location on the one hand as a place of plenty (harvests, vineyards), but on the other hand as a setting that triggered feelings of loss and loneliness. Later, he would move back to Fresno and write the quote which opens this blog. Saroyan would break through in the literary world with his novel  The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (1934) and he would win a Pulitzer for his play The Time of Your Life (1939). However, by the time of his death 1981, he was mostly forgotten as an American author even though his image was used for an American postal stamp.

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In the meantime, the Armenians went more upscale, because the largest population of Armenians now finds itself in Los Angeles and there are many successful Armenian-Americans: George Deukmejian was (the first Armenian-American) governor of the state in the 1980s, Robert Setrakian was president of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, and pop icon Cher is also of Armenian descent. Both Cal State Fresno and UC Berkeley offer Armenian Studies thanks to the efforts and generous donations of the Armenian community in California, and that’s pretty impressive, especially now in 2015, 100 years after the Armenian genocide.

But I digress– I haven’t said much about Fresno… but maybe that’s exactly my point…

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One Response to F is for Fresno, on your way to Yosemite…

  1. Jitka says:

    Inez,
    this time you touched so many soft spots of mine, especially with W. Saroyan. He is not forgotten at all, he is my youth and my early American idea. Love his short stories and Tracy’s Tiger is a legend in Czech, Bohemia for that matter. Thanks.

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