The San Joaquín Valley is a flat land, in the middle of California. Almond, pistachio and orange orchards as well as vineyards and melon, onion and tomato fields sprawl across the landscape. The 99 is an asphalt artery, stretching almost the entire length of valley, crossing nineteen counties. Since the 1920s, it’s been the main route to the center of this agricultural haven, which attracts hardworking families from around the state and beyond. In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the Joads found their way here from Oklahoma. The fiction novel realistically depicted the migration from the Dust Bowl to California during the Great Depression. Another American author came to the valley and lived among immigrants before writing about it. Jack Kerouac’s, The Mexican Girl, is a poem about a young mother who toiled in the fields of Selma, just south of Fresno. Kerouac returned to his native New York City and this poem opened the door to the publishing of his breakthrough book, On the Road (1957).   

In the 1870s, fifty years before the 99 was constructed, the first crops yielded their harvest, in the San Joaquín Valley. The growth of agriculture required much work, which migrants and immigrants began to fulfill. Many were brown people with roots in California when it was still Mexico. Others were Mexican nationals and Americans relocating, in search of a better life. Beginning in the late 1800s, and into the early 1900s, a new immigrant arrived. This one had been displaced by the horrors of murder thousands of miles from the fields of California. The Armenian diaspora began with the Hamidian Massacre (1890s), the Adana Massacre (1909) and the Armenian Genocide (1915). 

Like most new immigrant communities, Armenians started off in the most difficult jobs. They worked in the fields, hauled crops and other goods. Like other immigrants from across the Atlantic, they also faced prejudice and discrimination. “No Armenians” and other similar signs posted on restaurants doors and other establishments. Yet, the Armenian community found a way to persevere through courage and grit. Overall, the Armenian community is a model for success in the United States. While some are still in agriculture, many more have careers that require higher education and others run well-developed businesses. As I grew up, I saw them as the immigrants that “made it.” This brings me to the story that I’ll share. It’s an insightful perspective about white privilege by an Armenian-American. Aris Janigian lives in Fresno and holds a PhD in psychology.

This morning, I saw the link to Mr. Janigian’s essay, A Brief History of My White Privilege. A mutual friend posted it on Facebook and I was intrigued by its title.  Before I share his story, I’ll convey my brief and one-sided connection to the Armenian community. My immigration to the United States was made possible by a first generation Armenian, Charles Mosesian. In early 1970s, he had employed my father at one of his vineyards in Madera, CA, just north of Fresno, where I now live. Charles lent $500 to my father so that he would travel to Mexico and bring us (mom, sister, brother and me) to Madera. He was also instrumental with our legalization, which was finally possible, in 1989, fifteen years after our crossing the border. 

From the time that I was ten until thirteen, every Saturday, dad and I made the 30-minute trip to Fresno, in order to do the landscaping at Charles’s house. I marveled at his home, on the upper-class Van Ness Extension. I washed his red convertible 1973 Mercedes 350 SL, and THE Rolls-Royce. I had never seen such beautiful cars and I loved the smell of them inside.

There were times when, before starting our work at Charles’s house, dad and I made a delivery to the big fruit stand that his father owned. Paul Mosesian had immigrated from Armenia. He came with nothing and had made himself a good life. He bought land and grew crops in southeast Fresno. By the time his sons became adults, they were set with the opportunity for an education or to pursue business. Paul Jr. became an attorney while Charles chose to follow his father in agriculture. I didn’t know this at the time, nor did I know about the Armenian diaspora.  All I knew is that every Armenian that I had met was privileged. As I grew up and learned English, I read a lot.  The novel, I am Aram, by William Saroyan (Fresno author and Oscar-winning screen writer) was my portal to a better understanding of the Armenian community.  Thereafter, I set out to learn about Armenian history and I came to appreciate the Armenian immigrant in a profound way. As such, this morning’s Facebook post immediately tugged at my interest. After reading Mr. Janigian’s essay, I contacted him and asked if I may share it, here. I’m sure that you’ll find it as raw and gripping as I did. I’m happy to share it as it is parallel with the purpose of this blog: to offer insight into the lives of immigrants in America.

Click: A Brief History of My White Privilege

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