• Charlotte Burks

Welcome to the California Project

The Central Valley is a massive place, and when one attempts to traverse it, it can feel like a lot of driving past fields and pastures, tractors, cows, peach and almond trees, and all kinds of other agricultural things. Traveling to a leadership seminar at UC Davis in 2018, I was told, “Fresno? I thought that was just a place that people drive through,” by someone who had come to Davis from San Diego. I wish I’d had more of a defense against that allegation at the time, but the quote itself stuck with me.

Above: The California State Capitol in 2018.

When standing in Fresno Airport Terminal (FAT), one can see a montage of aesthetically appealing images from things around Fresno, and the Central Valley, sliding by. Yosemite, cultural festivals, wine tasting further north, you name it, if it’s pretty enough, they show it. But how often do every day Californians see these images in person, or better put, experience what these images advertise for themselves?

When it comes to agriculture, the Central Valley, especially the Fresno area, has a rich history. However, with every story come multiple perspectives. To some, the Central Valley and its farmers hold the inspirational story of innovation, persistence, and perseverance in the face of adversity, as farmers worked their hardest to bring forward the best crop possible annually. To others, the story is more so that of exploitation of immigrant and impoverished workers, with those at the top getting rich while those working under them toiled in the sun.


Above: Clifford the German Shepherd takes in the glory of California orange fields on the outskirts of Sanger, near Avocado Lake, on a May morning.


Regardless of which of these sides is taken when it comes to the valley’s agricultural history, the history of the arts within the Central Valley is diverse and heavy with international culture. Examples of these can be seen in Hispanic, Hmong, and Armenian communities throughout the decades and in different locations.

One strong example of arts and culture melding in the valley would be the Hmong Cultural New Year Celebration Inc., who put on the annual Hmong New Year Celebration which is famed throughout the Fresno area. According to the New Year Celebrations’ website, their New Years’ Event is “the largest Hmong-American community event in the United States and in the world, attracting more than 120,000 patrons a year.”.

Though all of this culture and history in a void might itself seem cool, it might make little to no sense to write sixty-word paragraphs on it and call it a day. In fact, I wouldn’t blame the reader of this article if they felt like they were solely reading off a “fun facts of Fresno” sheet. That is where the true purpose of this article enters the picture.

Being raised in the Fresno area, and in the Central Valley as a whole, I have been told my entire life that there is so much to do in the area, that it is beautiful, unique, and irreplaceable, and that I am incredibly blessed to live here. While being blessed to live here may be true, the first two statements bring me back to the “Fresno is just a place to drive through” statement from earlier.

I hope to be able to contradict the “drive-through” reputation of Fresno, both to myself and to others, over the next few months. I wish to experience everything that the Central Valley has to offer, and to bring our readers along with me. Knowing that within two years (I am currently a junior in high school) I could be leaving Fresno, I want to know that I tried my hardest to experience everything it has to offer.

Above: Samuel Mendes, San Joaquin Memorial junior, enjoying one of Fresno’s great prides, the Sea Lion Cove exhibit at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, in August of 2021.


This is the introduction to a series of articles titled “The California Project: Gems of the Central Valley”. The series will begin around Fresno, but I plan to cover the Central Valley as a whole, with all it has to offer: the scientific advancements and community, heritage and art, beautiful views and landscapes, and everything in between. I hope you, the readers, are ready to join me, so that in the case that any of us are ever told that Fresno, or the Central Valley, is “just” anything, you have plenty of ways to contradict people, and prove that our home is not “just” anything.


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