Fresno State graduates' video speaks 53 languages, honors area's diversity

The Fresno BeeNovember 25, 2013 

Some Fresno State graduates are saluting the raisin capital and home of William Saroyan in a new short film that celebrates Fresno's diverse cultures and languages.

The eight-minute video, released last week by a group of recent graduates, is an homage to Fresno's rich cultural history and its natives' successes. Almost 60 students and community members help tell the city's story in the film featuring more than 50 languages, ranging from Swahili to Dutch.

The goal: quash resentment about their hometown and showcase the melting pot they say is the city's greatest asset.

"I've seen a lot of people roll their eyes when we talk about Fresno," said Gary Sahota, 20, one of the film producers. "We wanted to say, 'Hey, we've been living here our whole lives, we may as well be proud of where we're from and gain respect for our roots.' "

Sahota's own family transplanted from India to the Valley when he was 2 years old. He grew up speaking Punjabi, later learning English, and was raised in the Sikh religion.

A 2010 Selma High School graduate and the son of an industrial electrician, Sahota said he watched his parents wrangle with finding their own places in a foreign community.

"When they came here, they had nobody to hold their hands, help get them jobs," said Sahota, now an information technology consultant at Fresno State.

"I've been a huge advocate of diversity and opportunities in America because growing up I saw how hard my parents had to struggle."

The video, dubbed the Fresno Language Project, was created as part of a marketing class last year and has sparked buzz on campus since going live on Thursday. It got more than 1,000 views on YouTube over the weekend.

Students, faculty and community members share tidbits about things that the region prides itself on — like being the home of Sun-Maid Raisins — and some more obscure facts, including being the birthplace of the hip-hop dance style called "popping."

"Are you starting to see the real Fresno yet?" one of the speakers says in Korean.

"You see, Fresno is more than a convenient location," another says in German.

"It's a city that celebrates the diversity that defines America," one person says in Urdu.

Tamar Karkazian, one of the producers and a 2013 sports marketing graduate, said the video is meant to show that language doesn't have to be a roadblock between cultures.

"Part of the barrier is people don't understand or don't know that much about the different languages," she said, "So providing that outlet to know more about languages and cultures, I think people were very excited."

Chris Vieira, a project coordinator at Fresno State who helped promote the video, said people don't often include Fresno among the nation's most ethnically diverse cities, like New York and Los Angeles. The video helps affirm Fresno's diversity, he said.

"If you ask the average person, I'm sure they had no idea there were 53 languages spoken within this city," he said. "That's exciting and that really helps showcase Fresno is growing and can be a great city to be from and be proud of."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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