When Felipe Arballo was in middle school planning his high school future, he and his mother decided he should go to Bullard High instead of Fresno High, where most of his neighbors attended.
After all, Bullard High’s music program was better, and his middle school classmates heard rumors about Fresno High’s “not-so-good environment.”
Once at Bullard, he noticed the difference between his neighborhood, just south of Shaw Avenue, and his new classmates’ neighborhoods mostly north of Shaw. He called it a “shock to my system.”
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“I was never really ashamed of where I lived or my household, being raised by a single parent basically,” he said. “I was more in envy of how they lived and their households – the ‘normal’ nuclear family. I was lucky enough to have friends who never seemed to judge me by where I lived or how I lived, but I definitely felt different, and sometimes like I didn’t belong when I would enter their worlds.”
During high school, he and his friends rarely ventured south of Shaw Avenue.
Arballo, 39, who now lives in the Del Mar neighborhood near Bullard and Maroa avenues, believes parts of the city south of Shaw hold Fresno’s true identity.
“And just as I was envious back in high school of how my friends lived in the north, I find myself wanting more a sense of community in my neighborhoods like they have (south of Shaw),” he said.
Arballo is one of about 20 people living north and south of Shaw Avenue who are participating in a dialogue process facilitated by The Bee.
In case you’re unfamiliar with this project, The Fresno Bee is convening a dialogue about Fresno’s north-south divide with residents who live north and south of Shaw Avenue, the city’s historical dividing line. The dialogue is part of The Bee’s transparency work with Arizona State University’s New Co/Lab and a partnership with Spaceship Media.
Arballo shared this anecdote about his education during a meeting earlier this month. It was part of his response to a question: What shaped your view of the other side of town?
Arballo wasn’t the only person to reference his experience with Fresno’s education system. Aaron Frisby, who grew up in west Fresno, said he was expelled from a Clovis middle school after getting in a fight with a boy who bullied him. Now that he’s older, he realizes there likely were some racial biases at play.
For James Sponsler, his neighbors near First and Bullard avenues made his family feel like “second-class citizens” for renting their home. The neighbors constantly reported his family’s 1973 Chevy truck to code enforcement. The truck was sprayed with ketchup the first night after the family moved in.
“For 27 years, we rented and we felt they wanted us gone every day,” he said.
Sponsler, 33, moved to the Lowell neighborhood near downtown Fresno after living north of Shaw Avenue for nearly three decades.
If you’re interested in this topic, The Bee invites you to a forum this weekend to hear from people who participated in the dialogue and to take part in some exercises yourself. Jim Boren, The Bee’s former executive editor who founded Fresno State’s Institute for Media & Public Trust, will moderate the forum. Danielle Bergstrom, who has done extensive research on this topic, also will speak.
The free forum will be from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday at Fresno City College in the Old Administration Building Room 251. Get your ticket here.