Former Mayor Alan Autry liked to say there were two Fresnos, citing the socioeconomic and cultural divide between north and south in our city. But actually there are at least six Fresnos, Spanish for “ash tree,” counting ours as only one of them.
First, our closest “cousin” is in Texas, near Houston. It was named by a settler from – that’s right – Fresno, Calif., around 1824, before our city was even incorporated. At that time, Texas was still a possession of Mexico. Echoing some of today’s immigration issues, the1836 revolution ironically resulted partially from an 1830 Mexican decree that forbade further migration into Texas by settlers from the United States.
In the early 19th century, Fresno, Texas, was surrounded by cotton plantations. By 1914, it had two stores, a phone connection and a population of 32. During the Great Depression, it declined to one store and a population of 10, but the expansion of Houston in the 1970s and ’80s caused an increase in suburban population.
Our Texas cousin boasted a population of over 6,600 in 2000, but by the 2010 census it burgeoned to almost 20,000. It is host to mansion-like homes of professional athletes from Houston but also has 15 percent of the population below the poverty level.
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Second is Fresno, Ohio. A tiny place, it is a section of White Eyes Township in Coshocton County. With a population of only 140, it occupies a quarter of a square mile. Its median home value is about $115,000, and its population is decreasing.
A place where there really are two Fresnos is Spain, which is home to the third and fourth “ash trees.” El Fresno is a village in Spain in the province of Avila. It boasts 592 people in 4.6 square miles. On a recent day, when it was 106 degrees in Fresno, Calif., it was 67 degrees in El Fresno.
Fuente del Fresno (Fountain of the Ash Tree) is a village in province Ciudad Real. Its population is listed as 3,432 and its temperature on that same day was 81 degrees.
I recently met a young man from Colombia, in South America. When he heard that we lived in Fresno, he told me that there is a fifth Fresno in his country. It was founded in 1574 by Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada. De Quesada was a well-educated lawyer and a Spanish explorer and conquistador in northern South America.
He undertook explorations searching for the elusive El Dorado, the mysterious lost city of gold. The myth surrounding El Dorado is that there was a king who would cover himself in gold dust and then jump into the local lake. Jimenez de Quesada has been suggested as a possible model for Cervantes’ Don Quixote, who set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs and bring justice to the world.
The Fresno, Colombia, flag is made up of three colorful broad horizontal bands. The colors are symbolic: on the top is yellow, representing the riches of the region both in agriculture and in cultural fusion of the races; the center white band represents peace, tolerance and equality; and the bottom band of forest green represents hope, mountains, coffee plantations, prairies and horse ranches.
And sixth, of course, there is “us.” Our “ash tree” city includes more than a half million people in a county of another half-million people, is the county seat, is the fifth-largest city in California, is the 37th-largest city in the nation, and is the heart of agriculture for our nation and possibly the world.
We are geographically in the center of California and located favorably 60 miles from Yosemite, 60 miles from Kings Canyon National Park and 70 miles from Sequoia National Park.
Did you know we developed the first modern landfill in the United States, which is both a national historic landmark and a Superfund site? Did you know that the Bank of America tested out the first credit card in Fresno? Did you know that the Fulton Mall holds the only Renoir statue in the world that you can walk up to and touch? The statue is being preserved and will be incorporated on the renovated Fulton Mall.
Oh, you say, have you forgotten about all of Fresno’s problems? No, but it’s a good idea to take time to celebrate the good things we can be proud of, while we continue to work on the many areas that need to be improved. And it is good to know that there are “ash trees” blooming on three continents.
Francine M. Farber is a retired school district administrator and a full-time community volunteer.