Fresno businessman Manuel Prieto took Lydia Chávez on a tour of The Big Fresno Fair last year, with a special tour of the fair’s museum.
What Prieto wanted Chávez to witness was the lack of an exhibit that showed a fuller history of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the San Joaquín Valley.
“If I donate the money, will you build it?” Prieto asked Chávez, the former executive director of Arte Américas and now executive director of the Fresno Arts Council.
A year later and following a $30,000 donation by Prieto and his wife, Ramona, fairgoers will be able to get a glimpse of Latino contributions to the region, from the arts and music to labor to the law.
“I think this exhibit is going to demonstrate how large we are now, how we’ve grown,” said Prieto, who owns two auto dealerships and farms in the Kerman area. “We’re in many different facets of industry now.
“Not only do we still work in the fields, we have attorneys, we have doctors, we have architects, we have people with businesses,” he added. “We should be able to show everybody that we should strive for more than simply settling for a job in the fields. That’s not who we are anymore.”
We should be able to show everybody that we should strive for more than simply settling for a job in the fields. That’s not who we are anymore.
The ‘Mexicanos and Mexican Americans: Interwoven into the Fabric of Fresno County’ exhibit covers six themes ranging from arts and culture to the contributions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans to the economy.
Chávez worked with a committee, including Irma Olguín Jr. of Bitwise Industries, to develop the exhibit. The stories of Latinos in the area are told through six, flat-screen monitors. Each has a parabolic speaker so the visitor can stand under the speaker and be briefed on what they are seeing.
Two exhibit cases feature a tribute to the late Fresno County Judge Armando O. Rodríguez, the county’s first Latino judge. It includes a list of 10 Latinos who were appointed or won election to a judge post.
The other exhibit case pays a tribute to farmworkers and the United Farm Workers. The exhibit includes a large photo of a UFW march, and a cortito (a short-handed hoe that the union successful fought to ban).
About 100 invited guests showed up on Monday (Oct. 2) to get a preview of the exhibit.
Assemblymember Joaquín Arámbula, D-Fresno, praised the effort.
“This community should be proud of what we have done,” he said. “It is fine to be proud of our culture.”
“This is a small seed for more to come in the future,” said Prieto, who was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, México and grew up in Fowler. “We’re just a small part of the people who made this work.”
Fair manager John C. Alkire welcomed the addition, which he believes is part of a fair-going experience that can rate up there with a trip to Disneyland.
The fair museum, he said, has more than 5,000 pieces of artifacts. “It’s like pouring 10 pounds of flour into a 5-pound sack,” said Alkire.
“If this fair is any good, it has to be a good reflection of its community,” said Alkire, who noted the museum includes exhibits honoring the Hmong and African American communities.
“This (new) exhibit is five-star, bar none,” he added. “We have done, what I think, was an impossible task.”
Alkire said the exhibit was designed to add more information in the future “because our county is not static.”
Judge Jane Olmos, who was elected to the seat vacated by Rodríguez when he retired, was impressed.
“This work truly captures our struggles, our pain, our joy of triumph,” said Olmos. “It’s the story of our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents here in Fresno.
“Frankly, it’s a story that needs to be told now. I hope people will draw insight, strength and inspiration from the exhibit.”