By Ruth Gadebusch
Almost the first time I ever heard of Fresno it was said with disdain. Yes, that was from San Francisco Bay Area citizens inclined to look down on most places as having less value than their beautiful area. We may not have the geography of that area, but there is still much to value.
Little did I know that I would some day find myself calling Fresno “home.” And a wonderful home it has provided for me spending most of my adult life here. It still surprises me how little the rest of the state knows us. From that standpoint, I should be pleased that the mayor has hired a communications director—a PR man to you and me; however, I can’t seem to shake the idea that this person is more a political hire than one who can tell our story to the rest of the state. After all, this occurs on the heels of her announcement that she is switching from her primary responsibility of our city to campaigning for state office. Furthermore, she chose a man known for his work on behalf of her political party.
It is common to aim for higher office and a plus when you can do so without jeopardizing one’s current position. However, the problem here, in addition to this man’s political party connections, is that the mayor is not even midway into the second term she so recently acquired by assuring us of her love for Fresno and her desire to serve. Now it feels that Fresno is being abandoned for the more glamorous world of higher office.
To put the best light on this quest for state office, let us hope that she can tell the rest of the state of Fresno’s whole story, the story beyond all those lists—some humorous and some not so—where we grace the bottom. Let us hope that her new hire is prepared to do the same. Let us hope that it will be a cooperative effort with the County of Fresno, the Chamber of Commerce (the Black and Hispanic chambers, too) and the many other communities in the area. Even though the timing of his hiring is suspicious, let us hope that he will be an advocate for the area, not just for the mayor. The story needs to be told that we are more than the Appalachia of the West.
Now, let us think beyond the mayor’s political career. Let us think about several matters that must be considered. It is indisputable that we provide a huge portion of this nation’s food but that is just taken for granted by the consumers elsewhere. From that standpoint, the drought could be a blessing in disguise because it forces all to think about the use of water. Then there is that other aspect of climate: our air. That too has its effects on the production of food, especially on the health of those who produce that food.
No doubt, many of the producers of that food are those scorned as undocumented or illegal without appreciation of the role they play in this valley, this state and this nation. A better system is imperative—incorporating them as full participants in the economy deserving of legal standing. We share this state.
In other words, our problems are theirs (other Californians) too. Win or lose the campaign, if the mayor can remind them that our situation affects them too, her running for office at this time will have served a useful purpose. If the new communications director can focus attention on the contributions that the people of this valley make to life in the nation and elsewhere, his hiring will have been worthwhile.
There is so much more to this valley than generally credited. We can ill afford to be complacent about the perception of being down and out. The good—a discussion for another time—has been a well-kept secret for too long. Yes, we have our problems, but we also have much to be proud of. We can accentuate the positive by joining the communications director in singing the praises of our valley.
Ruth Gadebusch, a community activist, is a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.