Opinion: Honor Roger Tatarian and Armenian Community with School Naming
Fresno is our home. Some of us have been here one year; others, a century or more. Over time, a home collects memories and mementos. Over time, we realize that we no longer need some of these items. Over time, we realize that we never should have had them in the first place. Cleaning house is a natural function of being in a home, whether for one year or for one century.
Although the Fresno Unified School District board was presented with a golden opportunity earlier this year to honor a respected member of an ignored community by naming a new school after world-renowned journalist and local educator Roger Tatarian, and buttressed with overwhelming community support, the board chose to forge its own path and honor a relatively unknown family for superficial reasons.
No Armenians Honored with FUSD School Name
Over 100 years and over 100 schools, not one school in Fresno honors an Armenian.
Because of that slight by this board (and this slight is just the most recent in a long list of undeserved and unacceptable poor treatment dumped on the Armenian community), the supporters of honoring Roger Tatarian with a school named in his honor began a march for justice. The end result has been to illuminate those who dwell in Fresno, oftentimes with the lights off, of its history, how it is preserved, and how cleaning house responsibly can benefit all.
Respected Journalist, Beloved Educator, Role Model
Roger Tatarian was born and raised in Fresno. Part of that upbringing included countless indignations due to his Armenian ethnicity, in and of itself, but also because so-called leaders of this community could not stand to see someone they looked down their noses at, now having no choice but to look up to. Hence, Roger had to flee his hometown’s bigotry in order to flourish and become one of the most respected journalists, on a global scene, and one of the most beloved educators, locally, at California State University Fresno.
Ultimately, Roger did what all successful people do: he set his goals for success, formulated a game plan undergirded by a passion for excellence in his profession, and let nothing stand in his way. Whether he set out to be a role model or not, he is one, and for that reason alone his name deserves to be memorialized on a place of learning.
Renaming School Would Uproot Bigoted Past
There are plenty, of course, who would speak highly of J.C. Forkner, no matter his deeds. To his credit, he could grow a fig. But that claim fades to nothingness when compared to his other claim to fame: Forkner put into practice a vile plan of separating and excluding various races from home ownership in many parts of Fresno; that plan eventually morphed into a sanctioned plan of red-lining various neighborhoods such that today, nearly 80% of Fresno, and a nearly equal number of Fresno Unified board members, could not live in Fresno. If you are, in whole or in part, Armenian, Hindu, Negro, Mexican, or Asiatic, you and you kind are not welcome here.
Well, I am of this “kind” and I am not going anywhere. I am proud of Fresno and I would think that at this stage in human history and advancement of our intellect, we would be able to know what we want to keep in our house, and what should have never been there in the first place.
J.C. Forkner was honored by having a school named after him because he planted the seeds of figs; he also planted the seeds of bigotry. Sadly, those trees are still producing fruit. It is time to clean house. It is time to honor Roger Tatarian.
About the Author
Marshall Moushigian is an attorney and financial adviser in Fresno.