The Fresno Vietnam (Hmong) Memorial


During the United States Depression my great-grandfather, his wife (who I believe he had divorced at this point), their daughter, and his girlfriend left Arkansas looking for greener pastures in California. Readers of John Steinbeck, James Agee, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange know the conditions that migrants found in California, and elsewhere. Yet my family survived, and settled in Fresno. I remember visiting my great-grandfather here when I was very young. The drive seemed extraordinarily long and hot, and I hated it, and after my great-grandfather's passing I don't believe we ever returned. 

The canal here, I'm told, has drowned two of my family. 

As an adult I returned here several months ago to visit a buddy who'd moved here, and to photograph the Vietnam War Memorial. That visit left me with mixed feelings.

Last visit I discovered the Fresno County Hall of Records, which is a delightful art deco building that I enjoyed exploring. But as I walked along the sidewalk with my camera, a woman in her wheelchair was hit by a car. It took a while for the police to arrive and I realized that sirens where sounding all day long while I was in Fresno that day. Still, it was great seeing my friend, and discovering the memorial.

This visit was more even. I returned to photograph the memorial a second time because I felt I could capture it better than my first visit. This time I entered town from a different route, which revealed more of the architecture than I'd seen before. 

After parking, I immediately revisited the Hall of Records. A security guard saw me wandering around and offered help. I explained that I was admiring the decor, and he began explaining the history of the building and how it was a result of Roosevelt's Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works Project (no. 8327), and that the post office the next block over similarly was one of Roosevelt's projects. 

I walked over to the post office and took some snapshots with my iPad of the interior.

Then I returned to my car and pulled out my 4X5 camera to photograph the memorial. One of the exciting things about this memorial, and one of the things that motivates me to get the picture right, is the expressive faces on the statues. These are some of the most expressive sculptures I've seen, and certainly the most expressive of the Vietnam memorials I've visited.

Although it sounds odd, some cities invite photography while others seem to invite one out of town as quickly as possible. Fresno is a town that I find inviting (as is Visalia). After photographing the memorial, I walked down the street to a closed movie theater (it may even be abandoned) several blocks away and photographed it before meeting my buddy for a late lunch. Later, I returned and took more pictures of the city until the sun set.