About West of West Center
As a teenager, Mark Arax began to trace the long roads that lead to California. Driven by his father’s murder, a hole in his own family narrative, Arax took his tape recorder everywhere, gathering the oral histories of his Armenian grandparents and other relatives. They had journeyed out of genocide in Turkey and landed in the San Joaquin Valley in the early 1920s, taking their place among the other exiles.
As a young writer, Arax searched the Valley’s hinterlands hunting for its lost tribes: Volga Germans and Japanese, white Okies and black Okies, Mexicans and Azorean Portuguese, Filipinos and Hmong. Year after year, farm workers and farmers, poor and rich, sat down with Arax and poured out their stories of middle California as a place of rebirth and tragedy.
The 450 hours of oral histories Arax has collected over a 25-year period are remarkable for their range and depth and the boring in on an often forgotten and singular place in the American landscape.
The list of oral histories offered on this site will continue to grow. As funds become available, Arax’s entire collection will be converted from tape to digital. In addition, the oral histories of other people instrumental in the building of the San Joaquin Valley will be captured on recording by Arax and students trained by him. These oral histories, along with publishing books about the valley and sponsoring lectures and seminars, form the core mission of the West of West Center.
If you wish to help fund this landmark project (the center is a non-profit),
please send donations to:
West of West Center
2519 W. Celeste
Fresno, CA, 93711