Monday, August 26, 2013

Describe the Town You Live In

Today was the first day of a new semester of teaching for me, and on the first day, I like to have my students do some writing.  Because the theme of my English courses this semester is "writing about local issues," I asked my students to spend some time writing in response to this prompt:

Describe the town you live in: the good, the bad, and the strange.

As usual, I did the activity too.  Here's what I wrote about my hometown of good ol' Fullerton:

Fullerton, California was founded in 1887 by two merchants from Boston named George and Edward Amerige.  They named the town after George Fullerton, president of the real estate arm of the Santa Fe Railroad Company because he decided to have the train go through their town.  In the 1800s, it was a big deal if the train went through your town.  It meant more people and business.

For many years, the main industry of Fullerton was oranges.  The first mayor, Charles C. Chapman, was known as "The Father of the Valencia Orange."  After World War II, houses and shopping centers became more profitable than oranges, so the vast orange groves were slowly replaced by houses and factories and shopping centers.  Hughes Aircraft used to have a big plant in Fullerton.  So did Hunt Foods.  Now the main industry tends to be "post-industrial": technology, education, and service.

But enough about business.  That's boring.  Some things Fullerton is known for include: Leo Fender (founder of Fender Guitars), science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (author of classics like A Scanner Darkly and Minority Report), the lovely Arboretum, the weekly farmer's market, the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk, Cal State University, Fullerton, punk rock legends like Social Distortion and The Adolescents, and for keeping its historic downtown relatively intact.  Many of the buildings downtown were built in the 1920s and 1930s, like the historic Fox Theater, which is currently being restored.

Fullerton, like any American city, is not without problems, both historic and current.  The city is still characterized by ethnic/economic divisions, most poignantly represented by the railroad tracks along Santa Fe. Avenue.  In the 1920s, there was an active Ku Klux Klan in Fullerton.  For many years, the predominantly Mexican-American orange pickers lived in segregated work camps.  Fullerton has spawned some very anti-gay politicians like former State Senator John Briggs, who in 1978 proposed a law that would have made it legal for public schools to fire teachers for being gay.  Thankfully, it didn't pass.  The Fullerton police department became infamous in 2011 for brutally beating a mentally ill homeless man named Kelly Thomas to death.

For all its problems, however, Fullerton is my home, my community, the town I live in.  I'm pretty involved in community things like the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk, and I sometimes speak at City Council meetings, usually when I'm upset about something.  I hope that, moving forward, Fullerton continues to become a diverse, interesting, inclusive, and welcoming place to live.

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