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The Peloians and Fresno

The following is one in a series of student essays published by Hye Sharzhoom.  If you have an essay about any aspect of Armenian life or culture that you would like to publish in Hye Sharzhoom, please contact Dr. Kaprielian in Social Science Room 216 or call her at 278-6493 or the Armenian Studies Program office at 278-2669.

John and Stella Peloian
John and Stella Peloian

By Aaron Carlson

John Peloian was born in the mountainous village of Moosh and came to America in 1912. His first destination in the United States was Ellis Island.

“Most of the Armenian farmers in the United States, settled in Fresno County, for it was the opportunity in agriculture that brought them here.” (1)  Armenians had much to do with the development of Fresno’s agriculture. They introduced several crops into the area: the Persian melon, Kassaba melon, Diarbekir melon, the Turkish melon, and Armenian cucumber. They also accounted for a large portion of the melon market in California.

After the Peloians settled in Fresno, John wanted to marry somebody from the old country, so he wrote a letter to Adabazar requesting a bride. He received a letter from a young lady (my future great-grandmother) by the name of Stella Yeramian. In October 1920, Yeramian came through Ellis Island to her final destination in Fresno. In a month Stella and John were married.

Their first residence in Fresno was 431 Van Ness Avenue just south of Ventura Street. They owned their own home along with the house in the back which they rented out to family and friends. Many of their neighbors also rented their homes.

They had a long and loving marriage. The Armenian family was and is still today an important institution. In most families the male was the dominant force. In the Peloian marriage it was his mother, Sophia Peloian who was the head of the family. She made the final decisions and everybody obeyed her including Stella Peloian. The whole family respected her authority.

 The Five Sisters
The Five Sisters

The Peloian marriage produced five children, all girls (Roxie, Jessie, Freda, Louise, and Rebecca) They all lived in a 1,400 square foot house. Eight persons lived in the house consisting of two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room and one bathroom. Two girls had to sleep on the sofa bed. Growing up, the children were taught to be good and to respect their elders. Their values have been passed down to their families.

John Peloian was a big man-he stood six feet three inches tall. He was a well-known member of the Armenian Community in Fresno. He owned two grocery stores in the downtown area, one on Van Ness Avenue across from the Courthouse Park and the other at the corner of Van Ness and Fresno Street. They were known as Parkwood Fruit Store and Company.  William Saroyan mentions going to Big John’s grocery store in The Time of Our Life.

John also sold fruit at the Free Market on Fresno St. Each of the girls would help set up for the freemarket before school and help pick up after school. Since he had no boys, he made a big deal about his girls working like boys. He was proud of his girls. During the Great Depression he lost his stores, but continued selling fruit at the Free Market.  Times were tough for the Peloian family and the rest of the country, but John Peloian always brought food home to feed his family. As for holidays Christmas and Easter were big events. Holidays were reserved to be with the family with plenty of food to eat. This has been carried down to our family gatherings. There is always enough food to feed another family as well. Holidays are always a big production with everybody providing a helping hand.

In 1964 the neighborhood changed drastically. The Peloian family was the last to move from the neighborhood for the building of Freeway 41. About the same time John Peloian passed away and the girls went off in their own direction never staying too far from each other. Roxie, the oldest married and stayed in the Fresno area. Next was Jessie who married and moved to Visalia. The third daughter Freda (one of my interviewees) chose not to marry and to live in Fresno. Next was Louise (my other interviewee) my grandmother, who married and moved to the Cutler-Yettem area. Rebecca also married and ended up living in Fowler. To this day they are very close.

Louise Peloian married Harry Majarian from Goshen, California, my grandfather. She married at the young age of eighteen. They moved to the close-knit Armenian community in Yettem. When a marriage is going to occur, the whole community is invited. The same applies to graduations, birthdays, and deaths. The community comes together to celebrate and to mourn. There is a sense of family in the Armenian Community in Yettem.

There has been a long history of prejudice against Armenians in Fresno. Many Fresnans felt Armenians were for the most part to be avoided and refused as prospective neighbors.  Armenians were excluded from many social events. “Since Armenians were the most numerical of foreign-born peoples and were concentrated in such large numbers relative to the total population in Fresno, this high degree of prejudice against the Armenian groups developed.” (2) When prejudice against the Armenians was very intense, some Armenians decided to establish the Triple X Fraternity, which is still active today in the Armenian Community.

The Armenian church was a dominant force in the establishment of the Armenian community in Fresno. It was important particularly to the first generation. The second and third generations decided not to be involved in the church as much as their parents.

The Armenian Settlement in Fresno is related to the settlement of other ethnic groups in other cities. The Armenians generally would settle in a community where other Armenians were already living. Usually in the less desirable areas near the downtown section of town. In Fresno they entered into the west side of Fresno in the older neighborhoods, on the southern edge of the city’s central business district. For other ethnic groups as well as Armenians coming to a new country, it would be difficult. For the Peloian Family there would be good times and bad times.. The good times greatly outweighed the bad times.

(1)  Minasian, Armen Don. “Settlement Geography of Armenians in Fresno,” The Armenian Review. Vol. XXV, No. 3-99
(2) Ibid.
Oral interviews with Freda Peloian, Fresno, April 10, 1998  and Louise Majarian, interviewed by Aaron Carlson.