FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) — Fresno State President, Dr. Saul Jimenez-Sandoval says he has deep roots in the Central Valley.
“My family has been in the area since the early ’50s,” Jimenez-Sandoval shares.
His story actually begins south of the border.
“I came to the Valley when I was 10 hardly speaking a drop of English,” he say, remembering his youth in Mexico and hiking with his brother. “We had a lot of fun. We explored nature, we were in nature.”
Jimenez-Sandoval worked at his father’s small farm in Fowler while learning to adjust to his new country.
“It was the time for me to discover who I was. I felt like an in-between sort of person, like in a sense of perpetual fluidity,” he admits. “My story is the story of the U.S. The story of immigrants in the U.S.”
His is the story of many of the students he serves as president of Fresno State, he says — about half of the student body is Hispanic or Latino. He says the university proudly bears its designation as a “Hispanic-Serving Institution.”
“We are more than anything an all-inclusive campus that celebrates its multiculturalism and diversity as well,” says Jimenez-Sandoval.
Celebrating that diversity includes providing access to programs geared specifically to address the unique experiences and social conditions of Latino students, like the Latinx Discussion Group, the Cross-Cultural and Gender Center, “specific honors programs, the Dream Center, [and] the nationally, world-renowned Folklorico dance group,” Jimenez-Sandoval says.
The father of two says helping students stay connected with their heritage is a big part of living in Fresno.
“The Central Valley does embrace its Latino roots,” Jimenez-Sandoval says.
He says embracing those roots is how he’s been able to continue his journey of discovery.
“So I see my journey as a journey of becoming someone in the U.S, and becoming myself really, and then really taking on the helm of Fresno State,” says Jimenez-Sandoval.
For Hispanic Heritage Month, Jimenez-Sandoval says it’s important to keep reflecting on his roots in order to empower students in the Valley. He says one particular anecdote about visiting his dad’s farm as a college graduate comes to mind:
“He came to me and then he showed me this perfect tomato that he had grown, and he said to me ‘Es para ti.’ ‘This is for you.’ And at that moment, everything became clear in my mind. The fact that my father has worked the land for so many years, for so many decades really, allowed me the opportunity to say to myself — ‘I have roots here.'”