The History of The Fresno Center

For three decades, The Fresno Center was known as the place that helped Southeast Asian refugees.

The Fresno Center for New Americans (now The Fresno Center) was founded in 1991 by its first executive director Dr. Tony Vang. Lue Vang would become FCNA’s second executive director when Dr. Tony Vang accepted a professor position at CSU Stanislaus in 1992. Pao Vang became the organization’s third executive director in 2017 when Lue Vang retired after 25 years of service.

The FCNA was originally born from the urgent needs of the large community of Hmong refugees who relocated into Fresno County beginning in the early 1980’s to pursue farming opportunities in California’s rich productive Central Valley. The Hmong were mostly traditional farmers in their former country of Laos and believed the climate would be comparable. Many Hmong believed that their hard work ethic and knowledge as farmers could allow them to earn more money and create brighter futures for their families instead of traditional jobs that required education and command of the English language. Fresno would hold the national record for the largest Hmong community in the United States in 1997 at about 35,000 people according to U.S. Census data and would also evolve to become a strong beacon of hope for Hmong business, enterprise and cultural preservation.

The Hmong people became wartime refugees as a result of their involvement in the CIA’s “Secret War in Laos”, connected to larger conflict against the spread of communism into Southeast Asia and “The Vietnam War”. After the wars ended in 1975, the Hmong, because of their military service and loyalty were forced into exile and fled into Thailand and survived in the Thailand refugee camps which also included refugees who were Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Mien and other smaller ethnic groups entangled into the Vietnam War conflict.

The Hmong, who were mostly accepted on the criteria of military service were eventually granted resettlement into the United States through American sponsors who were mostly faith based churches. The first migration of Hmong refugees scattered families across the United States into small communities. Shortly after reconnecting with their relatives, most Hmong families embarked on a secondary migration within the United States into select cities to be close to family and clan. Kinship and community were always at the center of Hmong culture. The City of Fresno would become the largest concentration and community of Hmong in California.

The nonprofit, formerly known as the Fresno Center for New Americans (FCNA), provided education and employment services. It helped with social integration, health education and housing for the growing Hmong, Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese populations in Fresno County. During the height of the Hmong refugee resettlement from 2004-2005, the agency was the lead organization in establishing the Hmong Resettlement Task Force in partnership with other local ethnic organizations, elected officials and government services.

It’s now been more than 10 years since the last large wave of southeast Asian refugees, and the needs of the community, which now includes first and second generation Hmong Americans, have changed. In an effort to expand and realize its potential, the organization decided to change its name from The Fresno Center for New Americans to The Fresno Center.

In its 30 year history, The Fresno Center has grown from three employees to more than 100 employees and from one program to over 20 programs serving Fresno County. One of its newest programs provides services across three counties (Fresno, Kings, and Merced Counties) and at least one of its programs is providing services to rural Fresno County communities including Parlier, Del Rey, Fowler, and San Joaquin.


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