Fred Nix preserved the past


The Madera Tribune File Photo

The Borden Chinese Cemetery as it looked in 1992, after a student project prompted a cleanup, and the Clampers erected a new monument.

 

The fat was in the fire in 1992.


There would be no turning back.


Although sixth graders at James Monroe School couldn’t save the Borden Chinese Cemetery from a tax sale, they could at least tell the story of the people who were buried there.


It had been two weeks since that call from Fred Nix alerted their teacher that the Madera Irrigation District was going to auction the property off for back taxes.


It had been three weeks since they launched their campaign to raise the money to pay the tax bill. A few days later, MID informed their teacher that they would not accept any money from the kids. That’s when Fred Nix gave the teacher an interoffice memo warning, “If we (MID) take money from the students they will be the heroes, and we will be the bad guys,” and that’s when the students developed a new plan.


First, they would research the history of the Chinese in Madera and write a book. They would call it “The Forgotten Field; The Forgotten People.” Then they would hold a “Ching Ming” ceremony, which was the traditional Chinese “Remembrance of Ancestors Day.” The kids would invite, not only Madera’s community leaders, but they would reach out to some of California’s makers and shakers — individuals who would be interested in the Forgotten Field and the Forgotten People.


They contacted Al Cheng, President of the Chinese Historical Society of America — he was definitely interested.


They contacted the Consul General of the Peoples Republic of China in San Francisco — he was definitely interested.


They contacted March Fong Eu, California Secretary of State — she was definitely interested.


They contacted Jean Stone, widow of renowned author Irving Stone — she was definitely interested.


The luminaries all wanted to come to Madera, so the kids had their Ching Ming ceremony, and the news went out, from New York and all the way to China. Every local television station covered the event and so did CNN, but that wasn’t all. They held a town hall meeting right out there in the Borden Chinese Cemetery and held a referendum on what should be done with the historic burial ground.


Twelve community leaders, including Madera’s mayor, MUSD superintendent, Madera County Superintendent of Schools, and the head of the Madera Irrigation District, were invited to participate in the process. They were seated beneath a huge tent. Standing in front of them was a podium and a microphone.


One by one, the students stepped to the microphone. They had been researching the Borden Chinese Cemetery, and they were convinced that it ought to be designated as a historic site. The students presented a treasure trove of evidence in four sections: 1) A title search of the property that became the Chinese Cemetery; 2) Copies of the death certificates of everyone who had been buried in the cemetery; 3) Copies of the U.S. census showing the names of every Chinese resident of Borden in 1880,1900, and 1910; 4) Copies of newspaper articles about the Chinese residents of Borden and Madera from 1890 to1923.


It was a stunning presentation, and at its conclusion, the students asked the adults for a vote: “Be it resolved, Shall the Borden Chinese Cemetery become an official historic site of Madera County?” One by one, each of the invited community leaders rose and gave a voice vote. The decision was unanimous — they all voted, Yes. At the same time the teacher was notified by MID that the field would be tax exempt from that day forward.


The students, of course were elated. They went on to publish their work under the title, The Forgotten Field; The Forgotten People. A copy of the book can be found in the Madera County library.


This writer is not sure if Fred Nix was present at the cemetery that day, but he must have felt a surge of pride. Because of him, the Borden Chinese Cemetery had been saved from a tax sale, and its history was made secure in the kids’ book. Just one thing was missing. We should have dedicated the book to Fred.


I think we will publish a second edition of two copies dedicated to Fred Nix. One will go to the Madera Method Archive at Madera South High School and the other one will be presented to his wife, Tami Jo Nix.


Thank you, Fred. I think you knew exactly what you were doing.

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