Saturday, February 26, 2011

Japantown: the multicultural delusion


Supervisor Mirkarimi's latest tour of Japantown with Mayor Lee provides us with a two-fer---a misguided multi-culturalism and a repetition of the idea he first had several years ago about Geary Blvd. as a "Berlin wall" separating the neighborhoods on the southern and the northern sides of Geary: “Geary Boulevard has been the invisible Berlin Wall that’s separated Japantown from the Fillmore…Now it’s time to correct that” by elminating the traffic underpass at Fillmore and Geary! Exactly how that would "correct" anything is still unexplained. An Examiner editorial in January, 2008, rightly called that "the worst idea of the year."

Mirkarimi had more to say about this non-problem:

“Those times are changing now,” Mirkarimi said. “We want people to really have greater connectivity between the adjacent neighborhoods, so that it helps vitalize the merchant community, and the communities that really play together and live together.”

Mayor Lee, though only in office a short time, has mastered the art of saying not much of anything, while throwing in the word "vibrant," a favorite of former Mayor Newsom and the drones in the city's Planning Department:

Lee said he was very pleased with the tour, noting the history of the area. San Francisco’s Japantown is the oldest of only a few such communities left in the United States. Lee said he would be open to promoting business and tourism in the area. “I want to keep Japantown alive, keep it vibrant, just like I want to do in Chinatown,” Lee said.

Silly old me, I somehow got the idea that the United States was about assimilation, not separatism.

But according to the Japantown Task Force, black people and other residents of Japantown are already living together, if not playing together: in fact there are more black people living in Japantown than there are Japanese! 17% of the area's residents are "black or African-American" and only 10% are Japanese. Somehow these black folks managed to scale that "Berlin wall" imagined by Mirkarimi. And there are far more white people living in Japantown---44%---than any other ethnic group.

In short, what city politicians are trying to preserve at Japantown is really only a marketing image for an area that has a number of Japanese restaurants and shops. Nevertheless, the offical line from City Hall is that Japantown is Japanese and must be "preserved." Too late! The great American assimilation machine has already done its wonderful work.

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