When older Japanese Americans hear scare phrases like "ethnic integrity," they can be forgiven for flashing back to less-friendly times. But what if the speaker is Japanese American?
Last month, Little Tokyo's New Otani Hotel & Garden was sold by longtime owner East West Development Corp. to a Beverly Hills real estate company, 3D Investments. Without much warning, the anchor tenant of a tourist-friendly cultural cluster was owned by a company run by two Iranian American brothers. Coming on the heels of the nearby Japanese Village Plaza's sale to a Malibu firm, the deal spooked Little Tokyo. "We are very concerned about the new owners," local Japanese Chamber of Commerce President Ted Wakao told The Times. In the Northern California Nichi Bei Times newspaper, Little Tokyo Community Council Vice Chairman Bill Watanabe was even more blunt: "We need to take some concerted action to ensure the future ethnic integrity of Little Tokyo."
Fifteen years ago, the anxiety was on the other foot. Bookstores were filled with ominous tales about the "Rising Sun" then threatening to eclipse the U.S. economy. News anchors became overnight experts on the Washington-Tokyo trade deficit. Major League Baseball -- to its everlasting shame -- for four years blocked majority control of the Seattle Mariners by its majority owner because he was Japanese. ("It's a patriotic issue for me," Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles said at the time.) The country was gripped with a fervent and soon-forgotten campaign to "Buy American."
Worst of all during that spasm of panic, the L.A. County Transportation Commission was pressured to reverse its decision to award the Japanese company Sumitomo Corp. of America a $122-million contract to build trains for the Metro Green Line. "No loyal American would hand over that contract to the Japanese," then-City Councilman Nate Holden thundered. (Germans, however, were acceptable -- Siemens Duewag Corp. won the bid a year later.)
Japan-bashing, at long last, is no longer in season. But the anxiety caused by the constant churn of international goods and people is perennial. Bad policy is always just a voice vote away; just ask Dubai Ports World. There are no guarantees in capitalism, which is both part of the problem and the solution, but there are reasonable hunches. Such as: Real estate companies don't buy 434-room ethnically themed hotels to alienate their customer bases and lose money. Sometimes it's OK to trust your neighbor.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times