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7.19.2004

Speaking of labels 

In Beaumont, Texas there's a road called Jap Road. A number of Japanese-Americans and others are fighting to get the name of the road changed.


"I hear 'Jap' cars and 'Jap' bikes all the time," Buddy Derouen, 69, a retired petrochemical worker who lives on the road, in the community of Fannett, said in a recent letter published in The Beaumont Enterprise. "Why not Jap Road?"


If the name of the road is not such a big deal to anyone, then why such resistance to changing it? Seems like an issue of personal pride to me -- the residents of the road just don't want to be told that they have to change the name of the road.

Look, nobody is asking you to flagellate and prostrate yourselves before the Japanese-American community. (Well, actually some people might be, but the critics mentioned in the article seem to be rather gracious.) Just change the name of the road and that'll be the end of it.



Mr. Wright's wife, Polly, said she believed the name was originally intended to honor the memory of Yasuo Mayumi, a Japanese farmer who, according to local lore, settled in the area in 1905 before returning to Japan in the 1920's.

"If we change the name, we're conceding to the idea that it was meant the wrong way - and it wasn't," said Ms. Wright, pointing to wood on her floor that she said had come from Mr. Mayumi's house nearby. "We're proud of the name of our road."


See, here's the thing: language evolves over time. Maybe in the early 1900s the term "Jap" was just a slang term. But during the World War II years, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, when the US destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when Japanese-Americans were being rounded up and put into prison camps, the term "Jap" became a highly charged epithet. The connotations still linger today. I'm really amazed that the reporter never brought up this point.

In relation to the post below: why do I condemn the use of the term "Jap" but merely snicker at the term "girlie man"? Well...the latter term just hasn't been loaded with hateful connotations by its users (as opposed to being loaded with hateful connotations by people who want to feel offended by it). Perhaps Schwarzenegger was foolish to use the term in his speech, but I doubt that every single female and gay male in the audience immediately felt offended.

(HT: David Chao.)

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