OCHAZUKE: Fighting for San Pedro and Beyond

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By GWEN MURANAKA
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on Jan. 12, 2012.)

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It’s good to see Warren Furutani fighting for San Pedro. In the last days of the campaign, he’s picked up some Pedro endorsements, the local independent newspaper Random Lengths and ILWU Local 13 President Joe Cortez. Will it be enough to put him over the top? As much as he’s trying to become only the second Asian American to serve on the Los Angeles City Council, perhaps more challenging is his attempt on Jan. 17 to become the first non-San Pedro resident to win the 15th district since before World War II.

His Asian supporters reside largely outside of San Pedro, and may not fully understand the significance of that. I grew up in the harbor town and attended San Pedro High, where Furutani’s opponent, Joe Buscaino, once served as student body president.

During the holiday break I got a chance to walk around my old neighborhood in North San Pedro. I saw a lot of signs supporting Buscaino dotting the lawns but there was not a single Furutani sign to be seen. On Facebook, a lot of my Pedro friends have let their support be known, and it isn’t for the veteran Sansei politician.

It’s no wonder. Buscaino is a police officer and a hometown boy, in a town where generations of Italian and Croatian families have put down roots. In the primary, nine of the 11 candidates were from San Pedro, with Furutani emerging from the fray as the alternative. It makes sense that in the final battle, the Pedro vote will mostly go to the candidate with the most Pedro credentials. Furutani faces the challenge that no candidate has won without prevailing in the port town.

The dedication of the Terminal Island Memorial Monument in 2002. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

So it would seem that Furutani, not Buscaino, would be considered a departure from the City Council’s status quo. I was therefore disappointed that the Los Angeles Times gave their coveted endorsement to Buscaino, whose inexperience was for some reason seen as a positive by the editorial board.

“We find it easier to give him, as a novice, a bit of slack that we must deny to the veteran Furutani,” the L.A. Times said.

Yes, Furutani is a veteran, whose credentials and experience are widely known. But in this case, he’d also be breaking new ground: the first Asian American in nearly 20 years to represent a city that has only become more diverse, more Asian since Mike Woo left office in 1993. And for the 15th, he’d break the stranglehold that San Pedro has had on this key office, something as a proud native San Pedran it pains me to say might be a good thing.

Whoever wins, the district is in need of some serious shaking up. A recent crime wave has residents locking their doors. The port is one of the city’s main economic engines, but the town that has to deal with all of the noise and pollution often feels like a forlorn, forgotten stepchild. Promises to revitalize the port have been met with white elephants like the $14 million Gateway Fountain, a Bellagio-style water show on San Pedro’s waterfront. It’s a good show, but anybody walking around the area, or in adjoining Ports O’Call, can see that it has suffered from years of neglect and poor planning.

So if Furutani is elected, I don’t want him to forget my hometown; rather, I’d want him to be its most passionate protector and biggest advocate. I have no doubt that Buscaino would do that. It’s just that I see the potential that Furutani’s candidacy represents and hope for much more.

Although my family wasn’t from Terminal Island, I often heard Nisei recount walking up the hill to go to San Pedro High School. A few years ago, a showing of “Furusato: The Lost Village of Terminal Island” drew a capacity crowd to the Warner Grand, where many Nisei saw movies for a nickel in their youth. A monument sits on Terminal Island marking the site where so many called home until they were harshly given 48 hours to evacuate in the hysteria following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

I’d like to see more signs, more attention drawn to that important monument, something I think Furutani can make happen. The port is the gateway to Asia, and its history should be remembered and celebrated. For those shunned so many years ago, it would be an official acknowledgment to that other San Pedro, the Nikkei San Pedro, that thrived before Executive Order 9066 took them all away.

Council elections aren’t about the entire city, they’re about the needs and issues of the people in that district. This election, however, resonates beyond the borders of the 15th. Outside of the 15th, Furutani undoubtedly carries the hopes and issues of Asian Americans throughout the city, who are critically underrepresented.

During a press conference on redistricting last week attorney Helen B. Kim noted that during the L.A. Riots, Korean American merchants bore the brunt of the cost and had no single representative on the council to advocate for their interests or be held accountable. This lack of inclusion had tragic consequences for many. A Furutani win would give Asian Americans a seat at the table where the most important decisions are made.

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Gwen Muranaka is English editor-in-chief. Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

 

 

 

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