Toda identifies two contrasting influences that he says will push California's Japanese toward independent voter status.
"So there are aspects of the liberal agenda that speak to Asian values, and aspects of the conservative agenda that also speak to Asian values. Because of that, many prefer to be Independents. Whereas my parents have been Democrats ever since they could vote, I was an Independent. Today, however, I'm a registered Republican."
A political irony is the unwavering support that Democrats receive from Japanese Americans old enough to have lived through World War II. Toda's parents were among the tens of thousands rounded up by the government in the early days of the war and sent off to internment camps for the duration. Like so many others, the Todas lost everything they had worked so hard to build and acquire. Yet the senior Todas were quick to overlook that it was Democratic icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt who authorized that crime against them.
"I can't explain how my parents have rationalized their subsequent allegiance to the party, because, for one, my father still to this day will not speak about his camp experience," says Toda. "But I have heard it told that other Japanese Americans came to believe that what the government did was in their own best interest, and they've been willing to let it go at that. The idea was that if the government had not placed them in the camps, they would have been beset by all kinds of crazies out there wanting to get revenge for the attack on Pearl Harbor. So they say it was better to be protected in the camps.
"Now, it's possible that the ones who believed this had bought into the government's rationale for it. The government was saying the camps were necessary for the protection of the Japanese Americans. Maybe it was a case of the government saying, 'This is what you shall believe.' There is a centuries-old cultural conditioning present in many Asians when they first come over here--that you should blindly obey authority and believe whatever you're told," Toda concluded.
When mainstream American companies want to get a foot in the door of Asian markets, they often turn to an Asian American to smooth the way. Many of the career opportunities that knocked at Toda's door came about in this very manner.
"They picked me because they felt my ancestry would somehow make things better, even though I had at the time only limited speaking ability and cursory familiarity with the business culture of those markets," he says. "I also thought my Japanese heritage would be a liability more than anything else in my dealings with people in places like Taiwan and Corea that had past unhappy experiences with the old Imperial Japan."
Actually, he fared quite well in such locales. It was in Japan that he ran into difficulties. Once during a business trip there, Toda explained to a native Japanese associate the merits of being Japanese American. The colleague interrupted. "You are not Japanese American," the man sternly admonished. Toda was mystified. He assumed his colleague had mistaken his physical appearance: Toda says his features look more Chinese than Japanese. "You are American Japanese," the man clarified. "You are American Japanese because you were born in America. You would be Japanese American only if you were born in Japan, then went to America for a few years before returning home to Japan."
Shoppers in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo sustain the district and, to some extent, downtown Los Angeles itself. Thanks to Brian Kito (right) and his team of public safety patrols, Little Tokyo is a safe, clean rose in a city that is fighting for a comeback.
Today Japanese come to California not to escape crushing economic conditions, warfare or political upheaval, but its rigid social structures. The trigger no doubt is exposure to the California way--exposure gained by working several years at a California office of the company back home.
"As expatriates, they or their children become acculturated just enough to the culture of California that they can't readjust to the strictures of Japan living upon their eventual return home," Toda says. And as more Japanese companies set up California branches, the number of expatriates settling here will continue to grow.
One of the draws for Japanese to settle in California will be the culturally rich enclaves like San Francisco's Japantown and Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. It's the best of both worlds--the social freedom of America coupled with the familiarity of back home. With tourist dollars in mind, enclaves up and down the state are attempting to spruce up the streets and storefronts, and to add new attractions. Page 8
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