Samuel Mori

Samuel Mori is a queer fourth generation Japanese American, third generation Chinese American and native Angelino. He is a member of Los Angeles’s Nishi Hongwanji, former Hollywood Dodger, and a nihongakko dropout. Besides an academic interests in Asian American and Urban History, he is a dog lover, bicyclist, ardent thrift shopper, and amateur pianist.

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Shopping Mall in Little Tokyo

Mixing commercial and community interests, old-world nostalgia and cultural consumption, the Japanese Village Plaza project presented a unique vision of the place of Japan and Japanese Americans in America. Now a highlight of Little Tokyo, the mall was constructed after two failed attempts by an association of 22 “local” businesses/merchants in 1978.1 The mall presented itself as a guardian of Japanese American culture by providing a place for the enclave’s mom-and-pop stores while at the same time playing up exotic images of Japan to attract non-Japanese—mainly White—shoppers.

A key strategy of the plaza was “theme ...

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A Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo

In the 1970s, the debates around who and what the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) would represent demonstrated a generational rift between Nisei and Sansei, who had different conceptions of community and culture. While the Nisei leaders imagined that the JACCC would promote Japanese high culture, Sansei activists envisioned a center that would celebrate the immigrant roots of their community.

A proposed community center figured prominently in redevelopment plans for Little Tokyo, and was greeted with much optimism across the spectrum. In the words of a young Nisei activist: “[The] JACCC, when it first started out, was envisioned ...

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Little Tokyo’s Significance - Part 2

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When the Sansei went to college, they found a way to understand these contradictions through Ethnic Studies. Their fight for Ethnic Studies and the rediscovery of Japanese American history, Asian American history, and the history of “Third World People” as a whole provided new language to contextualize these experiences. The academic “rediscovery” of Japanese American history and identity was directly linked to a renewed academic and political interest in historic Asian American communities. In the process of recovering histories and historical subjects, activists also began recovering spacesof history: the Nihonmachis (“Japantowns”), the central valley farms, the American ...

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Little Tokyo’s Significance - Part 1

I once heard an apocryphal story from a community activist who had worked in Little Tokyo for a long time. It went something like this. As an elderly Japanese American woman was walking down the streets of Little Tokyo, rolling her groceries in a cart, she saw a pair of White men walking towards her. It was clear that the three of them and the roller could not all fit on the sidewalk. Although she realized that someone would have to step into the street, she resisted an initial urge to step aside and continued walking, forcing one of the ...

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