Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Saving Japantown, Serving the People: The Scalar Politics of the Asian American Movement

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Saving Japantown, Serving the People: The Scalar Politics of the Asian American Movement

Article excerpt

Introduction

On 13 February 1975 one hundred residents of San Francisco's Japantown (or 'J-Town') descended on the local headquarters of the city's Redevelopment Agency (RDA) to protest their threatened displacement through the city's urban renewal project in the Western Addition (or Fillmore) district. The raucous protesters were members or supporters of an organization called the Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction (CANE). (1) Fed up with the Agency's continued efforts to remake their neighborhood in the name of blight removal, they seized the office's lobby and organized a sit-in that called attention to the needs of Japantown's small businesses and residents. Eight organizers and residents were arrested but eventually released without charge.

Although their protest was aimed at halting displacements and demolition in Japantown, especially in a four-block area known as the Buchanan (or Nihonmachi) Mall development, CANE's politics were not limited to a politics of the local scale. Rather, CANE was part of the larger Asian American Movement (AAM) and, as such, the organization, through its actions and even through its political imagination, attempted to 'jump scale' at several points in its existence through its multiracial membership, its alliances with other antiredevelopment struggles in the city and elsewhere, and its organizational development beyond antiredevelopment issues (Smith, 1992). This article analyzes CANE's antiredevelopment mobilization and the organization's growth, placing this mobilization within the larger historical context of radical activism between the 1960s and 1980s and focusing on CANE's use of space, place, and scale to organize. I argue that examining CANE's mobilization around redevelopment, as an example of AAM activism, helps scholars of social movements and of urban studies understand the crucial spatial dimension to the AAM's politics between the 1960s and 1980s; underscores the spatial struggles against redevelopment that Asian American enclaves and other neighborhoods of color faced in major cities throughout the US at this time; and illuminates how the local politics of antiredevelopment struggle reflected the larger political and cultural sensibilities of Asian American radical activism during this time period--an activism that helped found Asian American Studies, established key community-based organizations, and created substantive ties with other social justice movements. Such a case study, then, elucidates the spatial and scalar politics of the larger AAM as it expanded outside college campuses to incorporate the concerns of urban ethnic neighborhoods; it speaks to the literature on the spatial dimensions of political mobilization (Delaney and Leitner, 1997; Miller, 2000) and to historical and contemporary studies of political mobilization against displacement. Thus, CANE's struggle provides a counterpoint to the literature on redevelopment's devastating effects on communities of color: while the policy has been associated with 'Negro removal', Asian American neighborhoods were similarly targeted, particularly on the West Coast but also in other major cities after the Second World War, because they were seen as dangerous, blighted places and thus helped define the meaning of 'urban crisis' (Kurashige, 2008).

Background on the the AAM

Some initial comments about the AAM are in order before discussing the history and origins of CANE. The AAM was forged out of the same 1960s revolutionary moment that fueled the antiwar movement, nurtured anticolonial struggles, and gave birth to the Black Power movement. It was nothing less than a converging, radical, historic moment--what Woods (1998) refers to as the Second Reconstruction--that expressed the antinomian fervor of the disempowered and their collective refusal against overlapping oppressions (Gilmore, 1999; Omatsu, 1994). Using social movement theory, Geron (2003) argues that these different movements influenced how AAM groups framed their mobilization, formulated a collective identity, and became a spiritual and material resource that AAM activists utilized in their organizing and organizational growth. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.