Texas county votes to
change the name
of Jap Road

The decision comes after national
criticism, much of it from Hawaii

Commissioners in Jefferson County, Texas voted yesterday to change the name of Jap Road, bowing to criticism from around the country, including Hawaii, that the name was insensitive and a racial slur.

Commissioners listened to about three hours of testimony from nearly four dozen people, alternating between those who wanted to retain the name and those who favored a change, before voting 4-1 to seek a new name.

County Judge Carl Griffith put two people who live along the 4.3-mile road in charge of a committee to come up with a new name and deliver their proposal to him by July 29.

“There are people in this country that believe we are a bunch of racists, and that is so, so far from the truth,” Griffith said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, among Hawaii residents who urged a name change, praised the commissioners’ decision, saying it “reflects their thoughtfulness and sensitivity in agreeing that a derogatory term should not be used as the name for a public roadway.”

In a letter to the commissioners that was included in the testimony, Inouye said he knew the road had been named “Jap Road” to honor the Japanese rice farmer Yasuo Mayumi. “All this was done in the genuine spirit of cordiality and undoubtedly the Japanese immigrants must have been proud to be accepted by Texas as one of their own.

“However, time has changed the meaning of ‘Jap,’ and it now has a derogatory, insulting connotation,” he said, adding that use of the word, “no matter how innocent, is an affront and an insult to an ethnic group.”

Commissioner Mark Domingue, the lone dissenter, said he wanted people 20 years from now to look back and “think the court had the backbone to maintain that part of our history.”

Griffith, the Anti-Defamation League and one resident who lives along the road said they would pay for a historical marker to tell the story of Mayumi, the Japanese rice farmer who lived at the end of the road and whose ancestry gave the road its name in 1905.

Mayumi returned to his homeland in the mid-1920s.

A petition signed by more than 4,500 people asking that the road be renamed was submitted to the commissioners, and more signed after the deadline, according to Kristine Minami, with the Japanese American Citizens League.

Many Hawaii residents signed the petition after word went out about the hearing from Alan Goto and Sandie Libby, both with the Hawaii Medical Service Association.

Minami said a count hasn’t been done. “However, there was clearly an earnest and enthusiastic response from Hawaii.”

Samuel Bean, head of the local NAACP chapter said Jap Road was “an offensive racial slur and an embarrassment to our community.”

Star-Bulletin reporter Helen Altonn and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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