The Beaumont Enterprise
Lane's change
The Enterprise, July 6, 2005

ORANGE -- Orange County workers today will take down "Jap Lane" street signs and erect signs with names new to Orange County.

Road residents were asked to change the name, characterized as offensive, or face a lawsuit from activist groups. They opted for three names for different segments of the road: Duncanwoods Lane, Japanese Lane and Cajun Way.

Orange County Commissioners voted 4-1 for the name changes Tuesday. Precinct 4 Commissioner Beamon Minton voted against the change but would not say why.

During the meeting, Japanese-American George Hirasaki gave a speech about growing up near Jap Lane, explaining when he hears the word "Jap," he hears a racist put-down.

When he started school, kids would point fingers at him and say, "You are a Jap."

He corrected them, saying he was a Japanese-American who had grown up in Beaumont. Hirasaki, 65, now of Houston, would fight kids who continued the name-calling.

His brother, Henry, who still lives on the road, would sometimes come home crying because kids picked on him. His sisters wanted to bleach their skin and wore large hats to avoid suntans.

Scott Eslinger/The Enterprise

Jill Frillou, Orange County personnel director, hands a Japanes Lane road sign to George Hirasaki of Houston on Tuesday afternoon after the Orange County Commisioners Court voted to rename Jap Lane. Segments will be known as Cajun Way, Japanese Road and Duncanwoods Lane. Hirasaki grew up on the old Jap Lane and was a proponent of the change.

In about 1951, when George Hirasaki was in the fifth grade, a substitute bus driver stopped the bus about a half-mile from the Hirasaki home.

"I said that, 'Mrs. Harrington takes us to our home,' " Hirasaki said. "His reply was, 'You Japs can walk.' "

As president of the Japanese-American Citizens League Houston chapter, he worked to rid Orange County of the word.

About 10 years ago, he went to the local historical society and unsuccessfully tried to get the name changed to Kishi Lane, which would honor his family without offense.

But when a Jefferson County battle over its Jap Road made international news last year, people in Orange County knew their road was next, Hirasaki said.

The Orange residents didn't want outsiders -- the Anti-Defamation League and Japanese-American Citizens League -- telling them to change their road name, he said.

So, Hirasaki didn't attend meetings, but continued to press the issue out of sight.

Hirasaki, in his Tuesday speech before Orange County Commissioners Court, apologized to Jap Lane residents for the inconvenience.

"This is something a politician doesn't really want to tackle," said Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose. "There's no way to win."

Dubose gave Hirasaki two street signs: "Japanese Lane" and "Jap Lane."

Hirasaki said he wasn't sure what he would do with them.

"It's good to keep history," he said, "Even if it's not pleasant."

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