LAS VEGAS — What a nice feeling to open today’s column with a Vegas dateline.

It’s been a rather lengthy hiatus since I last hopped in The Cal Hotel.

Usually when I’m here pounding out my column, I try to touch on things happening in Vegas, but before I left to come here I read a front-page article in Tuesday’s issue of The Rafu that really infuriated me.

It’s the story with the headline “Controversy Emerges Over Heart Mountain Exhibit.”

It’s about the opening of a Muslim photo exhibit at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center.

The opening paragraph read that the photo exhibit sparked controversy among area residents who feel that the exhibit does not belong at the learning center.

As a former resident at Heart Mountain, I agree with those who feel the Muslim photo exhibit should not be presented.

No, let me rephrase that: As a former resident at  Heart Mountain, I am pissed off with an exhibit that has nothing to do with the evacuation of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Just who made such a stupid decision?

Was it Shirley Ann Higuchi, the chairman of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation Board of Directors?

Did all the members of the Board of Directors agree on holding the exhibit?

If they did, we should toss every one of them out on their “okoles” (Hawaiian for you-know-what).

Two newspapers in the area also challenged the displaying of the Muslim exhibit. Both said it has nothing to do with the former relocation center.

Leslie Maslak, in a letter to The Billings Gazette in Montana, hit the nail on the head when she wrote, “What in the world does a Muslin exhibit have to do with the Japanese Americans’ internment?”

I sure those who “pulled the strings” will come out with an explanation on why the Muslim exhibit was displayed at Heart Mountain.

I know Higuchi made a statement on the reason, but I don’t buy her explanation.

I chatted with a couple of former Heart Mountain internees, and they agree.

Well, back to Vegas.

In checking through the pages of the two local newspapers, The Las Vegas Review Journal and The Las Vegas Sun, I always find stories about those who sign “markers,” which finance their gambling.

And in most cases those who take out markers end up being sued by the casinos because they don’t pay their markers and the casinos are stuck with the debt.

For those of you may not know about the marker system, this is how it works:

The gambler gets the casino to approve the markers whether it’s a few hundred bucks or thousands of dollars.

In reality, a marker is actually a personal check.

That’s because to get a marker, the person receiving it includes his checking account number and authorizes the casino to draw the amount issued from that account. There is a time limit on when the gambler has to pay the marker.

If it is not paid, the gambler authorizes the casino to deposit the marker to collect the amount from the checking account.

If the account doesn’t have the funds to cover the marker, the casino files charges of passing a bad check and they have the gambler arrested on a bad-check charge.

Usually, the marker problem involves thousands of dollars, as in the two cases that the local newspapers covered in yesterday’s edition.

I have marker privileges at two casinos, which is why I know how it operates.

Of course, the amount I can receive under the system is so low I never worry about having it collected from my checking account.

I rarely even touch my marker privilege. However, it seems like when I do, the fellow in front of me at the marker window is drawing out amounts that stuns me.

Two trips back, I was waiting behind a Nisei fellow and he drew out $10,000.

Needless to say, I felt like I was asking somebody for 25 cents with my marker request after watching the negotiation made by the guy in front of me.

Among other news of interest here in Vegas is the announcement that Caesars Hotel on The Strip has received a permit from the county to build a 550-foot tower and observation wheel on its property.

The wheel is expected to be the tallest in the world. It would be higher than the present tallest, the 443-foot London Eye and the 541-foot Singapore Flyer.

The attraction, set for completion next year, will be called the High Roller.

The Ferris-style wheel is part of a planned $550 million development on The Strip near the company’s Harrah’s Las Vegas, Imperial Place and Flamingo casinos.

Wow! Even as a Downtown person, I sure would like to see a “Ferris wheel” towering 550 feet.

Well, even if I don’t visit the new attraction, at that height, I’ll probably be able to see it from my California Hotel room window.

Oh yeah, since it’s one of the topics covered by the media these days, according to reports in the local print publications, Nevada voters are split 50-50 over the race for the presidency between Obama and Romney.

So we don’t know which way the local voters will go come November.

For a while, Romney was favored to carry Nevada, but the current president has climbed up and has now tied the GOP candidate.

Gee, I don’t mind losing in the casino, but I sure hate to lose in the president’s race.

As I have mentioned a few times when coming to Vegas, The Las Vegas Sun has a Nisei on its staff by the name of Paul Takahashi.

I have tried to get in touch with him to find out how a Japanese American landed a job with a publication in Vegas.

Seems Paul does cover a lot of stories on education in this city.

I saw a story the other day with the headline “For Chinese students, La Vegas offers crash course on American culture.

I assumed it was written by Takahashi. I was wrong.

This one was written by Cristina Chang. I assume she’s a Chinese American.

She opened her story with the following paragraph: “Desert heat, casinos seemingly on every block and, best of all, a shorter school year — this is Las Vegas for a group of Chinese students visiting the United States.”

Her story covers a program called “Project USA Ready Studies” on its inaugural run.

“Eighteen students from China’s Zhejiang Province have spent two weeks on field trips in addition to spending daily classes studying lessons in American culture.

“Last week, during a field trip to the Springs Preserve, Wang Yang, a 15-year-old student who also goes by the name Ruth, noted the environment in Vegas is much different  than her native China.

“‘Here in Vegas it’s very red,’ she said of the desert, ‘but in China, it’s more green.’

“Like most first-time visitors to Las Vegas, Ruth said she had never seen anything like The Strip, which she toured  with her classmates earlier during their stay. In China, gambling is confined mostly to Macau or at illegal underground establishments. But in Vegas, casinos were plentiful and legal, even if the visitors were not old enough to gamble.

“During the program, the Chinese students have been immersed in American culture and learned about American history. The students have spent their time learning everything from American slang to text messaging.

“Every lesson has revolved around gaining practical experience. That means trips to Smith’s Food and Drug stores to learn about shopping and science lessons at the Spring Preserve. There were also visits to Hoover Dam and, of course, casinos.

“They also tried out foods like hot dogs and iced drinks.

“The goal of the classes is to encourage students considering future study in the United States.

“The students see the programs building a bridge between China and the United States. For the Chinese students, the program means plenty of stories about their Las Vegas experience to share with their friends back in China.”

After reading this article, I can now understand why China has moved ahead of Japan in so many areas.

I don’t ever recall the Japanese sending their students to the U.S. to close the gap between the two countries.

The only Japanese groups (about three decades ago) were those who were tabbed as “high rollers” who spent all their time in the casino playing “table games.”

Now the Chinese have replaced the Japanese, even in this area.

Oh well…

Speaking of reading the newspapers, on Saturday, the day before I left Gardena to come to Vegas, I read a front-page story on the situation at the county jails with the headline “Sheriff Baca Accepts Blame in Jail Woes.”

Of course, since it was a Los Angeles Times story, I expected it to be slanted, as most Times stories are.

Also mentioned in the article, complete with his photo, was Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was pointed out as being responsible for those charged with abusing the prisoners incarcerated in the county jails.

The one thing I was surprised about in the story is that they didn’t mention that he is also the mayor of the City of Gardena.

I guess The Times didn’t want to credit him with such a responsible post because they couldn’t slam him on the jail issue.

After all, he’s done such a great job as mayor of Gardena.

I’ve known Paul since his childhood and I know what a responsible and intelligent person he is, and I don’t buy any of the junk charges a lot of busybodies are throwing at him.

If we had more people like Paul, maybe our jails wouldn’t be so overcrowded.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via email at Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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  1. Thanks again for the mention in your column, George.

    However, I’m puzzled over your fascination with my career and – as you put it – “how a Japanese American landed a job with a publication in Vegas.” It almost sounds as if you’re surprised a Japanese American was able to get a job at a mainstream newspaper.

    Since you didn’t try to reach me before writing about me (my contact information is on every story), let me elaborate for you how I became a reporter so as to sate your curious curiosity.

    I’ve always been a news junkie who loves to tell stories. I’ve known I wanted to become a journalist since I began working for my high school newspaper and became its editor-in-chief. I liked journalism so much, I went to college and majored in it.

    Indeed, I’m a Japanese American who is working at the Las Vegas Sun. But I’m also a proud graduate of a Chicago-area university, an avid hiker and cycler and a technology geek who is working at the Las Vegas Sun.

    You see, my ethnicity is not how I define myself entirely. While I may be a minority journalist at a mainstream media outlet, that is not my sole identity. I am more than the color of my skin and the countries where my parents were born.

    It shouldn’t be surprising in this day and age that there is a Nisei working at the Sun as there are many other Asian Americans who work in U.S. newsrooms. The Asian American Journalists Association – of which I am a member – has more than 1,500 members working at newspapers and TV stations across this country.

    Each of us “landed a job” in journalism just like any of our Caucasian, African American, Hispanic and Native American colleagues did. It’s because of our knack for storytelling, our dogged pursuit for the truth and our tenacious persistence in the face of uncertain times. Nothing more, nothing less.

    As a society living in the 21st Century, we must acknowledge the important role that race and culture plays in our communities. But we must also strive for a world where an Asian American byline doesn’t raise an eyebrow.

  2. This has just come to my attention–cited in a critical article on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop website. I agree with Norb: speaking as someone with ties to Little Tokyo, I know why RS and the community in general value people from Yoshinaga’s generation. However, even that respect can only be a default as long as someone is, at least, not being hateful and racist. This column is racist and selfish, and ramblingly incoherent as well. Yoshinaga provides literally no reasons why he doesn’t buy Higuchi’s explanation of the exhibit. He also sees a competition (he doesn’t say for what) between China and Japan, and is disappointed that a reporter is Chinese rather than Nisei, without providing any indication why it is relevant. His defense of undersheriff Tanaka is based on his personal acquaintance with him. This stuff tends to go in the same direction–preoccupation with whether people are like himself or not. That isn’t a thoughtful way to consider what it means to be JA. And someone who isn’t interested in being thoughtful shouldn’t be your columnist.

  3. Following September 11, 2001, a group of Japanese Americans gathered together here in Sacramento to support our Sikh, Muslim & Arab American friends and neighbors.

    What these communities experienced was similar to what Japanese Americans experienced following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

    As many friends shared with me, The Japanese Americans were the first ones to stand up in support of these communities.

    By the way, I’m not all that concerned about who made such a “stupid decision”…. My question is who allowed Mr. Yoshinaga to publish what would be reasonably considered “Such A Stupid Column??”

    The time has come for The Horse’s Mouth to be put out to pasture…

  4. Horse, I know we’re at opposite ends of the spectrum politically, but I really think that your views on the Muslim exhibit at Heart Mountain are egocentric, short-sighted, and disappointing. I find it hard to believe that you or the other former internees you spoke with couldn’t see any connection between the Japanese American experience during WWII and the Muslim American experience today.

    We shouldn’t treat the incarceration of Japanese Americans as an isolated moment in history that is unconnected to the experiences of other people in different geographical areas, different time periods, or of other ethnic backgrounds. If we do, the incarceration story will lose immediacy and relevance over time and we will run the risk of allowing such an injustice to happen all over again to another group.

    The whole point of the Muslim exhibit and, for that matter, the way the Japanese American National Museum incorporates 9-11 and the treatment of Muslim Americans into its narrative, is so that we’ll understand that racism is racism, period, whether it’s happening against Japanese Americans, Muslim Americans, African Americans, or anyone else.

    As a community that has experienced racist treatment by our own government, I think we’re in a unique position to speak out against systemic racism when we see it and draw parallels between the experiences of different groups so that people will be able to feel compassion for each other. I hope you’ll try to see the Heart Mountain exhibit with a bit more understanding.