Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.
The former site of the Fuji-Ya restaurant could become a new downtown riverside park, and a public hearing to begin that process is scheduled for December 15, 6-8 p.m. at the Mill City Museum. The Park Board press release is already renaming the site the "Water Works Site" in recognition that the city's first water supply and fire pumping station were located there. That's a neat tidbit of history I wasn't aware of, but I still bristle at how quickly we are distancing ourselves from the contributions of Reiko Weston and the Fuji-Ya restaurant.
Especially in that area, the Mississippi riverfront is full of sites, structures, and features that pay homage to the period that "Water Works" also references: the Stone Arch Bridge, the Mill City Museum, the Mill Ruins Park, the Water Power Park, the Pillsbury A Mill--heck, an entire district is named the Mill district. What do we have as a place name anywhere in the city of Minneapolis that is a tip of the hat to the contributions of Asian Americans? If there's something out there, please enlighten me.
I understand that the way the site was forcefully acquired from Weston could be a sore spot. And I would also be understanding if local Asian Americans weren't overly interested in this site as a place or forum for their cultural heritage. Weston and the architect were Japanese and much of our Asian population hails from southeast Asia instead. It could be seen in a similar way as (hypothetically) using historical references from Brazil or French Guyana to pay tribute to the contributions of a Mexican. Technically it's all Latin America, but the cultures, locations, and languages are all quite distinct.
But has anyone even asked an Asian American cultural group here in the Twin Cities if they would like to participate in the process?
Reiko Weston wasn't just a pioneering minority businesswoman in a time where race and gender stacked the deck against her from the start. She was also a visionary who saw the appeal of the riverfront when the rest of the city had turned its back on the area. She preserved the history of the site while incorporating styles from a minority architect who would become well known in his own right. Whatever form the new development at the Fuji-Ya site takes, those contributions must be recognized, valued, and preserved to the fullest extent possible. I would hope that we do so by preserving the structure, reaching out to minority populations, and pursuing a site name that reflects the full history that transpired here.