It was a dumb thing to say, naive, politically incorrect and all that, but I don’t believe Governor Mecham had a racist thought in mind when he said that Japanese visitors to Arizona would get round eyes when they learned the state had 200 golf courses.
However, I do believe it was racist for the all white press corps, journalists, editors and talking TV heads, all of European ancestry, to immediately assume that the Japanese would be offended. The journalists acted as though they had a paternalistic responsibility to protect a defenseless minority. Mecham’s political opponents were interviewed, but not one Japanese.
At a speech before the Phoenix Kiwanis Club, Mecham recounted that during a trip to the Far East several months earlier, he gave a golf club to the head of a major Japanese bank.
“And Japanese like to play golf,” Mecham said. “And their eye really light up when you say we’ve got over 200 golf courses in Arizona. My goodness, golf courses. Suddenly they got round eyes.” Then he added, “I hope that wasn’t anything out of line.”
It was a foolish comment, but it fit the news narrative of a bigoted, insensitive racist governor, so the story was picked up by the national wire services and widely published. Even the normally sedate New York Times published a Reuters story with the headline, “Japanese Are Targets Of Arizona Governor”. The Associated Press national wires also had the story, of course, with the boilerplate sentence that the governor “in the past has angered blacks, Jews, homosexuals and women”.
A Japanese-American resident of Arizona sent letters to newspaper editors with copies to the Governor’s Office to explain that no offense was taken by Mecham’s remarks. The letter below was not published.
Letter to the Editor
Tempe Daily News Tribune
51 West Third Street, Suite 230
Tempe, AZ 85281
January 13, 1988
For once Governor Mecham has chosen his words properly, regarding the possible rounding of eyes by the Japanese when hearing about the 200 golf courses in Arizona. The expression, “with rounded eyes” or literally “by rounding the eyes” is very commonly used by the Japanese to show adverbially the state of “amazement”, “expectancy” or “excitement.”
Me wo maruku shite ( 目 を 丸く して ) has no derogatory implications and is most often used when a child is excited with cute big round eyes. In normal speech, especially in the Hiroshima area, the k is dropped and spoken as me wo maru u shite. The Japanese should not be offended by the Governor’s remark, unless they have been “properly” prejudiced by the media about his earlier racial(?) remarks.
I personally had rounded my eyes, before frowning in disbelief, to see if I had read the number 200 correctly.
Dr. Thomas K. Mina
Tempe, AZ 85282
P. S. Please do not publish if editing is necessary.
cc: Governor’s Office