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I'm what you call a Sansei third-generation Japanese-American, born and raised in Arizona. My family started farming in Arizona in the early 1940s. My grandmother's birth certificate says she was born nine miles north of Cave Creek Road a year before Arizona became a state. I assume she was born in a horse-drawn buggy trying to get to the hospital.
This is my hometown, and I love it. (Only Arizonans know when it's gonna rain — that smell, just before it hits. You can't beat it!) But the truth is, my work has zero relationship to the desert. My family and I operate a Japanese restaurant in Central Phoenix, like the ones from days gone by, where kids have good memories of staring into a sushi case filled with tentacles and eyes.
I hope our work is bringing back the feeling of just good old family-style Japanese food here in the Valley. Not very many people remember those places from decades ago. We're not fancy. Every once in a while, we'll throw out a new dish or two to keep people educated on Japanese food. But our main goal is to get people to remember that Japanese food is not just chicken teriyaki served over rice in a Styrofoam bowl (although I do have to thank those guys for keeping Japanese food alive throughout the '90s).
Life in the desert hasn't affected my work. It really hasn't. Look, you get the occasional coastal visitor who will tell you absolutely that fish can't be fresh if you're serving it in the desert, and you just have to do your best to prove that it's not true. But I do think my attitude over the years has changed. I had so many friends in college who came here from different parts of the country, and as a young adult, I always wanted to be one of them — I wanted to live elsewhere. California, New York, places like that. I've learned to have gratitude and appreciation for all the things you can do here in Arizona. Nothing feels better than the support of your hometown.
I have some small complaints. I wish public transportation was better, but I understand the logistics of it. It's hard in a city that's so spread out, but we're making strides. And the urban sprawl just keeps getting bigger and bigger. There are no more places for kids to ride bikes in dirt lots with little hills, to go to a local family restaurant and place a quarter up on the glass to wait your turn to play arcade games. I remember being able to see farmland here and there in the city, but now we're becoming a city like anywhere else. A small city, but a city nonetheless.
Regardless of the size, I love the beauty here. I never saw it before, but now I buy an Arizona Highways calendar every year just for the pictures. I tell people, "If you want to make the desert your own, you've got to have guts. Go for broke, because dreams do come true in the desert." — as told to Robrt L. Pela
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