Annotation: Takeyuki (Gaku) Tsuda’s “When Minorities Migrate” (2007)

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Tsuda, Takeyuki (Gaku). “When Minorities Migrate: The Racialization of the Japanese Brazilians in Brazil and Japan.” Asian Diasporas: New Formations, New Conceptions. Eds. Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C. D. Siu. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007. 225-251. Print.

In this essay Tsuda explores how the racialization of Japanese Brazilians changes with respect to different social and cultural contexts. He specifically focuses on their experience of race in Brazil and then through their “ethnic ‘return’ migration” to Japan (225). Tsuda asserts that while race is highly essentialized within a single national context as if resulting from some intrinsic biological or cultural difference, “the experience of race is de-essentialized through the migratory process” as migrants find themselves subjected to and even perpetuating different forms of racialization (225). Tsuda notes that his findings are based on “twenty months of intensive fieldwork and participant observation in the mid-1990s in both Japan and Brazil” (227). He spent nine months studying “two separate Japanese Brazilian communities in the cities of Porto Alegre…and Ribeirão Preto” in Brazil (227). Then he spent the remaining year in Japan, “conduct[ing] fieldwork in Kawasaki…and Oizumi/Ota cities…where [he]…worked for four intensive months as a participant observe in a large electrical appliance factory with Japanese Brazilian and Japanese workers” (227).

Tsuda notes that in Brazil, Japanese Brazilians have achieving significant socio-economic success, many attaining high education levels and middle class standards of living. Yet they “continue to be racialized as a Japanese ethnic minority because of their distinctive Asian appearance” (228). He emphasizes that the experience of Japanese Brazilians are distinct from those of Japanese Americans because unlike the United States, Brazil does not have many Asian minorities of “non-Japanese descent” (228). Tsuda relates his own jarring experience of being directly addressed as “japonês!” on a daily basis (228). But unlike Franz Fanon’s experience of being called “a Negro!” Tsuda accentuates that Japnese-ness does not have negative connotations in Brazil, at least in recent years, and the exclamation, “japonês!” is not an act of prejudice.” While Tsuda acknowledges that some Japanese Brazilians expressed frustration with the uncomfortable realization that no mater how successfully they assimilate to Brazilian culture and society, they will always be marginalized, many are proud of their Japanese ethnicity. Tsuda suggests that Japanese people and culture are largely associated with positive images and stereotypes because of “Japan’s prominent and respected position in the global order as an economic superpower” (233). He further notes that some Japanese Brazilians perpetuate this form of “positive racialization,” actively asserting their First World Japanese-ness to distinguish themselves from the undesirable negative connotations of Third World Brazilian-ness (238).

In his study of second and third generation Japanese Brazilians’ migration to Japan, however, Tsuda reveals that this group’s experience of race is entirely different. Because of their Japanese appearance, Japanese Brazilian are expected to exhibit a cultural homogeneity that matches their racial homogeneity in Japan. Tsuda notes, however, that second and third generation Japanese Brazilians have lost or never even gained linguistic fluency. Their lives in Brazil have also led them to become dissociated from Japanese customs and social codes of behavior. Tsuda asserts that as a result, any Japanese Brazilians decide overtly perform their Brazilian-ness in Japanese so as to “demonstrate to the Japanese that they are not Japanese despite their Japanese racial appearance and therefore cannot be held to Japanese cultural expectations” (240). In this way they challenge the essentializing racialization practices in Japan and additional demonstrate the flexibity of race as something that can be performed. Tsuda notes that Japanese Brazilians perform their Brazilian-ness in numerous ways, from dress, to language and distinctly Brazilian and non-Japanese social etiquette such as greetings in the form of public “embrac[es] or kissing” (242). He further suggests many choose to immediately introduce themselves as Japanese Brazilians as a kind of apology for lacking in Japanese linguistic or cultural proficiency. Tsuda also interestingly notes that Japanese Brazilians, in their attempt to replicate the Brazillian samba ritual and dance in Japan, something that they never really participated in Brazil and do not possess much knowledge about, they have created a new “spontaneous cultural form” (244).

Tsuda ultimately concludes his essay emphasizing that the racialization of Japanese Brazilians is not merely a “hegemonic process[s]” because these individuals are oftentimes complicit in racializing themselves so as to maintain an “ethnic distinctiveness” in varying locales (246).

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  1. I find that many times articles written this way do not keep the attention of the reader, this was not the case in this article. Excellent read, thanks for the post and looking forward to more!

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