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Globalization and transnational Nikkei family


In 1999, the year of the centenary of Japanese immigration to Peru, a Peruvian Nikkei leader publicly declared that this was a “golden era” for the Nikkei community. This small but important minority, long recognized for its success in terms of education and business, within a decade achieved a fairly prominent role in politics. In the economic sphere, a few Nikkei family companies managed to establish a national presence, to which was added growth in investment, trade and cultural exchanges with Japan during that decade, all resulting in the elevation of the profile of the Nikkei community. At the same time, the harsh background of that “golden era” was the fact that, between 1988 and 2000, around forty thousand people - almost fifty percent of that community - emigrated to Japan as economic or political refugees.

Ironically, although such a golden era - with Alberto Fujimori at the helm - was high profile for the community, achieved through much sacrifice, it ended up being revealed as an era with more image than substance. On the one hand, Fujimori – who entered politics in 1990 as a self-proclaimed “outsider” – challenged certain aspects of traditional Creole hegemony and managed to incorporate historically excluded sectors, such as women and non-whites – those of Asian, African, or indigenous ancestry – in the political process, thus opening a new era of participation. At the same time, his neoliberal economic policies ended up weakening the microbusiness base of the typical Nikkei family. Evidently, what may have been a golden era from an elite perspective, with an unprecedented level of political participation and a more prominent profile for the community in general, ended up being more of an illusion. Such “success” was only possible by the expansion of transnational ties within the Pacific Rim and by the forced adaptation of the traditional Nikkei family structure and community institutions to meet the harshest demands of globalization.

The “dekasegi of return” and the transnational Nikkei family

Regarding the phenomenon of “return migration” - the “return dekasegi” - it is already quite well known that, starting in the late 1980s, with the deteriorated economic and political situation in Latin America, the growing economy of Japan became an irresistible attraction for tens of thousands of Latin Americans of Japanese descent. Dekasegi was the term that began to characterize that migration.

The origin of this term is found in the ancient cultural practice of Japan, related to the mobilization of the population for temporary jobs. Before the opening of Japan in 1868, it was a local or regional phenomenon, in which family members returned after a period of work abroad. With the forced opening of Japan, emigration abroad became a possibility and the dekasegi could then leave for other countries and more distant places: to Hawaii and the United States of America, and later, to Latin American countries such as Peru and Brazil, with the case that this temporary workforce often became permanent.

The return dekasegi phenomenon of the 1990s is undoubtedly connected to the periods before globalization, when labor and capital were mobilized to meet international market demand. However, because the contemporary forces of globalization have continued to grow in time and scope - as communication, transportation and finance have become almost instantaneous and truly global in scale - the ability to travel and work across the Pacific region has opened up new possibilities, while creating more pressure, stress and fragmentation on traditional support institutions for individuals, such as family and community institutions.

The impact of the phenomenon is clearly seen when analyzing the family structure and emigration of Peruvian Nikkei during the 90s. With the dekasegi phenomenon, the pattern of emigration of young adults began to be repeated; But, contrary to previous times, instead of a son or daughter of a family or an entire nuclear family emigrating, the tendency for family heads to emigrate is notable, thus extending the nuclear family entity in terms of time and space.
The current transnational Nikkei family, in some senses, is more dispersed and under greater pressure than its historical predecessors. The hiring of Japanese labor for Hawaii and Brazil between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, for example, was based, in large part, on the pattern of nuclear families as a whole, being the expectation of the landowner and the Japanese government that constitute a more stable and reliable workforce.

At present, by contrast, there has been no such requirement from contractors or Japanese companies and, in fact, the demand has clearly been for capable, skilled young people and uncompromised labour. That is, the search for permanent stays or the immigration of entire families has not been part of official Japanese policy. The “Nikkei visa” - established by the Japanese government in 1990 - for example, reflects the official policy that Nikkei can fill the need for temporary work, as required, and then return to their country of origin with new skills and resources. To a large extent, emigration has been predominantly of men, heads of families, and then of the young people of the families; although, in certain cases, entire families have been able to relocate as a whole through a chain migration process and, of course, new accommodations have been created in Japan, despite the official policy on temporality.

In this phenomenon of the dekasegi, then, a trend is observed towards the spatial extension of the nuclear family, between Peru and Japan, and an effort to maintain or reestablish social support networks, such as the family or community institution. For example, one of the institutional responses to the dekasegi phenomenon has been the operational extension of credit and financial services cooperatives to those who live and work in Japan, as well as their relatives in Peru. An executive from such an organization points out the demographic change, as well as the impact on family relationships:

    “…in Japan there are more men than women; In the case of Peru, our market is more women than men, they are ladies, in ages... from 25 to 45... the majority are housewives in the case of Peru, or they are the mothers of those who are in Japan or wives or partners, because…. With this phenomenon we no longer talk about issues as formal as a marriage but rather (about) coexistence… or even problems, (such as) abandoning (the) family.”

The exodus from Peru reached its highest peak in 1992 and a young adult, one of the few his age who had not gone to Japan at that time, explaining a project with teenagers, points out the impact especially on them:

    “… you have to include… a topic that is the dekaseguis,… the dekaseguis boys,…. that each one (expose) their point of view and can release that... discomfort..., some... are right at the critical age, 12, 13, 14 years old, 15... and their parents are not there... it is difficult "The idea... was to reinforce that lack,... to try to cover the gap, which you cannot completely cover because you are not his father, but in some way not?..."

As more parents went to work in Japan, more children and adolescents were left in the care of other relatives in Peru. Youth groups and community institutions were often forced to address the resulting problems, such as depression and delinquency, among young people who felt abandoned or lacked a family support network, not so much financially, but rather in the emotional or spiritual sense. With more and more young people - barely turning eighteen - leaving for Japan, those who stayed shared the idea that the only thing they could do was finish high school and go to Japan as well; A common phrase among them was: “I don't want to leave but, unfortunately, there are no opportunities here like the ones you can have there [in Japan].”

Stress in the family, or due to family relationships, had a strong impact on the community. A young professional interviewed in 2001, also one of the few in his high school class who did not go to Japan, points out other problems:

    “Apart from that, it was the very strong blow of (the) separation of families..., I think that was the time when... the ones who least... separated. The father would suddenly go and for A or B reasons he would find someone there and stay…. and he no longer sent okane (money) here, so the imbalance was total.”

Another leader of the community, an older Nisei, highlights the general impact on families and the community:

    “...the other results are already of the type of breakup of marriages, the same loneliness of the people, that some individuals traveled alone, you know what loneliness is like, they meet another person who covers their needs for affection and well they have new commitments were made there have been broken up, so there has been a phenomenon, perhaps it is not so generalized but it has affected the community. So, there has been a change due to this phenomenon of dekaseguism ..."

For all this, it would be very ironic if the leader of the community considered the 90s as a “golden era.” The new buildings and projects that appeared during that time, especially to officially coincide with celebrations marking the centenary of immigration in 1999, looked impressive on the outside but empty on the inside: a seemingly successful collectivity but at a high cost. So, like an empty shell, in these same community organizations, especially those that had suffered throughout the decade from the disappearance of a large part of their membership and traditional financial support, the money earned or collected in the Japan – while privately contributing to supporting families – also served to launch projects such as a new health clinic worth twenty million dollars, but with half of the community in Japan and a network of transnational families scattered throughout the country. Peaceful. The question is, then, for whose benefit and at what cost?

Globalization and the transformation of the Peruvian Nikkei community

One of the ironies of the adjective “golden era” was that in the 1990s there was a notable decline in the traditional economic base of the community, of the small family business and its position as the middle class, now sustained only by connections. transnational family members. With a “Nikkei” president, most Peruvians assumed that the Nikkei community would be the greatest beneficiary of the regime. The reality was that Fujimori, especially in his first term, did not represent the interests of the middle class, of which the majority of the Nikkei community was a part. Opposition to his candidacy in 1990 by sectors was not only due to fears of a repeat of the anti-Japanese looting of 1940, but also to the fact that Fujimori acted as a populist, promising to confront terrorism and increase opportunities. for the poor majority. The Nikkei community, especially from an institutional point of view, was definitely middle class, with an important base in family microbusiness. A small number of medium-sized Nikkei companies, in some ways, would have benefited from the general favorable climate for business, both national and international, during the Fujimori administration. But the vast majority of families, who depended on a small corner store or a family micro-business, saw conditions worsen for them during that regime.

The least visible aspect of the financial success of the international economy of the 1990s is its foundation: the expansion of transnational networks of families, the geographical dispersion of the family structure to satisfy the demand for capital. Communication technologies in the financial sector, which enabled 24-hour commerce, also made possible a more efficient transfer of money – remittances – between family members, no matter where they were located within the global economy. These same communication technologies, such as the Internet, also allowed greater opening of communication channels for family members. At the same time, however, no amount of remittances or videoconferencing could (and cannot) replace the physical presence of spouses, parents and other family members, which is why such an incursion into the global economy has taken a toll. a high cost, the effects of which are now more or less permanent and difficult to resolve.

* This article is published under the San Marcos Foundation Agreement for the Development of Science and Culture of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos – Japanese American National Museum, Discover Nikkei Project.

© 2008 Steven M. Ropp

globalization international relations migration Peru
About the Author

Steven Masami Ropp holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), especially interested in the intersections between race, ethnicity, and nationalism. He is the author of numerous academic publications and is currently a professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at California State University, Northridge. He has conducted research on Chinese immigration in Belize, on institutional changes in the Peruvian-Japanese community in the 1990s, and currently studies indigenous political mobilization in the Central Andes of Peru.

Last updated January 2008

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