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Japanese community in search of a new rising sun - Part 1


Throughout the 20th century, Mexico City was nourished by thousands of immigrants who, for various reasons, arrived in the country. More than 110 years have passed since the arrival of the first 34 Japanese settlers to the Soconusco area in Chiapas in 1897, with the firm purpose of creating a coffee farm. When that project failed, they dispersed to join other activities. The waves and networks of Japanese that, from then on, followed one another and were concentrated in some states of the Republic, were largely the result of the cycles or ups and downs that the Mexican economy experienced: settlers to populate unexploited areas; farmers and laborers that the cotton and sugar plantations claimed; workers that the railway constructions required; miners that the world demand for metals requested; professionals that the expansion of Mexico City and its commerce needed, etc.

However, the corridors through which the labor required by the global economy circulated were often blocked by the barriers erected by national racism, by the political conflicts that arose in societies and by the imposition of the interests of large companies. powers. The community of Japanese that began to gradually concentrate in Mexico City was the result of all these elements that created and shaped it, so its history responds to them and, without a doubt, to the way in which the emigrants faced them.

To better understand these elements, the text has been divided into four large sections or stages that refer to the history of the community in Mexico City. The first covers the series of transformations that occurred in Japan during the Meiji era (1868-1912), which will allow us to understand the context in which the emigrants left.

The second part shows the pioneers of emigration, their arrival in Mexico from 1897 until before the Japanese attack on the United States in December 1941. In that period the emigrants not only sought to have an income, but they saved in order to improve their conditions to return to their country or, failing that, to establish their own business.

The majority, young singles, began to build a family through the yobiyose system (requesting a partner from Japan); others returned to their country to marry and bring their wife, and some more, the minority, married a Mexican woman.

In the third part, which covers the period of the Second World War, the reasons that forced the previously dispersed community to concentrate in large cities, particularly in Mexico City, which became the place where they lived, are explained. from then on, the majority of Japanese.

The fourth part explains how at the end of the war and when the possibilities of returning to their country were definitively cancelled, the community, supported by the crest of the city's growth and the long expansive wave of the national economy, raised a series of businesses that became a new way of life. Not only was it reconstituted — after the hardships of the war — but, supported by a second generation of Japanese born in Mexico ( nisei ), it expanded its businesses on better bases. The first part of that cycle was successfully closed with the construction of the Japanese Mexican High School in 1977, a highly prestigious institution that marked the new stage of the Nisei and even their Sansei children (third generation), surrounding the community itself with prestige. his country of origin, which emerged as an economic power. These last two generations ensured their economic stability through two means: the inheritance of the family business and higher education, 1 which allowed the creation of a much more solid community in social terms and with growing economic and political capacity. The second part of that stage was marked by the decline and uncertainty of the national economy - which continues to this day - in which the fourth and fifth generations of Japanese sought to develop not only from the old businesses of their ancestors, many of them without the possibility of resisting the attacks of recurring economic crises, but rather as professionals and new investors in search of their own path.

Throughout these periods the series of organizations established by the community is mentioned; as well as the contributions of some emigrants that allow us to know how they integrated into the city that has hosted them.

Members of the Japanese community in the Legation on Colima Street, Colonia Roma, ca. 1940. Collection: Shozo Ogino.

Part 2 >>

* This work would not have been possible without the valuable help and comments of emigrants and their children: Martha and Carlos Kasuga provided me with important data and photographs. Messrs. Hiromi Ida, Jesús Akachi and Enrique Shibayama provided me with the history of their businesses. Mr. Shozo Ogino also provided me with some of the photographs that illustrate the text and gave me accurate information about the entire period.


1. Takehiro Misawa, "Social and cultural reproduction of Japanese immigrant families in Mexico: its impact on shaping the expectations of intergenerational relations of the Nisei," in Scripta Nova . Electronic Journal of Geography and Social Sciences, no. 94 (52), August 1, 2001.

*This article was originally published in Carlos Martínez Assad (ed) The Cosmopolitan City of Immigrants . Mexico, Government of the DF. 2010.

© 2010 Sergio Hernández Galindo

history Mexico migration
About the Author

Sergio Hernández Galindo is a graduate of Colegio de México, where he majored in Japanese studies. He has published numerous articles and books about Japanese emigration to Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

His most recent book, Los que vinieron de Nagano. Una migración japonesa a México (Those who came from Nagano: A Japanese migration to Mexico, 2015) tells the stories of emigrants from that prefecture before and after the war. In his well-known book, La guerra contra los japoneses en México. Kiso Tsuru y Masao Imuro, migrantes vigilados (The war against Japanese people in Mexico: Kiso Tsuro and Masao Imuro, migrants under surveillance), he explained the consequences of conflict between the United States and Japan for the Japanese community decades before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

He has taught classes and led conferences on this topic at universities in Italy, Chile, Peru, and Argentina as well as Japan, where he was part of the group of foreign specialists in the Kanagawa Prefecture and a fellow of the Japan Foundation, affiliated with Yokohama National University. He is currently a professor and researcher with the Historical Studies Unit of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Updated April 2016

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