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The Japanese Diaspora: Peoples of Japanese Descent in the Americas

(3-4 years)

This project will examine peoples of Japanese descent in the Americas as part of the Japanese “diaspora” by comparing the ethnic and cultural experiences of the Japanese Americans and Japanese Brazilians in the varying ethnoracial contexts of the United States and Brazil. Despite their shared ethnic ancestry and similar histories of emigration from Japan, substantial differences have emerged between these two Japanese descent groups over the generations in terms of their minority status, ethnic identity, maintenance of Japanese cultural traditions, and sense of attachment to the Japanese homeland (the Japanese Americans—despite their higher level of assimilation—enjoy a less positive ethnic status and have a notably weaker Japanese ethnic and cultural affiliation than the Japanese Brazilians). This is undoubtedly the result of their different historical and contemporary ethnic experiences caused by differing race relations in the United States and Brazil (including perceptions of Asians/Japanese, patterns of discrimination, and assimilative nationalist pressures). I am interested in whether the internal ethnic diversity that has developed among such older diasporas has fragmented them along national lines and prevented the emergence of transnational diasporic identities and communities (in contrast to newer diasporas). I would also like to examine how varying urban contexts and local histories (San Diego vs. Phoenix, Sao Paulo vs. Porto Alegre in Brazil) structure the ethnic experiences of Japanese Americans and Brazilians differently.

Since even older diasporas are characterized by continued migratory movement, I would also like to compare the experiences that the Japanese Americans and Brazilians have when they actually “return” migrate to Japan and their idealized images of the ancestral homeland are challenged. Although both groups experience a certain level of ethnic marginalization, the Japanese Americans seem to have a more positive experience because of their higher socioeconomic status and greater respect they enjoy in Japan and do not develop an oppositional minority identity like the Japanese Brazilians. This project will be based on multi-site fieldwork (U.S., Brazil, and Japan) that situates local ethnic communities within a broader transnational and comparative framework and will attempt to go beyond the limitations of previous studies, which have analyzed diasporic groups only within a single national context.

Contact: Takeyuki (Gaku) Tsuda