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Reviewed by:
  • Searching for Home Abroad: Japanese Brazilians and Transnationalism
  • Daniela de Carvalho (bio)
Searching for Home Abroad: Japanese Brazilians and Transnationalism. Edited by Jeffrey Lesser. Duke University Press, Durham, 2003. xii, 219 pages. $74.95, cloth; $21.95, paper.

This is a collection of essays about migrants of Japanese ancestry in Brazil and Japan comprising a range of disciplinary perspectives ranging from history, sociology, and anthropology. A major strength is the empirical grounding of much of the research in fieldwork conducted in Japan and Brazil, a dimension that always adds interest to social analysis. It further enhances the theoretical understanding of transnationality and diasporic identity construction by the timely attention it pays to the issue of social class, a component all too seldom factored into discussions of migrant identity where ethnicity has for too long been the dominant term. Ethnicity alone, however, cannot give an adequate account of the Nikkeijin in Japan, and this volume (chapters by Angelo Ishi and Takeyuki Tsuda) goes some way toward redressing this theoretical myopia.

However, it must be said that the collection as a whole has its own share of blind spots. Despite the title, the notion of "home" and the myth of "homeland" remain curiously unexamined. One might expect a reference to recent work on the dynamic constructedness of home and identity as concepts interrelated through movement in a book with such a title.1 Moreover, its claims to explain Japanese migration are seriously undermined by the lack of any reference to the discourse of "Japaneseness," the relationship between culture and "blood," and the politics of identity, home, and nationality. Instead, the identity theme is rather constantly labored, even where it is radically called into question (e.g., by Daniel T. Linger in this volume).

Another general weakness is that Japanese Brazilian migration, while in many ways unique, tends to be uncontextualized. The experience of these workers is in fact too similar to the experience of other labor migrants for this to be ignored. Thus the emphasis upon their high levels of human capital neglects the fact that economic migrants in a globalized employment market are not necessarily the uneducated of popular mythology (cf. East Europeans in the EU and Indian workers in information technologies in the United States and Gulf States). Contrary to the impression given in this book, Japanese Brazilians still comprise majorities who are neither university [End Page 472] graduates nor of urban middle-class origin. Another consequence of undercontextualization is that it permits facile generalizations concerning Japanese prejudice toward the Nikkeijin, while saying nothing about how Japan invariably "others" all its resident foreigners. A not unrelated issue is that of reflexivity in identity construction: the mutually changing economic status of the sending and receiving countries (particularly given the postwar resurgence of Japan) has been an important source of self- and social esteem among Japanese Brazilians. And within Brazil, a complicating factor is that the Japanese migrants are imaged not just as a minority, but have been (and are) subject to a racialized discourse not adequately weighted within the terms of this book. Thus the impression is given that racial traits do not signify within Brazil, a society so highly sensitive to race that it for a long time refused entry to Asians on the grounds that the addition of the "yellow races" to the national gene pool would complicate the policy of eugenic "whitening."

Lesser's introduction stakes out the collection's claim to scholarly space by stating that the case of Japanese migration is "rarely studied but extraordinary" (p. 1). Such a claim could only be allowed if we ignore the large quantity of theses, articles, and books published on the Nikkeijin in Japan, Brazil, Britain, and the United States over the last ten years—of which some of the more relevant are worryingly absent from the bibliography. Not to ignore this scholarship, on the other hand, is to find Lesser's account lacking in texture, being both discursively tendentious and panglossian. Thus he tends to accept the Japanese/Nikkei narrative (or version) of their immigration while failing to attend to others potentially disruptive of it. According to his account, the Japanese migration to Brazil was a...


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pp. 472-476
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