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  • A Triple Parallax:Japanese as a Heterogeneous Global Ethnic Group
  • Jane H. Yamashiro (bio)


While conducting research on later-generation Japanese Americans who had migrated to Japan as adults, I stumbled upon a theoretical paradox. If discussing ethnics outside of their ancestral homeland, the concept of diaspora is commonly invoked and has theoretical value in acknowledging the presence of this population abroad as a result of dispersal and displacement from a previous ethnic center. Following this paradigm, if discussing ethnics who are migrating to their ancestral homelands, then this would be seen as the ostensible return of the diaspora. But if "diaspora" refers to a dispersed, displaced population, as Safran (1991) has famously posited, then the return of the diaspora becomes an oxymoronic statement. How might one theorize this type of migration without using the concept or language of diaspora?1 Moreover, how might one alternatively conceptualize the relationship of these differently socialized groups of people with shared ancestry in order then to be able to discuss migration between the populations? [End Page 189]

At the same time, a second problem presented itself. My empirical research showed that people of Japanese ancestry socialized in the United States grapple with an alternative construction of Japaneseness when they migrate to Japan. In attempting to explain how and why this occurs, it became clear that both commonalities arising from shared ancestry (and culture) and differences arising from sociohistorical circumstances simultaneously shaped interactions between ethnic Japanese from different societies. In other words, migrants of Japanese ancestry who had been socialized in the United States did not simply melt back into Japanese society upon their return. Rather, their histories continued to shape their identities, even outside of the context of primary socialization. In addition, Japanese Americans from Hawai'i and the U.S. continent shared some experiences but developed divergent identifications in Japan; this was in part because of their different socialization before migrating to Japan. These findings led me to a second set of questions: How might one theorize a group of people who share ancestral claims but have been socialized in different places (the U.S. continent, Hawai'i, Japan)? How can we simultaneously recognize the similarity and difference of a group such as this—the multiplicity of "Japanese" identities that are linked by shared ancestry yet distinct because of sociohistorical context? How does this complicate the way in which we acknowledge the unity of an ethnic group that crosses national borders while also attempting to explain how they have become so diverse?

This paper introduces the concept of heterogeneous global ethnic groups as an initial formulation of a way of discussing people of shared ancestry across the globe. It is one that highlights their heterogeneity, while still recognizing linkages between them. I formulate a concept of a heterogeneous global ethnic group as people who claim shared ancestry, who are historically and culturally linked, but whose histories and identities have been diversified by different local contexts and the fluidity of culture. This conceptualization seeks to recognize the simultaneous similarity and difference that exists for any ethnic group, similar to the manner in which Stuart Hall (1994) has elucidated the question of cultural identities, while also acknowledging the heterogeneity of a strategically essentialized group along the lines of Lisa Lowe's (1996) conceptualization of Asian American identities and forms of [End Page 190] identification. Moreover, it conceives the heterogeneity of a global ethnic group not only in terms of geographic and historical divergences, but also specifically in terms of multiple racial formations (Omi and Winant 1994). To the extent that a society has different racial classifications and boundaries for racial categories based on historical particularities, ethnic groups are sometimes constructed as racial groups and other times as ethnic groups that are subsumed by larger racial groups. Recognizing such variability in a principled manner is of basic importance for my theoretical approach. After outlining an initial formulation of a concept of heterogeneous global ethnic groups, I discuss how Japanese should be understood as such a group.

Heterogeneous Global Ethnic Groups

If we begin with the definition of an ethnic group as a subpopulation (but not necessarily a minority population) within a larger society that...


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pp. 189-226
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