- Mimesis, Contention, and Corporeality of OthernessReading the Haircuts of Undocumented Immigrants’ Daughters in Japan
In 2009 a daughter of Filipino undocumented immigrant parents in Saitama, Japan, drew national attention. In order to plead for annulment of her parents’ deportation, Noriko Calderon at the age of fifteen became a spokeswoman for the family. Once her parents’ verdict became final, Noriko cut her hair short and continued her plea in the media. In this paper I comparatively examine Noriko’s haircut and another immigrant’s daughter’s haircut in her appearance in a famous documentary and argue that the two girls’ haircuts, which are situated in the Japanese immigration discourse, are both political performance and feminine mimesis. Using Luce Irigaray’s notion of feminine mimesis, which posits mimesis as a profoundly ambivalent yet subtly contentious act, this essay traces how such haircuts can reveal masculine logic of exclusion. In the process, I focus on hair as both material and symbolic surface of the body, the location of subjectivity.
locating hair as the corporeal surface
Hair, made of once living and now dead cells, surfaces from inside and covers the body, and it can be understood as both inside and outside of the body.1 Rooted in the body, hair is considered to be an intrinsic part of body matter and bodily cycles. Yet hair can also be easily detached from the body. Can this liminal entity of our bodily surface act performatively? Can the hair of Othered bodies, senseless dead cells, give a sense of the corporeality of the Other?2 These questions surface at the two scenes in the media coverage of “undocumented” (a word which suggests both the existence and nonexistence of supposedly-not-existing bodies) immigrants and their phantoms in the [End Page 183] border control narratives in Japan. The phantoms are the cut hair of the two daughters of these immigrants: two women, two haircuts, one inside and the other out. These two cases of the public appearance of undocumented immigrants and their hair-cutting daughters occurred separately and are unrelated to each other. However, together they (and the daughters’ hair) locate the bodies outside the “belonging,” pointing to the very real and corporeal “cut” of bodies from a community of belonging. But there is more to these narratives: the daughters’ hair that is removed by the act of cutting exposes the stale logic of rootedness in a traditional discourse of nation and ethnicity. It subverts the notion of roots. The daughters’ haircut then becomes an act of performance that threatens the imperial politics of belonging within which citizenship is formed and dictated. Like strands of our hair sporadically appearing without a trace on our daily surfaces—sink, floor, and even on our shoulders—these phantoms of immigrants narratives, apparitions of excluded bodies, often haunt the imagined surface of a national community.
Hair can also take on more meanings than bodily and social surface or roots. Starting with the story of Rapunzel and continuing to the contemporary hair-flipping performance of feminine sexiness in the US media, many cultures seem to confirm the idea that long feminine hair represents exuberant and enticing feminine sexuality. The analysis of female haircut performance that follows then extends to study the patriarchal nature of the national community that trims off and disciplines the raced and gendered bodies of the immigrants’ daughters (and their very corporeal body part) as well as finding the daughters’ act to constitute feminine performance, an intellectually calculated act (whether conscious or subconscious) that is highly sentient of the sexual politics of imperial heteropatriarchy.
in lieu of words: noriko’s haircut
Possibly one of the most hated figures in Japan in the year 2009, Noriko Calderon was only thirteen years old when she became a detested icon of the illegal alien. Her parents, Arlan and Sarah Calderon, had immigrated to Japan from the Philippines in 1997. Although undocumented, they were successful in building a life in Japan. Both parents worked in menial jobs and acquired good reputations for being diligent workers, and they eventually had a daughter, Noriko, who was growing up to be a regular Japanese teenager with a common Japanese female name...