The Enemy within: Japanese Children Born of War and Discourses on WWII

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 16:00
Location: Seminarraum Geschichte 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Aya EZAWA, Leiden University, Netherlands

One of the most significant aspects of the experiences of many Dutch-Japanese children born of war, born to Indo-European (Dutch-Indonesian) women and Japanese men during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies (1942-1945), is that their identity and existence continues to be defined by past and present discourses of WWII. Rather than their supposed racial, ethnic, or cultural characteristics as ‘Japanese’, it is the discourse about the Japanese at war that prevails in the Indo-European community in the Netherlands, and their heritage as a child of a reviled enemy that has come to define their personal life and identity and made them feel rootless and isolated. Even more significantly, the differentiation and marginalization many children born of war experienced took place within the family and community of their upbringing. Many grew up with strained relations to their mothers and step-fathers, making them feel like outsiders with no ‘home’ or ‘real’ family or community to fall back on. In this paper, I examine this process of identity construction in the context of the experiences of Japanese-Indo-European children born of war, who resettled to the Netherlands in the aftermath of WWII. Now of pension age, their stories shed light not only on experiences of marginalization as children of the enemy, but more importantly, the role and relevance of public and private discourses which have silenced their existence and contributed to their marginal status within their own families and communities. Based on life story interviews, this paper highlights the long-term impact of family and community memories of war on their personal life courses, as well as the ways in which children born of war have begun to engage with, and negotiate the meaning of their existence in the context of discourses of WWII.