Japanese Brazilian Migrants' Views on the Status of Ethnic and National Categories in Japan

Friday, July 18, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: F201
Oral Presentation
Ernani ODA , Department of Sociology, University of Campinas, Brazil
Recent studies have tried to avoid the pitfalls of essentializing international migrants as homogenous ethnic “groups” or “communities” by focusing on the transnational spaces and the hybrid practices that connect migrants’ sending and receiving countries. However, by restricting its attention to a duality between the country of origin and the country of destination, these efforts frequently neglect other important relations that lie beyond this dualism. Some scholars have responded to this difficulty by adopting a new kind of transnationalism that investigates migrants not based on ethnic or national categories, but on aspects that are more comprehensive and diverse, such as the religious practices of migrants. In this presentation, however, I examine the specific case of Japanese Brazilian migrants in Japan, and argue that one other possible strategy to deal with essentialism is to take ethnic or national categories that are rather essentialist as a starting point, but then, by critically examining the way they are interpreted by migrants themselves, develop a perspective that undermines the very essentialism of these categories. Based on fieldwork and life story interviews, I investigate how Japanese Brazilians in Japan often make use of essentialist categories about Brazilian and Japanese identity, but at the same time produce discourses that connect these categories to a much wider and even surprising horizon that includes other ethnic and national categories such as other migrant groups from Asia, North America and Europe. While also treated in an essentialist fashion at first, these unexpected new categories also allow Japanese Brazilians to move beyond this essentialism, for as they unveil new kinds of conflicts and relations, Japanese Brazilians are able to point out and make sense of social spheres that are not restricted to ethnic or national boundaries. These include, for instance, issues related to urban lifestyles and consumption culture.