Published in Korean in May 2012 in the conference proceedings of the conference 3rd Incheon Asia, Africa, Latin America Literature Forum: Finding the Global in the Local
University of California, Merced
For a published translation to Korean of this essay, click here
Anthropologists have praised how the flexible transnationalism of “nomadic” or multiply displaced subjects allows them to elude repressive state structures and state disciplining. Aihwa Ong states that “‘Flexible citizenship’ refers to the cultural logics of capital accumulation, travel, and displacement that induce subjects to respond fluidly and opportunistically to changing political-economic conditions. In their quest to accumulate capital and social prestige in the global arena, subjects emphasize, and are regulated by, practices favoring flexibility, mobility, and repositioning in relation to markets, governments, and cultural regimes” (6). However, global conflicts have added nuances of victimhood to the purported liberatory benefits of the flexibility of transnational ethnicities. Under certain circumstances, the same deterritorialization and freedom of spatial constraints that can liberate subjects from oppression in their home nation-state can also lead to cultural othering and to the biggest spatial constraint of them all: imprisonment. From this perspective, I shall discuss issues of citizenship, national identity, and racial anxiety as they are affected by foreign wartime propaganda and represented in Adiós to Tears: The Memoirs of a Japanese-Peruvian Internee in U.S. Concentration Camps (2000) (Namida no Adiósu, 1981). This testimonial was originally written in Japanese by Seiichi Higashide (1909-1997), an Issei born in the Japanese island of Hokkaido who migrated to Peru in 1930. Following in the footsteps of other successful Japanese immigrants, he soon became owner of several stores and the president of the Japanese Association in Ica. Yet his dream would be cut short when the US State Department reached an agreement with the Peruvian government to arrest Japanese Peruvians and deport them to internment camps in the US in order to use them as pawns in the exchange of prisoners of war with Japan. Higashide managed to escape recruitment for the mandatory military service in Japan while he was living in Peru, but this host nation was more successful in locating and arresting him. Considering that the dark chapter of the deportation of Japanese Latin Americans to U.S. concentration camps had not received much scholarly attention until recently, the publication and translation of Adiós to Tears is an invaluable landmark that allows us to hear the story from the victims’ perspective.
The narration of this betrayal by the Peruvian government is precisely what makes Adiós to Tears a testimonial account: the first-person narrator goes from an explanation of his individual trials to become the synecdochical voice of all members of the Japanese Peruvian community during the Pacific War. As is typical of the Latin American testimonio, Adiós to Tears was the first work published by the testimonialist, who was not a professional author but just a witness and victim of international repression. Likewise, Higashide’s main goal is not of an aesthetic nature; rather, his writing responds to a twofold commitment. First, his desire to inform the historical memory and conscience of Peru, the US, and Japan gives his book pedagogical overtones. Secondly, ethical concerns are at the core of most arguments: he denounces sociopolitical injustice and corruption, moves the reader to collective political action, and demands a public apology from the U.S. government as well as redress for the Latin American Nikkei deported to U.S. concentration camps. He also exposes the shortcomings of the Japanese Peruvian community. In all, the testimonialist hopes that his voice will provide formerly interned Japanese Latin Americans with political agency and, what is equally important, with a page in the history of the Pacific War. For this reason, from the onset of the narrative he states his claim to historical truth.
His book is part of a wider effort that expanded throughout his life in the US to seek justice and redress for his fellow Japanese Latin Americans whose civil rights were flagrantly violated during World War II. When Higashide and his peers found out that the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians created by the U.S. Congress in 1981 was focusing solely on the abuses committed against 110,000 Japanese Americans, they decided that this commission also had to hear the voice of former Japanese Latin American internees. Throughout the account of this sadly bizarre chapter in wartime history, the testimonialist affirms the authority of his voice as an eyewitness and as one of the victims who lived those tragic events. Of course, readers have to take into account the input of editors and others who glossed his text. Moreover, as any autobiographical text, Adiós to Tears is, by definition, subjective and it goes through a process of selection of memories that can lead to modifications or exaggerations of actual events. However, the veracity of Higashide’s perspective can be corroborated by contrasting it to historical studies such as Gardiner’s Pawns in a Triangle of Hate, Barnhart’s “Japanese internees from Peru,” and Emmerson’s “Japanese and Americans in Peru.” Higashide’s autobiographic, historical, and testimonial account provides a revealing insight into the influence of wartime foreign political propaganda on the formation of nativism, nationalistic xenophobia, and racial anxiety. More specifically, it exposes the manipulation by U.S. intelligence agencies of public opinion about the Nikkei community in Peru. Adiós to Tears is also an important document to understand the perception and self-perception of the Japanese diaspora in Peru as well as its significance for the formation of Peruvian national identity.
As Higashide explains, of the 2,118 persons of Japanese descent deported from thirteen Latin American countries, 84 percent came from Peru and 1,094 were family members. Only 79 persons of Japanese descent were allowed to return to Peru after the war was over. That the Peruvian government refused to accept the re-entry of deported Japanese alien residents after the end of the Pacific War proves that it had seen the armed conflict as an excellent opportunity to get rid of the unwanted Japanese presence in the country. We find additional evidence of Peruvian authorities’ aversion for Peruvian Nikkei in the fact that they demanded a selective repatriation policy that “would be lenient for Germans and highly restrictive for Japanese,” even though the latter were considered harmless by Washington and the former, dangerous (Gardiner 132).
In most cases, Peruvian Nikkei were arrested without evidence of illegal activity and when no charge had been made; afterward, no hearings were considered necessary and their assets in Peru were expropriated before they were embarked to an unknown destination. The deported Japanese Latin Americans were initially relocated in some of the ten internment camps administered by the War Relocation Authority, where they lived alongside the 110,000 Japanese Americans expelled from Hawaii and the west coast of the US. Some time later, however, they were lodged in Kenedy and Crystal City, two detention camps in Texas, and in one in Santa Fe, New Mexico. To Higashide’s dismay, among the one thousand Japanese Peruvians corralled and deported in the name of the Western Hemisphere’s security were not only resident aliens, but also native-born Peruvians and naturalized citizens (although some had been denationalized by a measure targeted at persons who supported the Axis powers and Nisei who had received their formal education in Japan). When Japanese Peruvians and their friends protested, regional and governmental officials would refuse admitting any responsibility by stating: “The American Government has given us orders” (Gardiner 91).
After the end of the war, considering that neither Peru nor the US would accept them, over 700 Japanese Peruvian men and over 1000 family members chose transportation to Japan (Barnhart 174). Other 300 remained in a legal no man’s land as “stateless” refugees in the US. In September of 1946, they were offered “parole” relocation in a farming community in Seabrook, New Jersey and 209 of them agreed to moving there as parolees. In spite of having been forcibly and illegally transferred by the U.S. government, Latin American Japanese were now considered “illegal aliens on conditional release” (Higashide 8). This strange situation, which had been designed to justify a second deportation or repatriation to Japan, would continue until 1954, when they were finally given entry visas.
Many Peruvians willingly collaborated with Peruvian and American officials’ political designs and, according to Higashide, Chinese shopkeepers were also suspect of collaboration with American instigators. He considers business competition and the Japanese invasion of China as plausible incentives. In any case, the FBI’s tactics would soon yield the expected results:
In 1939, outrageous rumors began flying about, and disquieting developments were reported from various parts of Peru. Completely unsubstantiated reports that the Japanese in Peru had organized a “fifth column,” that they had secretly built a military base, that they had landed large shipments of arms and ammunition somewhere in South America, etc., came to be rumored as if completely true. (Higashide 103)
During the following months, public opinion about Peruvian Nikkei gradually shifted from indifference to radical distrust and animosity. As to Peruvian officials and the government, they capitalized on this historic event to rid themselves of a social group they obviously despised.
In addition to spreading false rumors, another tactic used by U.S. intelligence agents was the creation of a blacklist of dangerous Axis nationals known as the Proclaimed List of Certain Blocked Nationals:
It was December 24, 1941. On that unforgettable day, two major Peruvian newspapers, El Commercio [sic] and La Prensa, published a lista negra, a “blacklist” of approximately 30 “dangerous Axis nationals” residing in Peru. Of the 30, approximately 10 were Japanese.
Shivers passed through me. “Can this really be true?” I thought. My name was included in the list. We learned that the list had been leaked to reporters by a local U.S. agency. (Higashide 114)
The Peruvian print media was quick to collaborate with an American propaganda machine designed to create distrust among the local population, to dishearten and bankrupt citizens from Germany, Japan, and Italy, and to expel the leaders of their communities.
Higashide provides one last example of anti-Japanese inflammatory propaganda in Peru. In the last days of 1942, the FBI noticed a new fashion trend among Japanese Peruvians and managed to turn it into the so-called “people’s uniform incident”: a tailor in Lima, inspired by the latest fashion in Japan, had decided to use khaki-colored cloth to make what the FBI inaccurately claimed were “military uniforms.” The tailor’s claim that the uniforms were simply a way to save money in wartime was found unconvincing. Immediately following the FBI’s reports, twenty employees of the tailor shops and the people who had placed orders were arrested and deported to a concentration camp in Panama, leaving their families behind.
Along the same lines, following unsubstantiated rumors about a potential landing of the Imperial Japanese Army in Peru and about the accumulation of weapons by Japanese residents, many were inhumanely removed from coastal areas or given only three days to move elsewhere: “In order to enforce the expulsion order, the governor of Ancash Province went out himself, snapping a bullwhip, to force out local Japanese” (Higashide 127). Higashide denounces other unjust practices such as sending government auditors to Japanese-owned shops to confiscate the profits from daily sales, leaving only a prescribed amount for the owner’s daily expenses. Soon, all large Japanese-owned businesses were harassed by this economic warfare into closing or were simply ordered to close.
While the strategic use of false rumors was designed to turn Peruvian public opinion against the Axis powers and its overseas citizens, there was also a more practical reason for the forced transportation of Peruvian Nikkei to internment camps in the US: “American authorities apparently intended to transfer all ‘enemy aliens’ residing in South America to the US for the purpose of exchange, if necessary, for Americans held in Japan” (Higashide 129). Although Adiós to Tears opens with a paragraph in which the testimonialist declares his unconditional love for his three motherlands (Japan, Peru, and the US), he now voices his feeling of betrayal:
Peru had severed diplomatic ties with Japan, but it was still a third party to the dispute. Even if it had been pressured by the United States, what country with any pride and independence would have said, “Yes. We shall comply,” and hand over innocent people? If it were only those with Japanese citizenship, a case might have been made. But the Peruvian government had given in to American pressure even to the point of deporting naturalized citizens and Peruvian citizens who had been born there. (142-43)
Beyond the condemnation of American wartime propaganda, Higashide ponders about additional causes of the anti-Japanese riots during the Pacific War. In his view, Peruvian Nikkei were themselves partly at fault for their feeling of cultural superiority and their refusal to identify with their host country or become naturalized. These attitudes were sometimes reflected in the tradition of sending children to study in Japan. Higashide also criticizes their voluntary isolation from Peruvian society, which created a separate “nation within a nation” (Higashide 77). He also lists the fact that they were the last wave of immigrants, their rapid economic success, and their decision to congregate in Lima, instead of dispersing throughout the country.
In addition, Higashide provides examples of Japanese resistance. For instance, some avoided deportation by hiding, paying “substitutes” to take their places, or through the use of bribes. He also mentions the use of litigation and the defiance of the “anti-citizenship” group in the detention camp, who advocated renouncing U.S. citizenship. Other times Higashide is critical of some oppositional attitudes, such as that of a group of internees that decided to protest by breaking chinaware, and expresses again his detachment from fellow internees who, upon hearing news that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, considered committing ritual suicide.
Japanese Peruvian women were also active in confronting the manipulation of their families by international interests. The heroic demeanor of Higashide’s wife first while the latter was hiding in an excavated secret room in their house, and later, when she was left behind in Peru, is an excellent example. During these trying times, her courage challenged the testimonialist’s early doubts about the character of Nisei—she proved to be a “true daughter of Japan” and an example of the “way of the warriors” (131). At a personal level, Higashide decided to avoid the government’s economic boycott against Japanese nationals by closing the shop and starting a new one with a business permit in his wife's name. Later, in a new example of resistance and ingenuity, he outwitted Peruvian authorities by hiding in an underground room in his own home.
From the time when a fellow Japanese national gave him the Otani Company in the town of Cañete, Higashide made a conscious effort to make acquaintances beyond the Japanese Peruvian community to integrate himself into his new country or, in his own words, to have a “sense of belonging” (8). That these upper-level social groups accepted him must have seemed like a blessing at first; however, this hard-earned social prestige was later deemed enough to warrant the label of “dangerous” in the eyes of U.S. intelligence agencies. Indeed, his success in securing the affection and support of the Peruvian elite thanks to both his economic success and his position as a leader of the Japanese community in Ica ended up bringing about his demise: in spite of having avoided involvement in political activities, he was one of the first victims of wartime anti-Japanese propaganda. Some time later, he found out the true reasons behind his arrest and deportation: “rather than being influential persons or leaders within their respective communities, those on the first list were Axis nationals who had involved themselves deeply with the local Peruvian establishment” (Higashide 115).
In conclusion, Adiós to Tears is a remarkable testimonial because it shows how, along with the violation of human rights committed against Japanese Americans during World War II, the U.S. government went beyond its borders in its recruitment of pawns for the exchange of prisoners of war. Therefore, it adds a new page to the history of the Japanese diaspora, and to the sad episode of the deportation of Latin American residents and citizens to U.S. internment camps. At the same time, it reveals additional nuances to the historical notion of citizenship in Peru and the rest of Latin America. This testimonio is also crucial to understand how an outside influence successfully overturned Peruvian officials’ widespread support for the Axis powers, and turned mainstream population against their Japanese neighbors, including those naturalized Peruvian or born in Peru. Cultural prejudice together with economic competition and wartime anxiety had become the perfect culture medium for the birth of anti-Japanese hysteria. Adiós to Tears also challenges the traditional debates about Peruvian national identity that would only consider the dichotomy between Criollos and indigenous people, disregarding people of African and Asian descent. Finally, even though the cosmopolitanism of “flexible citizenship” can be socially and economically rewarding in times of peace, Higashide’s testimony shows its structural limits, dangers, and personal costs during wartime, regardless of how much hard-earned cultural capital and social prestige have been accumulated as a strategy of flexible positioning.
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