domingo, 7 de febrero de 2010

Building the nation from the outside: Flexible citizenship, American war propaganda, and the birth of anti-Japanese hysteria in Peru.

Published in One World Periphery Reads the Other. Knowing the “Oriental” in the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula. Ed. Ignacio López-Calvo. Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. 130-47


Deep are my feelings for the Latin country I call my “second motherland”

Seiichi Higashide

I looked into the faces of these humble, bewildered people—shopkeepers, farmers, carpenters, barbers, and fishermen—starting out involuntarily on a voyage to an unknown future. These were not spies, saboteurs, bomb throwers, or plotters against the state.

John K. Emmerson, Third Secretary of the American Embassy in Peru

For some time now, anthropologists have praised how the flexible transnationalism of “nomadic” or multiply displaced subjects allows them to elude repressive state structures and state disciplining. In this context, referring to the cultural logics of Chinese transnationality, 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. As we will see in this essay, 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. As Ong posits, “even under conditions of transnationality, political rationality and cultural mechanisms continue to deploy, discipline, regulate, or civilize subjects in place or on the move. Although increasingly able to escape localization by state authorities, traveling subjects are never free of regulations set by state power, market operations, and kinship norms” (19-20).

From this perspective, I will 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 (or first-generation Japanese emigrant) born in the Japanese island of Hokkaido who migrated to Peru in 1930. Following in the footsteps of other successful Japanese immigrants, Higashide soon became owner of several stores and the president of the Japanese Association in Ica (a town 500 miles south of Lima). Yet his dream would be cut short when the United States State Department reached an agreement with the Peruvian government to arrest Japanese Peruvians and deport them to concentration camps (euphemistically termed “internment,” “relocation,” or “alien detention” camps at the time) in the United States in order to use them as pawns in the exchange of prisoners of war with Japan. While Higashide managed to escape recruitment for the mandatory military service in Japan while he was living in Peru, 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.

Adiós to Tears as a Testimonio

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. Also in consonance with the tradition of the testimonio, 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 United States, 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. As we will see, 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 United States (sending letters to members of Congress and even to President Ronald Reagan) 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. They were determined to expose how they were arrested or kidnapped between 1942 and 1944, imprisoned without charge in their respective Latin American countries, and transported at different times in seven different evacuation ships and one army transport airplane to Panama, and the United States.

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 (who organized and selected information, added photographs, and so on) and others who glossed his text (there is a foreword by C. Harvey Gardiner, a preface by Elsa H. Kudo, and an epilogue by Julie Small). 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,” Emmerson’s chapter “Japanese and Americans in Peru,” included in The Japanese Thread, and Personal Justice Denied, a report of the United States Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. As to the motivations for writing Adiós to Tears, the testimonialist cites the urging of his children to leave a record of his life for them. It is clear from the onset of this chronological account, however, that he directs it to a wider audience than his children, even if he chose to use his native language. 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.

Anti-Japanese Xenophobia in Peru

As Higashide explains, of the 2,118 persons of Japanese descent (2264, according to Stephanie Moore) deported from thirteen Latin American countries, 84 percent (approximately 1,800) came from Peru and 1,094 were “family members who responded to the U.S. State Department’s summons to voluntarily join their interned fathers [and husbands], following a scathing protest by the Japanese government that the U.S. was inhumanely allowing women and children left behind to suffer” (177). Only 79 persons of Japanese descent (mostly Nissei and naturalized Peruvians) 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 (like their counterparts from Ecuador and El Salvador) 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 United States. Some time later, however, they were lodged in two detention camps in southern Texas known as Kenedy and Crystal City, which were run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and in an all-male one in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Initially, thirteen states joined the treaty that shipped at least 8,500 Axis nationals from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States during World War II: Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama (including the Panama Canal Zone), and Peru. Later, British Honduras (Belize), Chile, Cuba, and Paraguay would join them. 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 [second-generation Japanese] 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).

According to the report Personal Justice Denied, elaborated by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, before any deportations occurred, almost 500 Japanese Peruvians (978, according to Emmerson [139]) had requested repatriation at the Spanish Embassy in Lima, which represented Japan’s interests in Peru and played the role of protecting power for Japanese Latin American internees (308). While most of the first 141 deportees that left Callao on April 4, 1942 aboard the S.S. Etolin were volunteers, the majority of the other Peruvian Nikkei in the concentration camps had been forcibly deported (other than family members who wished to be reunited with their father or husband). After the end of the war, considering that neither Peru nor the United States 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 United States. 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). Since their passports had been confiscated before arriving in the United States and the U.S. State Department had forbidden American consuls in Latin America to issue visas to the Japanese Latin American deportees, they entered the country “illegally,” according to the Immigration and Naturalization Services (Gardiner 29). 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.

The historian Harvey Gardiner points out that contacts between the Peruvian and U.S. governments regarding the deportation and internment of Japanese Peruvians had begun during the 1938 Pan American Conference in Lima (10). Three decades after the events took place, Third Secretary of the American Embassy in Peru, John K. Emmerson, referred to President Manuel Prado’s cabinet in these terms: “Rarely has a foreign government cooperated so enthusiastically in actions urged by Washington” (135). As Higashide reveals, in the late 1930s U.S. intelligence agencies realized that a large number of officials in several Latin American countries, including Peru, Argentina and Chile, were increasingly showing estrangement from the United States and expressing their affinity with the Axis Powers. To reverse this situation, in June 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigations to post agents in U.S. embassies in Latin America to carry on intelligence-gathering operations. Their objective was to pressure South American governments, promote animosity against the Axis powers among the civilian population, and supervise the activities of pro-Axis sympathizers and “potentially dangerous” Axis nationals (mostly, community leaders) in order to prevent subversive propaganda, espionage, or sabotage. Lacking competence in Japanese and often trusting questionable Peruvian sources, FBI agents propagated rumors about the “military-type” organization of the Japanese Peruvian community and its plans to create a “fifth column.” They also exaggerated the number of males and the percentage of them who had served in the Japanese army (Gardiner 10). By the same token, Gardiner cites Ambassador R. Henry Norweb’s eagerness to improve diplomatic relations with Peru (a country that could provide a significant economic contribution to the war) by helping its government get rid of the “threat” posed by residents of Japanese descent, as it had already been done in Panama (13-14).

Many Peruvians willingly collaborated with these officials’ political designs and, according to Higashide, Chinese shopkeepers were also suspect of collaboration with American instigators. With no proof to back up this speculation, he considers business competition and the Japanese invasion of China as plausible incentives. Higashide’s guess is confirmed by Emmerson, who writes in his memoirs about the Chinese informants who aided the U.S. embassy. In any case, according to Gardiner, even though Sino-Peruvian merchants were happy to see their Japanese competitors included in the Proclaimed List, lack of close contact with the Japanese Peruvian community since the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) severely limited the amount of information they could provide.

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 (or perhaps passive prejudice and economic jealousy) 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. Some of them, such as Dr. Javier Correa Elías, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Pedro Beltrán, the Peruvian ambassador to the United States, were in favor of the deportation of all Japanese nationals in Peru (Gardiner 64, 106).

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)

As we can see, 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.

Dark clouds became darker when, in 1942, representatives from the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela created the Emergency Advisory Committee for Political Defense, which recommended Latin American governments the internment of Axis nationals and the close control of potential subversive activities. On January 24, 1942, the Peruvian government severed diplomatic ties with Japan and the deportation of leaders of the Japanese Peruvian community began. For months, the United States continued to encourage and facilitate arrests and deportations, including that of Higashide. Yet, in his testimonial, he never abandons his good humor and confesses that he actually felt proud, since this surprising notoriety somehow reflected his achievements. 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). Those destined for Talara were transported through the desert in the extreme heat of summertime for two and a half days, in uncovered military trucks and without food provisions. Others met an even more tragic fate: several members of the group that was moved to the Huaraz region (the mountain town of Huaraz is 10,000 feet above sea level) could not adjust to the unfavorable climate and died of disease. 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. The beneficiaries of this economic warfare, he explains, were their business rivals: Chinese merchants who bought the businesses and Japanese owners of small shops who flourished with the elimination of competition.
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 United States: “American authorities apparently intended to transfer all ‘enemy aliens’ residing in South America to the United States for the purpose of exchange, if necessary, for Americans held in Japan” (Higashide 129). As Gardiner has explained, in the plans for the exchange of prisoners of war, the Japanese government had designated ten international merchants from Peru and Bolivia and twenty-five Japanese residents of Mexico. However, Japan had not requested the repatriation of the 226 Peruvian Nikkei included by the United States in the exchange list and, in fact, was not interested it. Eventually, of the 737 Latin American Nikkei (55 percent of the total exchange) who were used as pawns and who sailed aboard the M.S. Gripsholm from New York to Japan, 484 were from Peru (Gardiner 84). The historian Stephanie Moore cites the oral testimony of the Peruvian citizen Naeko Tamashiro (recorded by Wesley Ueunten, of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project; Lima, Peru, March 25, 1999), in which the latter remembers the horrors of her deportation to Okinawa, then under United States control:

Not even at night could we rest… at night, Americans and non-Americans—there were Filipinos among the soldiers—would come to our village […] to rape women  […]. They broke into homes. Today, one can go to a court, but back then, one could only cry in silence. After the war, there were many of such incidents. Many women, who now must be seventy or eighty, suffered. (n.p.; my translation)

Throughout the narrative, Higashide never hides his disappointment with the violation of human rights perpetrated by the United States (a country that he had always admired for its principles of freedom and equality), even if they took place in wartime and the Axis nations were responsible for similar or worse injustices: “Why, then, had that country moved to take such unacceptable measures? Where was the spirit of individual rights and justice that had filled the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? If I termed Peru, even provisionally, a ‘third rate country,’ was not America, in this instance, no different?” (143). Likewise, he voices his disappointment with Peru, the host country where he had found a new life and started a family. In fact, his final deportation culminates a series of disappointments with Peru that had begun early in his arrival, when he did not expect to find the desolate desert terrain of the Peruvian coast. To this first negative reaction to the local landscape, he adds a description of his cultural shock upon learning about Peruvians’ penchant for bribery, theft, alcohol abuse, and superstition. Although Adiós to Tears opens with a paragraph in which the testimonialist declares his unconditional love for his three motherlands (Japan, Peru, and the United States), he now voices his feeling of betrayal:

Locked within its hold, I suddenly became very angry. I had earlier felt a deep hatred towards wars, but now I grew angry at the cowardliness of the Peruvian government. If Peru had been a direct enemy of Japan, I would have understood my situation. 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 eruvian citizens who had been born there. […] I had always protested when I heard Peru called “a third-rate country” or an “uncivilized country,” but now I felt justified in using such terms myself. (142-43)

Although at first the United States had only asked for the deportation of diplomatic and consular officials of the Axis powers, enemy aliens considered dangerous, and some Japanese businessmen, the Peruvian government preferred to get rid of its entire Japanese community. Later, lack of coordination between Peruvian and American officials led to the deportation of Japanese nationals and even Peruvians of Japanese descent who were neither considered dangerous nor included in the blacklists compiled by the American embassy. Furthermore, when men on the Proclaimed List escaped deportation through bribery or substitution, the Peruvian police arrested others just to fill the numbers (sometimes from Peruvian prisons). Guided by contempt for this ethnic group, they often used coercion to benefit from the situation. To make matters worse, after the war was over, Peru used the exclusionary law against Japanese immigration it had promulgated in 1940 to forbid the return of Peruvian Nikkei deported to American concentration camps while simultaneously requesting the return of German internees. Indeed, after President Harry Truman signed a decree for the expulsion of all the Latin American internees still in the United States, Peru was one of the twelve Central and South American countries that decided, in the 1945 international conference of American states that took place in Mexico City, not to accept the return of their Japanese residents. So determined was the Peruvian government to not allow the re-entry that it took the issue to the United Nations. Eventually, as Higashide notes, Peru would allow the return of 79 persons who held Peruvian citizenship, but 364 of the original 2,118 detainees “remained in the United States with no place to go” (Higashide 177). The complaints of the Spanish embassy were to no avail.

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 (the equivalent of the Kibei in the United States). Higashide also criticizes their voluntary isolation from Peruvian society, which created a separate “nation within a nation” (Higashide 77). Along with a lack of interest in assimilating into mainstream society, Higashide lists other causes behind this new anti-Japanese sentiment, including 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.

Japanese Peruvian Resistance

Japanese Peruvians were not passive victims of international interests during the Pacific War. Along with the denunciation of racism and injustice, Higashide also provides examples of Japanese resistance. For instance, some avoided deportation by hiding, paying “substitutes” to take their places, or through the use of bribes. These acts of resistance continued after the deportations. He mentions the defiance of the “anti-citizenship” group in the detention camp, who advocated renouncing U.S. citizenship. As he explains, they received harsh treatment from American authorities and were placed in extremely crowded conditions. Another form of resistance used by Japanese Peruvian internees was litigation. Following the example of some German internees who had filed habeas corpus petitions to challenge their detention, claiming that they were not natives or citizens of an enemy country as stated in the Alien Enemy Act of 1789, Japanese Peruvians hired Wayne M. Collins, a San Francisco attorney who was visiting Crystal City at the time, to pursue the same goals.

In other passages, Higashide is critical of some oppositional attitudes. He condemns, for example, the demeanor of a group of internees that he calls “small frogs.” Considering it a “war of attrition,” these single men decided to protest by breaking chinaware, thinking that their destruction of state property would decrease the enemy’s material resources. At one point, Higashide voiced his embarrassment, an action that gained him a reputation for being pro-American: “I grew irritated by such foolishness and warned them to stop. I ‘sermonized’ to them that, as Japanese, they were representatives of a great civilization and were obligated to behave in a higher, more civilized manner” (159). Later in the narrative, Higashide expresses again his detachment from a Japanese militaristic ideology that had survived in the isolated Nikkei community in Peru. He describes how some of his fellow internees, upon hearing news that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, considered committing ritual suicide: “Speaking very loudly, the Peruvian businessman addressed the Japanese American, ‘If this report is true, we should take up short swords and mutually stab each other in suicide here and now. Is that not so?’” (173). As we can see, a collective psychology that had been characterized by its cohesiveness throughout the months of internment now begins to gradually break apart.
Along with their husbands, 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). Gardiner also mentions the rage of Japanese Peruvian women who were ordered to clean toilets and bathrooms aboard the Cuba: “The outspokenness of the Japanese women, contradicting their usual quiet and self-effacing demeanor, possibly derived from the moral and psychological reinforcement their husbands provided” (94). Curiously, their behavior seems to go against Gardiner’s expectations, who had insisted, throughout his book, on the docility and cooperativeness of Japanese internees in contrast with the belligerent attitude of their German counterparts.

At a personal level, Higashide decided to avoid the government’s economic boycott against Japanese nationals by becoming his wife’s “shop manager.” By closing the shop and starting a new one with a business permit in her name, he hoped that her status as a Peruvian citizen would prevent the closing of their business. Later, in a new example of resistance and ingenuity, he outwitted Peruvian authorities by hiding in his own home. In his underground room, he was able to listen to broadcasts from Japan as he had connected the antenna of his shortwave radio to the antenna at a neighboring school. After almost one year in hiding, in January 1944 Higashide made the mistake of thinking that it was safe to appear in public and was arrested. However, as happened when he first read his name in the blacklist, he felt proud: “While it is debatable whether or not I was a major figure, the fact was I was the only person arrested in the province of Ica this time. Four detectives had been sent from Lima to arrest me. Perhaps, I thought, I was a major figure after all” (136).

Eventually, he was placed in a urine-soaked jail cell where he had to eat “disgusting, smelly meals” (239), while waiting to be deported to an undisclosed location. On the day of his deportation, Higashide realized that he was a “prisoner of war” when he was led to the gangway by American soldiers carrying rifles. In a scene that is eerily reminiscent of the arrival of Chinese coolies to Latin America and the Caribbean, Japanese Peruvian prisoners were forced to undress and surrender all their possessions. Then, they were locked into the hold of a ship that would take them to concentration camps first in Panama, where they did hard labor without pay, and then in the United States. Since Higashide did not have his family with him, he was sent to Kenedy, a camp for “single men.” Six months had passed after being deported from Peru, when in July 1944 he was finally reunited with his wife and five children at the “family camp” in Crystal City, Texas. He would spend two and a half years there. The agreements for the treatment of prisoners of war reached in the Geneva Convention of 1929 were violated by putting Japanese Latin American civilians to unpaid hard labor both during voyages and in the Panama Canal Zone. The United States also breached the international law that prohibited sending prisoners from a nonbelligerent state to a belligerent one.

The price of social prestige and assimilation

Aihwa Ong maintains that “in translocal strategies of accumulation, the migrant’s ability to convert economic capital into social prestige is limited by the ethnoracial moral order of the host society” (25). This statement could certainly explain Higashide’s trials. From the time when a fellow Japanese national gave him the Otani Company in the town of Cañete (located in southern Lima Region), Higashide made a conscious effort to make acquaintances beyond the imaginary (albeit seemingly insurmountable) borders of the Japanese Peruvian community. He was interested in making this type of connections not only for business purposes but also 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 (which included prominent figures in political, business, and law enforcement circles) 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. His first reaction, Higashide confesses, was wondering why such a young man without political affiliations, with modest economic success in a provincial town, and who had been in Peru for only a decade would be included in the blacklist. Only some time later would he find 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). Months of extenuating work in the local food processing factory in Seabrook, New Jersey, and the subsequent relocation to Chicago would eventually lead Higashide to economic success also in the United States, but he never forgot the injustice: he would devote the rest of his life to educating the public about this little known injustice and to requesting redress from the U.S. government for this violation of human rights. The struggle continues today thanks to the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project (JPOHP).


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. concentration camps. At the same time, it reveals additional nuances to the historical notion of citizenship in Peru and the rest of Latin America. As Barnhart points out,

The drastic treatment meted out by an American state, Peru, to a group of its
citizens with the encouragement and assistance of another democracy, the United States, and eventually with the sanction of all the republics of the Western Hemisphere reveals the sad level to which the status of citizenship in this democratic nations declined under the pressures of prejudice and war. (178)

This testimonio is also crucial to understand how an outside influence (in this case American anti-Japanese agitators) 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.

One of the protagonists of this deportation program, Emmerson, tried to find an explanation for the violation of the human rights of innocent Nikkei in the atmosphere of the times: “The war against Japan was a total war. After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the enemy was deemed capable of any act, no matter how unreasonable or unlikely. As a consequence, the enthusiastic exploitation of prejudice, hatred, emotion, and covetousness became respectable and acceptable” (149). However, he also admits his shame in having participated in the deportation-internment program:

As I look back on the Peruvian experience I am not proud to have been part of the Japanese operation. One steeled oneself against the heartbreak being
inflicted on hundreds of innocent Japanese caught up in the war-generated
hysteria that marked each of them a suspect. It is hard to justify our pulling
them from their homes of years and herding them, whether born in Japan or in Peru, onto ships bound for a strange land, where they would live in
concentration camps. (148)

At any rate, the end result was the tragic disruption of the lives of hundreds of Latin American Nikkei, some of which were separated from their families forever. 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.

Works Cited

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Bertin, Gilles. “Migrants’ US hopes sunk after Peru hell.” The 21Feb. 2007. , accessed 14 March 2009.
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Gardiner, C. Harvey. Pawns in a Triangle of Hate. The Peruvian Japanese and the United States. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1981.
Higashide, Seiichi. Adiós to Tears: The Memoirs of a Japanese-Peruvian Internee in U.S. Concentration Camps. Foreword, C. Harvey Gardiner; preface, Elsa H. Kudo; epilogue, Julie Small. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.
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Moore, Stephanie. “Los Nikkei internados durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial: La larga lucha por una reparación justa.” Discover 12 March 2007. , accessed 14 March 2007.
Ong, Aihwa. Flexible Citizenship. The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1999.
United States Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. “Appendix: Latin Americans.” Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Foreword by Tetsuden Kashima. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 1997.

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