Embodying BelongingRacializing Okinawan Diaspora in Bolivia and Japan

Embodying BelongingRacializing Okinawan Diaspora in Bolivia and Japan

Taku Suzuki

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824833442

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


This book is a study of an Okinawan diasporic community in South America and Japan. Under extraordinary conditions throughout the twentieth century, Okinawans left their homeland and created various diasporic communities around the world. Colonia Okinawa, a farming settlement in the tropical plains of eastern Bolivia, is one such community that was established in the 1950s. Although they have flourished as farm owners in Bolivia, thanks to generous support from the Japanese government since Okinawa's reversion to Japan in 1972, hundreds of Bolivian-born ethnic Okinawans have left the Colonia in the last two decades and moved to Japanese cities to become manual laborers in construction and manufacturing industries. This book challenges the unidirectional model of assimilation and acculturation commonly found in immigration studies. In its depiction of the transnational experiences of Okinawan-Bolivians, the book argues that transnational Okinawan-Bolivians underwent the various racialization processes—in which they were portrayed by non-Okinawan Bolivians living in the Colonia and native-born Japanese mainlanders in Yokohama and self-represented by Okinawan-Bolivians themselves—as the physical embodiment of a generalized and naturalized “culture” of Japan, Okinawa, or Bolivia. Racializing narratives and performances ideologically serve as both a cause and result of Okinawan-Bolivians' social and economic status as successful large-scale farm owners in rural Bolivia and struggling manual laborers in urban Japan. The book is a critical examination of the contradictory class and cultural identity (trans)formations of transmigrants; a qualitative study of colonial and postcolonial subjects in diaspora, and an attempt to theorize racialization as a social process of belonging within local and global schemes.