Contested Identities among Japanese-Bolivians Pre-War and Post-War Descendants

  • Abstract:

    The first phase of Japanese migration (“pre-war migration”) to Bolivia started in 1899, when individual Japanese escaped from Peruvian plantations to Bolivian Amazonia. In the 1950s, two Japanese agricultural colonies were founded in Santa Cruz department (“post-war migration”). After a difficult start, many post-war Nikkei (Japanese descendants) have achieved considerable material wealth and an excellent reputation, whereas pre-war Nikkei have often been less successful. Although ‘Nikkei’ can apply to all those with Japanese ancestors abroad, not everybody is considered Nikkei in practice: many pre-war descendants do not identify as Nikkei or join Nikkei activities. However, at the same time, some pre-war leaders claim legitimacy as descendants of the first Bolivian Nikkei vis-à-vis post-war descendants. All these discourses have been influenced by official policies of the Japanese state, Japan’s economic situation and Bolivian notions of citizenship. So how is Bolivian Nikkei identity defined by whom, how and why? What are the discourses of inclusion and exclusion, where are intersections with class identification and what does that mean for the creation of a Bolivian Nikkei community? My research is based on a one-year stay in Bolivia (Santa Cruz area).