60 Years of Globalization, Migration, and Integration in the Nikkei Dominican Community — A Microgrant Reflection by Omar Pineda
From the streets of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles to those of São Paulo’s Liberdade district, Japan’s culture, media, and people have disseminated all over the world. Many have engaged the relationship between media and migration within the Japanese diaspora, focusing on the Nikkei communities that have formed in Latin America and the communities of descendant return migrant workers in Japan. However, few have made it the primary focus of their research. There are more persons of Japanese ethnic origin in just one South American nation, Brazil, than in all fifty U.S. states (1.5 million vs 900,000). Yet, it is only recently that case studies of Latin America’s Japanese community have gained more attention within the sphere of English language scholarship. Another shortcoming of western research concerning the Nikkei experience is in the scarcity of work that has concerned its smallest groups—minorities within the Japanese diaspora.
My senior thesis focused on the Dominican Republic as one of Japan’s few post-war emigration destinations and host to a Japanese diasporic community rarely studied by western scholars. Approximately 1,300 Japanese immigrants arrived in the Dominican Republic between 1956 and 1961, before nearly 84% of their population either returned to Japan or relocated to other Latin American countries. Those who remained were “Dominicanized”, acculturating to their host country while, to varying extents, maintaining ties to their native homeland. Information available on this community, limited to just a few pages within compilations on the Japanese diaspora, or as unelaborated statistics in charts or tables, is both scarce and redundant.
What has been the state of the Nikkei Dominican community within not only the Dominican Republic but internationally, and how has this been influenced by globalization? The evolution of media and migratory phenomena allows us to explain this narrative in a historical context. The entry of new cultures and ideas often meets resistance from the native people. Similarly, pressures to assimilate are met with reluctance from newcomer migrants. I propose that this confrontation produces new communities, be they physical or increasingly imagined as those that Benedict Anderson proposes, and that they differ in terms of their constituents. Taking Anderson’s contributions a step further past the nation state, are these communities localized or instead part of a transnational collective consciousness?
The complex processes of acculturation for Nikkei Dominicans have resulted in varying levels of integration and separation from the dominant majority. These have been generally influenced by two factors: the reactions of the receiving society to which they arrive and a temporal globalization effect, reflected in media’s modernization. In other words, the communities that Nikkei Dominicans transform and participate in worldwide have depended both on local attitudes at their migratory destinations and on the period in which they migrated, the latter of which is related to accessibility to media items that have made living transnationally much easier. Together, these factors have changed how much these individuals have needed to interact with locals, and in this way, media facilitates communities, tells us who they are composed of, and indicates how its members might interact with those outside of it. We found that these elements, especially on their influence on this group’s early acculturation processes, have made it so that they will be Dominicano Donde Sea, Dominican no matter where they are. This sort of identity does not necessarily hold for other Nikkei groups that have historically had much larger communities.
Although much of the foundation for this study is based on sources found in English, Spanish, and Japanese, my own findings depended heavily on ethnographic field work I conducted throughout the Dominican Republic, Japan and the U.S. In light of limited text sources, I gathered information through site visits and a total of 17 extensive interviews with first, second, and third generation Nikkei Dominicans in Santo Domingo, Constanza, Santiago de los Caballeros, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Nagoya, Gifu and Fukuoka. My 5CollDH microgrant also allowed me to travel and establish Nikkei Dominican contacts in New York City and Miami, U.S. cities heavily populated by Dominican immigrants. Interviews were conducted in Spanish, Japanese, or English, and took place between October 2015-January 2016.
My thesis has been an opportunity for me to learn about the Nikkei Dominican community, and also about the many rewards and challenges that large scale research projects involve. Much of what I have learned from this research experience will be extremely useful to me in a career in Public Health. I learned about the IRB process, conducting formal interviews, applying for funding, and about all of the great resources libraries can provide. Drawing a connection between Japan and the Dominican Republic, my mother’s birth country, was an important way for my journey with Japanese language and culture at Amherst to come full circle. Ultimately, this project has allowed me to not only deepen relationships within my Amherst community, but also form friendships in yet a few more corners of the world.
For further information on this project, please visit https://dominicanodondesea.wordpress.com/ where I have consolidated my findings, along with some of the many media items I collected over the past ten months.