As last week’s article alluded to, migration from Asia gained steam during from the late 1850s onward. Factors driving migration to and from offer a number of different reasons for this movement. Even though, at first blush, economic factors seem to prevail within the explanation the author examines, it quickly becomes evident that more complex reasons are behind Japanese migration to Peru.
Before I go on, I just wanted to point out how the issue of remittances has shifted over time. Until about give or take the 1980s and 90s, many migrants were treated as traitors in some countries of origin. All this changed when a number of governments (beginning with Mexico and India) began to realize how much money was coming through remittances. All of a sudden, a group of ‘traitors’ became heroes who sacrificed for their families, cities, and homeland. In the case of Peru, for example, remittances account for about USD$2 billion annually, which is peanuts if you compare it to the USD$21 billion going to Mexico each year. Yet it is interesting to see how a qualitative shift has taken place in how migrants are regarded.
The gold rush in the Americas and Australia became a point of interest for governments, private enterprises, and migrants alike. Governments in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Argentina, and Brazil, with large swaths of available cheap, or sometimes free land were able to capitalize in attracting migrants from different places and regions, with an affinity for European labour, which depending on the region meant Northern European such as in North America (Catholics such as the Italian s and Polish were regarded as ‘un-assimilateable’) and western Europeans in the Southern Cone (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and parts of Brazil).
On the other side of the Pacific, and in this case, Japan, migrants originated from a very specific geography; as well as social and cultural place in family hierarchy. If economics were our only lens, it would not make sense for only second or third sons to migrate; we would need to include women and the eldest son in each family. However, cultural proclivities, many times guide who migrates, which may or may not be the most ‘fit’ individual to do so. At the same time, it is interesting how the Meiji Monarchy decided to ‘outsource’ the issue of poverty by enticing the unwanted to leave for other lands.
Similarly to Chinese migrants, the first Japanese arrived as indentured workers to toil in cotton and sugar plantations, and like many, with thoughts of saving and going back after the four year contract was up. As history has shown however, it is rare for people to completely make a return.
One aspect of this migration, or at least one of the ideas behind it, was colonization through migration. However, what I found interesting was the absence of violence as with other colonization campaigns by empires (including the Japanese colonization of Korea and Manchuria). This idea of sending its subjects (Japan was not a democracy at the time) in order to help secure ‘the prosperity of the Japanese race’ seems a dubious argument at best in the way it was made. What does seem likely is the Crown shedding a positive light on their plans of ‘population control’ by getting rid of the unwanted poor from prefectures such Hiroshima, Okinawa, Kumamoto, and Fukuoka.
Peru’s rapid growth post-war with Chile it seems was not enough, it seems, to rid itself of the Social Darwinism prevalent in many regions of the globe. The drive to induce European migration and ‘improve our race’ only took a backseat when it became evident Peru could not compete with the nation building processes in countries with larger geographies, as well as the willingness to grant access to farmland. The want by Peruvian landowners to keep migrants from owning land became one of the central reasons for Peru’s failure to attract migrants. Even in their want to attract European migrants, Peruvians landowners wanted free labourers, but also restricted access to land ownership. It seems, not wanting any competition whatsoever helped contributed to a lack of innovation and competitiveness in the global marketplace. In comparison, for example, Argentina became one of the most successful economies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
This article also touches on an aspect of the nation-building process, which never ceases to amaze me: the power of the top-down dissemination of the concept of nation (ethnicity, language, culture, etc.) and how it has become embraced in many regions. In the case of Peru, it is especially interesting how this notion of nation, which really only included about 5% of the population (10% if you included western Europeans in general, and not just those of Spanish descent) was able to be so pervasive.
What do you think?