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The Japanese in multiracial Peru, 1899-1942


This study analyzes the integration of the Japanese into the politics of race and nation in Peru during the period from 1899 to 1942. The first generation of Japanese immigrants arrived in Peru at the apex of debates on national racial identity and popular challenges to the white oligarchy's exclusive hold on national political and economic power. This dissertation examines how not only elites, but also working- and middle-class movements advocated the exclusion of the Japanese as a way of staking their claims on the nation. In this study, I argue that Peru's marginalization of the Japanese sprang from racist structures developed in the colonial and liberal republican eras as well as from global eugenic ideologies and discourses of yellow peril that had penetrated Peru. The Japanese were seen through Orientalist eyes, conceptualized and homogenized as a race that acted as a single organism and that would bring only detriment to the Peruvian racial whitening project. Eugenics conflated women with their reproduction, leading racial science advocates to portray Japanese women in Peru as the nation's ultimate danger and accuse them of attempting to conquer Peru "through their wombs." The Japanese men and women who settled in Peru, however, were also actors in their Peruvian communities. Many Japanese laborers, largely Okinawan, were participants in rural labor movements in Peru. Policymakers, hacienda owners, and local power holders, however, undermined class-based challenges to their authority by demonizing the Japanese as a cultural, racial, and political threat to the Peruvian nation. In stepping out of their rung on the racial hierarchy, the Japanese shop keepers also provoked resentment both among their fellow Peruvian business owners and elements within the urban labor movement. The deeper the Japanese Peruvians sank their roots into Peru, the more shrill became the accusations that they were "inassimilable." Finally, opportunistic politicians played upon the Peruvian elites' deepest fears by accusing the Japanese immigrants of joining with Peru's indigenous people to launch a race war.

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