Posted by Amy Obermeyer, doctoral student in Comparative Literature at NYU
The history of Japanese immigration to, and their descendants in, Peru is a vexed story that seem more at home in a spy novel of “international intrigue” than in the pages of academic scholarship. It begins in the late-nineteenth century on a stranded ship with a “cargo” of Chinese indentured workers bound for the now-illicit Peruvian “coolie” trade, becomes entangled with extraordinary rendition during World War II, and rises to international attention at the end of the twentieth century, with the ascent of an infamous dictator who, during campaign appearances, was photographed in turn carrying samurai swords and dressed in “traditional” Incan apparel. While such incidents may appear as merely interesting or perhaps salacious episodes in the continuously-developing process of global capitalism, they are not singular. Rather than being an exceptional case, the trajectory of Peruvian-Japanese relations underscores the systemic paradoxes at the heart of liberalism and modernity, paradoxes that cannot fully be accounted for within a traditional area studies framework, which typically separates Japanese imperialism from the historically subaltern position of Japanese Latin Americans. These paradoxes have remained partially-hidden specifically in the Peruvian Nikkei context by way of a conjuncture of state interventions and academic limitations. Yet to elide the multifocal world-historical context of these events is not only to subtly reify the dispossession and physical erasure of scores of individuals at the conjuncture of three sovereign states, but also to miss potential insights into the rationale of modernity in the global context. Seiichi Higashide’s 2000 testimonio, Adios to Tears, however, provides a means of positioning such paradoxes within the multiple and sometimes competing histories, while reinscribing subjectivity in a world-systems context.