A little conversation with Japanese descendants in Brazil or a closer look at the history of Japanese immigration is enough to get to know the real content of Brazil-Japan relations: that of violence against the working class around the world.
SAO PAULO – The City Hall of São Paulo approved a civic parade in the Liberdade neighborhood to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Independence of Brazil, which will be held by 6 representative entities of the Japanese-Brazilian community. According to them, “the objective is to express gratitude to Brazil for welcoming millions of Japanese immigrants”.
The very arrival of Japanese immigrants in Brazil is fraught with controversy: Brazilian eugenicists wanted immigrants who could “whiten” a nation that had just abolished slavery, but which still had a large racialized population. The problem was that the Japanese, despite not being black or indigenous, were not white either, that is, they were not ideal for Brazil’s racial project.
A great racist figure of the time, Oliveira Viana says: “the problem of Japanese immigrant assimilation is infinitely more difficult to solve than that of immigrants of other affluent races here… the Japanese are like sulfur: insoluble” and Revista Ilustrada published: “As if blacks weren’t enough, [agora] we will have the yellow ones!”.
During the Second World War, a Brazilian submarine was shot down by a German attack and the government saw it as an opportunity to loot the assets of all citizens of Axis countries “in the name of national security”.
In practice, they expropriated Japanese-descendant workers from their homes and businesses, leaving them with nothing and expelling them from the city of Santos.
Silvia Sakuma’s family was one of those who lost almost everything at that time: “My father’s family, Roberto Sakuma, who was only seven years old at the time, was one of the 585 families that were expelled from Santos-SP, on July 8th. 1943. About 6,500 immigrants were forced to leave the city within 24 hours, under penalty of being arrested if they stayed. After hearing about the expulsion order, my grandfather was very worried about my grandmother who was 9 months pregnant. Before they even left the house, people began to loot everything they had, such as tools, carts, horses, crops. They had no one to ask for help, because the government was against them.”
On the first ship with immigrants from Japan half of them were of Okinawan origin – Okinawa is an archipelago with an indigenous population in Asia that was forcibly taken by Japanese imperialism.
Already weakened by the violence of the Japanese empire, which reduced the influence of women, criminalized practices such as original tattooing, banned local languages putting them at risk of extinction, Okinawans also began to suffer from the violence of US imperialism after the country. negotiate control of the archipelago at the end of World War II.
Control of the island was only reverted to Japan in 1972, something celebrated by the Japanese, but contested by the Okinawans themselves, as the US military apparatus was not withdrawn from the provinces.
It was with this questioning that some Okinawans in São Paulo held the event “50 years of Okinawa’s reversal: celebrate what?”, denouncing the imperialist and violent character in which the land was taken from the people and handed over to the interests of rich nations.
Hiromi Toma, one of the 9 organizers of this event, described the activities: “We collectively organized the event to give a voice and a face to people who went through the war and post-war experience with the American and Japanese military bases in Okinawa, showing reasons why there is nothing to celebrate. Among the various presentations that we had that day, we highlight the place of speech of these people on four fronts: the testimony of who the family came after the war and returned ‘post-Reversion’ to study in Okinawa; the documentary Video-depomentos 50 anos ‘Revisão’, made collectively with speeches from people who experienced this period to some degree; a video clip that expresses in photos taken in 2014-2015 the presence of military bases; and a conversation circle of Okinawan-Brazilian researchers to historically contextualize this date, show current situations in Okinawa and also how this spills over to our experience here in Brazil.”
Today, there is this narrative of peace and harmony between Brazil and Japan that omits the class struggle that exists within this relationship. The Liberdade neighborhood, known for the presence of “oriental” culture and lighting, was originally a suburban neighborhood where enslaved blacks fled to quilombos in the south zone. There was the Cemitério dos Aflitos, which received black people, indigenous people and the poor and where Chaguinhas, a black soldier, protested against 3 years of back pay.
While the Japanese-Brazilian bourgeoisie and its right-wing politicians intend to expel the black, northeastern and Arab population with bills to “sanitize” this city area with real estate speculation, the Movimento de Luta nos Bairros, Vilas e Favelas builds an occupation of house called Jean Jacques Dessalines which honors the leader of the Haitian Revolution and is a house for Bolivians, Venezuelans, Haitians and Brazilian migrants, rescuing the popular struggle character of the territory.
The relationship between Japan and Brazil that should be welcomed is not that of a false harmony that benefited the rich and left immigrants exploited, but the relationship of solidarity between the working class of different origins in the world that found itself in the struggle for housing, for the liberation of the peoples, for the right to the land from which it was uprooted.