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The Multiple Identities of the Nikkei Community

Children returning or arriving from Japan: Challenges and proposals

Within the context of international migrations and specifically within the dekasegi migratory movements (Brazilians workers in Japan), we can highlight their effects on the emotional and cognitive development of children, while remembering that those children are passive participants of this movement—it’s not up to them to decide to go to Japan, to remain there, or to return to Brazil, even though they suffer every consequence of this migration.

The children who remain in Brazil while their parents go to work in Japan and those who live with their parents in Japan, all of them, to a lesser or greater extent, face difficulties as a result of the migratory process. After more than 20 years since the beginning of the migrations, the children’s profile has been changing, with the same phenomenon taking place among the returned children, who are the focus of today’s lecture. Currently, the majority of this population consists of children born in Japan and for whom Brazil is a new and completely unknown country. Therefore, they can be characterized as new immigrants. The complicating factor in studies about those children is the great difficulty in locating them: we don’t know their exact numbers or where in Brazil they’re arriving; in other words, we don’t know where they are.

The general state of these children when they arrive in Brazil and how the process of (re)adaptation will take place depends on the quality of the child’s life in Japan. That includes a series of factors, beginning with where she spent time or lived in Japan, considering that the infrastructure for the reception of foreigners varies according to city and province. For instance, access or lack thereof to Brazilian schools not only in terms of economic access—for monthly tuitions are quite high—but also the very existence of this option, since those schools can only be found in areas with a larger concentration of Brazilians. The type of welcome they encountered at Japanese schools, the time and quality of their stay in Japan, their age at the time they went to Japan or returned from there, the child’s nationality, the family’s stability, the parents’ attitudes, existing social networks, among other issues, end up greatly influencing the quality of life those children had in Japan.

Reflecting a little on the difficulties those children and adolescents experienced while living in Japan, one can highlight the following: experiences related to prejudice and discrimination, difficulties with the language and culture, difficulties with relationships, little understanding on the part of Japanese professors in regard to the education of children living in bi- or multicultural environments, among others. One issue that has been frequently discussed pertains to those children referred to as “double limited.” This has become the favorite term among specialists who fight against the use of the word “semi-lingual,” even though both words carry the same meaning. The child labeled “double limited” lacks the ability to fully communicate in either language (Japanese or Portuguese), and a large number of Brazilian children and teenagers are known to be in this condition, especially within the last few years.

During her development, in order for the child to acquire the capacity to think—especially abstract thoughts—she must have acquired a language to a certain extent, being such acquisition slow according to researchers on the subject. School interruptions, changes, and transfers can exacerbate the problem, on top of which we can highlight the fact that a language carries within itself all the cultural baggage and affective connotation, while noting that both retention and learning require an active posture on the part of either the child or the adult for them to take place.

Although ethnic prejudice is something universal—the concern with or fear of something or somebody different is a human tendency—some societies are a little more flexible, or elastic, than others. It’s on this factor that is based the level of “stress” experienced by foreigners. The propensity to deem the parameters of one’s own culture as applicable to all others—ethnocentrism—makes it difficult for the acceptance of a minority group. Thus, in a homogeneous society such as that of Japan, one observes a strong inclination to impose their own language and values system, thus disrespecting the values of the children’s culture of origin. To that can be added discriminatory and prejudiced acts, even within groups of small children.

Regarding the high percentage of school dropout rates among Brazilians in Japan, we can question if the Brazilian children are, in fact, “dropping out,” or if they are actually finding themselves excluded at and by the schools. Those children face numerous difficulties at school, feeling increasingly “outside” the school’s dynamics and the conviviality among students, thus ending up excluded from the school. In such conditions, whether or not the children had adapted themselves, when they arrive in Brazil they must reinitiate the whole process. Unsure if it’s better to be here than over there, between coming and going, they’re unable to find their place. Not finding any support infrastructure upon their arrival, each one comes up with “solutions” in their own way, striving to find their own readjustment strategies, whether functional or not, within their capabilities. Even those who have apparently adapted themselves, carry within them signs of less-than-healthy strategies, for instance, keeping themselves apart, avoiding much emotional involvement, having low self-esteem, oftentimes negating one of the sides of the conflict.

An intervention effort is currently being implemented and conducted by the ISEC (Institute of Educational and Cultural Solidarity) in partnership with the Secretariat of Education of the State of São Paulo. This project, named “The Kaeru Project,” aims to offer psychological, social, and psycho-pedagogical intervention, and to provide school-related support and reinforcement to children enrolled in the basic levels of the state’s public school system. As a consequence of the return of Brazilian workers from Japan, those children present difficulties in learning, little knowledge of the Portuguese language, difficulties in interpersonal relations and in (re)adapting themselves to Brazilian society. Those difficulties ultimately lead to serious problems to their own development, their families, the schools, and all those who coexist with them.

The situation ends up becoming more complicated due to the lack of a “reception” infrastructure, thus forcing families and even the children themselves to search on their own for survival strategies in every regard.

Experiences in intervention efforts demonstrate the importance of setting up some form of communication among the pupil, the school, and the family, thus creating a “tripod” that will serve as a support to propitiate a well-rounded development for the child. There are youths who bring with themselves the need to keep the knowledge acquired in Japan (it should be noted that there’s a certain tendency to forget what was learned, especially the fluency in the Japanese language), something that may turn into an additional resource for their development. Other youths require greater contact with their parents, so that projects could be developed to allow this situation. There are youths who present difficulties due to a lack of motivation, while others suffer from post-traumatic stress-related anxiety, following experiences involving discrimination and other forms of mistreatment.

It is necessary to remember that the Brazilian teachers also need to be prepared so we’ll avoid that same ethnocentric trap, for those teachers lack experience and specialized skills for teaching bilingual children, thus ending up imposing the language, cultural values, and behavior patterns with the questionable rationale that such an approach would facilitate learning and result in a speedier adaptation.

This effort is currently being developed, free of charge, at schools, with support from the Brazilian Mitsui Foundation. At this stage, we’ve been receiving responses to appeals made to all the school directories in the state of São Paulo, containing a profile of the returning children at each school unit. The requirements that can be readily resolved are being taken care of; others, of greater complexity, are being studied since in this early phase we don’t have the means to take care of every child and every need. We have, however, been researching intervention methods at a distance and strategies for the creation of “information multipliers” at various localities.

* Kyoko Yanagida Nakagawa was a panelist in a presentation titled “Dynamic life of migrants between Brazil and Japan—Perspective on Brazil” at a Discover Nikkei Symposium—“100 Years of Japanese Immigration: The Multiple Identities of the Nikkei Community” in Sao Paulo on September 20, 2008.

© 2008 Kyoko Yanagida Nakagawa

Brazil children dekasegi education migration

About this series

A series of articles from panelists at a Discover Nikkei Symposium—“100 Years of Japanese Immigration: The Multiple Identities of the Nikkei Community” in São Paulo on September 20, 2008.