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The Colombian Nikkei and the Narration of Selves - Part 3 of 4

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4.2 Nisei from early immigrants

I interviewed only one individual who was born in Colombia from one of the 1929-1935 arrivers. Interviewee 21 grew up in the same conditions as the group described in the previous section: she only had contact with her family, and other Nikkei in the Japanese school. She lived with her parents in the plantation of El Jagual, in which the community lived without much need of having contact with Colombian people. Her isolation caused her to exhibit similar Japanized features in her native Spanish such as omissions of articles. Example (2) shows that she used the preposition de instead of a to indicate direction of movement, omitted an article, and used a complement before the verb, as in Japanese:

De (meaning ‘a’)      allí       donde  tenía   (la)    tierra,   de (meaning ‘a’)
From (meaning ‘to’)  there   where  had     (the)  land,     from (meaning ‘to’)

allí      fueron.
there   went.

‘They departed from the place where (he) had the land’

Before saying this, the speaker had already mentioned the plantation of El Jagual, and in the example she is referring back to this land. Because it was previously mentioned, I would expect a definite article as a Spanish native speaker. But it does not happen. She speaks as a foreigner even though she was born in Colombia, and she reports that other people recognize her speech as “strange.”

What is even more interesting about this person is that her perception of her Japanese language knowledge. She reports that she learned Japanese from her family, and she spoke it with her peers when she attended the Hikarien, the Japanese school. However, she says that she cannot speak a single word of Japanese in the present. 

4.3 The second group of Issei

The second group of Issei is composed of those who arrived between 1952 and 1980. Many people took advantage of pre-arranged marriages or work contracts to be able to leave Japan because life in Post-World War II was difficult. Interviewees 6 and 31 explain that they did not want to emigrate Colombia, but circumstances forced them to do so. Interviewee 6, in fact, laughs when she remembers that her future husband was in “America.” She accepted because she thought it was the United States. Only when the ship was landing Panama did she realize that it was going to be a different place. Others left for other reasons. Interviewee 7 traveled with other young men who wanted to establish the Tenrikyo church in Colombia.

This second group of immigrants, even though they were trying to escape from the post-war crisis, they arrived when the Colombian Nikkei were also doing efforts to recover from the dispersal they suffered during the war. The Colombian government and police persecuted the Japanese to the point of forcing them to abandon the plantation of El Jagual. They moved to different places around the region, losing their land and their possibility to live together. As a strategy to maintain their ties as a community, they reestablished an old cooperative of farmers they used to have in El Jagual. The new group was called SAJA (Sociedad de Agricultores Japoneses, ‘Society of Japanese Farmers’). Little by little, they were able to gain and increase their ownership of cultivated land during the 1950’s. Later they changed their name to Asociación Colombo-Japonesa (Colombian-Japanese Association) in order to add other activities to their mission, such as the reestablishment of the Japanese school. This school, named after the one founded in 1936 (Hikarien), started in 1968. Recently it became open to anyone who wanted to learn Japanese and it is where I studied. 

For their recovery, the Nikkei were faced to the need of having more interaction with the Colombian people. The traditional immigrants had to hire Colombian workers to help in the farming. At the same time, in their attempt to reinforce their community ties, they encouraged people in Japan to migrate to Colombia. The second group of immigrants, thus, integrated to the Nikkei community in a type of agreement that involved marriage and work.

I had access to interviews from seven 1952-1980 arrivers. All of them were older than 18 at the time of migration. Women and men worked together in agriculture. Women managed activities in the plantation and even drove a tractor. None of them studied Spanish, but learned it through their contact with the Colombian workers. By this time, their interaction with rural inhabitants was considerable. Once again, they emphasized the values of perseverance, effort, and honesty as the tools for a great economic success they finally achieved. 

They have been exposed to Spanish for more than 30 years. Their Spanish proficiency, according to self-evaluations, is advanced and fluent in the oral register. Most of them report an inability to write in Spanish, but they read newspapers despite their difficulties with the written form. A salient feature in their Spanish is the underproduction of definite articles (the) and the overproduction of indefinite articles (a). This is contrary to what is usually found in linguistic research regarding scholarly learners of a language: those learners overgeneralize definite articles in a way to accommodate to the speech of their teachers unlike the Issei. An example of omission is found in (3):

(En)tonces   (el/mi)      suegro           pensó       en   (el)    futuro.
Then            (the/my)    father-in-law   thought    in     (the)  future.

‘Then my father in law thought about the future’

In Colombian Spanish, most sentences involving close family members have the possessive, “mi” (‘my’), or at least a definite article. Words referring to abstract referents, such as “future” (‘future’), are marked with a definite article. However, this speaker does not use any. 

Omissions of articles, as more fully explained in Díaz Collazos (2011), do not affect communication with Spanish native speakers, but produce a strong foreign language effect. Their Spanish proficiency was enough to communicate successfully with their Colombian employees. The privileged position of employers allowed them to relax with respect to the effort of sounding more correct.

In contrast, these speakers use more indefinite articles. An example of indefinite article usage is in (5):

Otra    parte   vino    a    Medellín,   una   ciudad  entró,       vino. 
Other  place   came  to   Medellín,   a       city        entered,  came.

porque    Cali,  un  calor,  dice,   entonces   quedó   por        allá 
because  Cali   a    heat,   says,  then          stayed  around   there

Medellín,  estudiando.  De,     allá,     uno  Nariño,  hay
Medellín,  studying.      From,  there,  one  Nariño,  there’s

una     gente,    de,     hay       mucho  de     por        allá    de     Córdoba,
a/one  people,  from,  there’s  much    from  around  there  from  Córdoba, 

por         allá      de      (la)     costa,   no?
around   there   from   (the)   coast,   no?

‘[Other Japanese people] arrived in Medellín [another Colombian city]. They did not come to Cali because it is a hot city, they said. Then they stayed there in Medellín, studying. There are other Japanese people in Nariño [a province in Colombia]. There are many of them in Córdoba [another province], in the coast’

In example (5), not only does the speaker introduce a new referent through “una ciudad” (‘a city’), but also emphasizes the weather through “un calor” (‘[what] a heat’), a common expression in Colombian Spanish. He also quantifies the group of people as one in “una gente” (‘a people’), common in Spanish too, but the usage overlaps the indefinite and quantifying meaning. In actuality, it means “a group of people.” In Spanish, in fact, the word for the number one is the same as for indefinite articles. I presented quantitative results in the Second Language Research Forum, October 2011, regarding this issue. 

4.4 Nisei from the second group of Issei

The Nisei who were born in Colombia from 1952-1980 moved with their families from rural to urban settings beginning in the 1960’s. At the same time, the city of Cali in the Southwest region of Colombia underwent a sudden urban growth and many new schools were established. The Nikkei moved to Cali so that their children could take advantage of these educational opportunities. This movement produced a new type of socialization for the Nisei

The urban environment and the schools created a space of frequent interaction between the Nisei students and Colombian students and teachers. Interviewee 18 reports that his teacher recommended that his parents speak only Spanish to him. Situations like this were not uncommon, and many of these Nisei forgot the Japanese language they learned from their families. Others, on the other hand, have tried to cultivate the Japanese language, but recognized that do not speak Japanese as natives. In this latter group, all speak Spanish like a Colombian. The school Hikarien, still in existence, has made great efforts to promote the Japanese language in the youngest Nisei, but some of the teachers feel frustrated because they do not find any intrinsic motivation among the students. Interviewee 6 is a Japanese language teacher, and she states that other Colombian learners are better students than Nisei

Most Colombians of Japanese origins accept their Nikkei identity, which is very different from a Japanese identity. They recognize themselves as part of a Nikkei family, but they show a stronger connection toward Colombia as their home country and toward the cultural elements involved in the Colombian society. They experience problems when going back to Japan. Interviewee 17, for example, says that he had embarrassing experiences there. Since he speaks the old variety of Fukuoka, people in Japan would laugh at his accent and unfamiliar words. Moreover, he was not aware of pragmatic differences between the vocabulary of women and men. Sometimes he used female words, which was another source of embarrassment and jokes. 

Part 4 >>

© 2012 Ana María Díaz Collazos

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