I came across Keiko Fujimori (pictured above) in another class when a student was presenting on the controversy surrounding the current presidential election in Peru. I was surprised by Fujimori’s name because, I did not realize that there was even a population of Japanese people living in Peru. According to journal of “East Asian Migration to Latin America,” the population of Japanese Peruvians is about 0.3% of the Peruvian population.
However, when Alberto Fujimori was became president of Peru in 1990, Japanese Peruvians were thrust into the spotlight and are one of the most influential groups in Peru today.
Japanese Peruvians came to Peru starting in the 1800s at the encouragement of the Japanese government as a way to control the “rapidly growing Japanese population” at the time. There was also a rumor that Peru was “filled with gold” which encouraged even more migration from Japan to Peru. The migration didn’t really help reduce the population of Japan.
Fast forward to 1903, the Japanese were heavily persecuted against. The Japanese Exclusion Act of 1903was passed in Peru on the basis that “the Japanese were “racially” and “culturally” different” from the rest of the Peruvian population and therefore “were ‘naturally’ unfit to adapt to Peruvian society…pointing to the high Japanese death toll on the plantations” (88). However, despite this, the Japanese were the most successful merchants in Peru at the time.
In 1940, a student-led riot of Japanese businesses and residential areas Lima left the community completely destroyed. This was the first riot in Peru motivated by race.
After the riot and the defeat of Japan in WWII, the Japanese population living in Peru realized that they could no longer return home and started making efforts to assimilate into the Peruvian population–something they had been unwilling to do previously. However, despite the effort to assimilate, the riots enforced a fear and even more distrust of people outside of the Japanese race.
According to the journal, the “radicalization [of Japanese-Peruvians] has increased as they have become economically successful; in a country where the majority of the population are poor Indian-mestizos, economically advantaged Japanese- Peruvians have a reason to want to remain a distinct racial minority.”
Throughout history, the group immigrating to a country remains economically and socially disadvantaged. However, with the case of the Japanese-Peruvians, while they remain socially disadvantaged in having experienced racism from the majority population living in Peru, their economic advantage has allowed them to prosper in their non-native country despite previous systematic racism.