March 4, 2002
Karen Tei Yamashita explores 'bridge of migrations' between Japan and Brazil
Author to read from her book on March 11 at library event
By Ann M. Gibb
Japan and Brazil: It's hard to image two countries further apart, or two cultures
more disparate. But after almost a century of economic and social ties, Japan and
Brazil have built a "dynamic bridge of migrations," says author Karen Tei
Yamashita, an associate professor of literature and creative writing at UCSC.
Her book Circle K Cycles (Coffee House Press, 2001) explores these
connections through the lives of Brazilians of Japanese descent living in Japan.
|Circle K Cycleslooks at cross-cultural connections.
Yamashita will read from her work at 7 p.m. on March 11, at the Santa Cruz Central
Branch Library, 224 Church Street. Cosponsored by the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz
Library and the Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries, the event is free and
open to the public.
"Brazil is literally on the opposite side of the world from Japan," said
Yamashita. A third-generation Japanese American, she lived in Brazil for nine years
while researching and writing her first two novels, married a Brazilian, and began
raising her two children while in Sao Paulo. "The connection of Japan and Brazil
seems to be a very extreme example," said Yamashita, "but it's not that
strange in the global circumstance."
Economics, agriculture, and immigration laws created the conditions for a wave of
Japanese immigration to Brazil in the early 20th century. Brazil needed contract
labor for its booming coffee plantations. Japanese companies needed new countries
in which to place workers after exclusion acts ended legal immigration from Asia
to the United States. Japanese immigrants to
Brazil were required to immigrate in family groups; the presence of Japanese women
and the need for rural labor in Brazil encouraged the creation of large families.
Today, Brazil has the largest community of Japanese and their descendants outside
|Circle K Cyclesis written by Karen Tei Yamashita, an associate professor
of literature and creative writing at UCSC.
But in the 1980s, driven by a faltering Brazilian economy, the tide of migration
began to shift back from Brazil to Japan. In response to the trend, the Japanese
government passed an immigration law providing special visas to people who could
prove they were of Japanese descent--with conditions.
Visa holders could only engage in manual labor. Third-generation descendants were
granted only one-year renewable visas, while second-generation descendants were allowed
three-year renewable visas. But even these stipulations didn't slow the reverse migration.
"Now there are 200,000 Brazilians living in Japan, mostly working as factory
laborers," said Yamashita. "There are even 'Brazil towns'!"
Circle K Cycles chronicles life in Brazilian communities across Japan. "Brazil
towns are very dynamic communities," said Yamashita, who lived with her husband
and children in Japan for six months while gathering material for her book. She conveys
the community's energy by combining genres in an unusual format. Chapters include
monthly journal entries Yamashita posted online during her stay in Japan and fictional
stories based on the lives of the Brazilian immigrants she interviewed. Popular cultural
graphics fill the book, mirroring the inundation of images in Japanese cities.
The confusion of a new language is conveyed through chapters in Japanese and Portuguese,
which are both translated into English. The book's title refers to the ubiquitous
Circle K convenience stores, open 24 hours a day and providing a de facto extension
of home life and a common ground for all city dwellers.
Circle K Cycles captures the community's vitality and the residents' mutual
culture shock as Brazilians encounter what Yamashita calls "this other place
which is supposed to be a kind of home."
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