Eugenics, Gender, and “Yellow Peril” in Peru, 1920–45

Friday, January 6, 2012: 3:10 PM
Armitage Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Stephanie C. Moore, Salisbury University
This paper explores how the global racial ideologies of “yellow peril” and eugenics intertwined in popular Peruvian culture during the interwar period, reflecting the degree to which anti-Asian alarmism and racist science had penetrated the societal imagination. The toxic combination of “yellow peril” and eugenics not only provoked attacks on Japanese Peruvians’ intimate relations, but also fed into the production of feminized images of Asian danger that were widely circulated in songbooks, cartoons, and fringe newspapers.  Both Japanese Peruvian women’s sexuality and Asian male power were portrayed as seductive, deceitful, and perilous to the “ethnic destiny” of the Peruvian nation.  In this way, eugenics can be seen not only seeking to control women’s sexuality, but also feminizing perceived challenges to power. 

Whereas degeneration through miscegenation had previously concerned Peruvian eugenicists, by the 1920s Japanese Peruvian endogamy was the cause for alarm.  Japanese women began immigrating to Peru in increasing numbers during the same decade such that by 1940 they represented nearly one-third of the Japanese Peruvian community.  Drawing upon the language of “yellow peril,” both the eugenics movements and popular social commentators launched attacks on Japanese Peruvian women’s allegedly high fertility rates as “imperialism via the womb,” deeming them a racial and political threat to the Peruvian nation.  While Asians were routinely characterized as inferior by eugenicists and their followers, “yellow peril” discourses of Asian danger provoked a recasting of Asians in the public imagination.  Much like the “yellow peril” literature in the United States and British writer Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, Asian male images were emasculated, left with only the feminine weapons of wile and trickery to realize their purportedly diabolical schemes.  Objectified and vilified by the dominant scientific paradigms that permeated popular culture, Peruvians of Asian descent waged an uphill battle against exclusion from the Peruvian nation.

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