Southern Encounters: Ethnic Nationalism and Okinawa Military Migration to Latin America

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:10 PM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham)
Symbol Lai, University of Washington
In 1954, nine years after the US military occupation of Okinawa commenced, the US Civil Administration of the Ryukyus (USCAR) and the Government of the Ryukyu Islands (GRI) instituted a set of social reforms encouraging Okinawan emigration. Both governments believed their support of Okinawan resettlement from the main islands resolved the perennial problem plaguing the healthy development of Okinawan agriculture. On the one hand, USCAR and the GRI considered farming a distinct characteristic rendering Okinawans uniquely qualified for agricultural work on the international labor market. On the other, both governments found the archipelago itself inhospitable to the industry’s stable expansion. Ignoring the fact that US military bases occupied much of the Okinawan mainland, USCAR and GRI officials pointed instead to the islands’ size and natural resources to explicate why farming on Okinawa could never be sustainable. Both governments turned to emigration, a tool they believed Okinawan statesmen had historically utilized to relieve similar population pressures emanating from the islands’ fundamental deficit. Official USCAR and GRI plans for Okinawan emigration began first with the resettlement of displaced farmers in the southern islands of Yaeyama and Miyako before culminating in the establishment of special Okinawan colonies throughout Latin America.

My paper connects this unexpected collaboration between US Occupation authorities and the GRI to the rise of anticolonial nationalist movements emerging globally. By attending to their points of convergence, it locates a form of “subimperialism”—a colonial relationship emanating from one periphery to another—and illustrates how this dynamic played a pivotal role in reconstituting neocolonialism as classical empires dismantled. I argue that despite their clashing motivations, USCAR, the GRI, and Latin American countries advocated colonization because they, like anti-colonial nationalists, wanted to achieve political and economic self-sufficiency and promised to do so through international cooperation.

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