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Black-Amerasian Body in Spaces in Between Series:  Introduction

By Ariko Ikehara, Doctoral Student, Ethnic Studies Department, UC Berkeley

Paper From “Decolonizing the University” Conference, University of California Berkeley

February 27, 2010

My research project involves an intensive focus and critical analysis on “mix-race” history and historiography of black-Asian/Amerasians in transnational context/orientation.  As part of an exploration in Transnationality and Diasporic studies, I couch my inquiry to a transnational US-Pacific site at the intersection of U.S. military and Okinawa proper, where one nation-state (U.S.) via military apparatus collapsed into another nation-state (Japan).  The project is tri-fold: 1) to examine black Asian/Amerasian history/historiography; 2) to analyze subjectivity and representation on and about “mixed-race” discursive on black-Asian bodies, 3) and to explore the ontological domain of mixed-space/race-ness.

The intersection of military-Pacific site, born out of U.S. bases (base culture), is found in Asia where the U.S. military has established bases after the wars (WWII, Korean war, Vietnam War) in order to control the geographic locations in Asia (Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Guam).  Okinawa, as with Guam, was termed “The Keystone of the Pacific” during the wars, and maintains this position all the way up to the present moment.  The burden of  “hosting” the U.S. military bases has been placed on Okinawa islands since the end of WWII until the present moment.   For Okinawans, the war has not ended but continues through military-related violence, especially violence against women and children, as well as the general public, not to mention land, air and ocean.  U.S.-Japan bilateral agreement[1] allows the continuance of the military operation in Okinawa in exchange for Japan’s economic dominance in Asia.  Immediately after the war, U.S. began the military build-up on Okinawa Islands, and among other post-war infrastructural developments on war-torn landscape, the entertainment districts spurred around the bases to serve the U.S. military GIs.  The entertainment district, a euphemism for Red light district, is one of the salient features of the post-war developments that remain today, albeit with changes over time, space and circulation of women’s bodies.  In the backdrop of the Pacific theatre, a certain phenomenon took place between the U.S. military personnel and the local citizens of Okinawa.  Due to its proximity and long-term “occupational”[2]-residency along with the establishment of the entertainment districts, the interactions near the bases between the people of two distinct nations resulted in various forms of romantic/sexual relationships, spanning over 64 years.  

The children born out of these relationships in between the race, ethnicity, culture, nation in the militarized zone were called Amerasian[3], a term coined by Pearl S. Buck in the 1950s.   In the beginning, the adoption was the method/resolution of the day.   Amerasians were adopted by the military families, left to America as a family unit (International marriage), remained in Okinawa with their mothers alone, or grew up with family members or neighbors.  There are distinct experiential differences between the Amerasians born during pre-reversion and post-reversion eras.  Okinawa was under U.S. military occupation from 1946 to 1972 when Okinawa “reverted back” to Japan.  From a various sources, including the archival sources and oral memories, the first few decades were most painful and difficult not only for Amerasians, but also their mothers, fathers, families, friends and general public.   The stigmatization of the children as the offspring of the enemies along with the chaos of the post-war transitional moments, it was nearly impossible to attend to the Amerasian situation. Thus, the faith of Amerasians was in the hands of Japanese government, U.S. military administration, Okinawan social welfare agencies, missionaries and Okinawan families or left somewhere in between all of the above.  During this time, the children who remained in Okinawa were often “discriminated” and became outcasts/outsiders, along with their mothers.  Some could not attend school and were shunned from the society at large.  Today, the new generations of Amerasians would not receive such an overt discriminatory treatment.  They are citizens of Japan de jure, but in terms of de facto, they have yet to become active citizens of Okinawa/Japan with proper visibility, representation and public positions in society where there is an overt and gross omission of the Amerasians presence, especially true for shima haafu[4].  (Here lies the crux of the situation and the drive for my research.)  In fact, they are said to have “benefited” from having both languages, cultures and, in certain circles, they were envied for receiving access to two worlds.  Some would argue, they are better (than Japanese and especially Okinawan) since it’s “cool” to be mixed, though only ephemerally, they are envied from afar where the images are placed in the constellation of “idolism” and adulation.   The exoticism and bilingualism that seemed to accompany the false imagination and constructed “stardom” of the mixed-race bodies of Amerasians are relegated to mostly the white-Amerasians who dominate the cover of magazines that showcase exotic “models.”  Consequently, if one is black-haafu, one’s faith is not as “lucky” as the “exotic” white counterpart.  I suspect this is an expression of the racialization and neo-liberal formation through the Americanization process, which was simultaneously established along side the U.S. military bases, which animated the old hegemonic practice of Japanese Imperial project of Japanization of Okinawans.

There are so much to uncover and to disclose from different points of entry, but I am interested in how the research challenges and blurs the traditional thinking about the mixed-race subject in the thickness of the layered multivalent narratives, and how the findings may inform the ways in which we think about the mixed-race-ness, and mixed-space-ness (“blackness”, “Okinawa ness”, “Japanese ness”, “military-Okinawa space”, etc…) inside the current scholarships in Mixed-race and mixed-blood (i.e., Amerasian, haafu, double, etc…) discourse in both U.S. and Asia.  I am specifically interested in the way the thinking manifest itself in the public and private spaces as the U.S. military-Okinawa-Japan tripartite relationship continues to roll out into the 2010.  I argue that at this site the unhinged history, narrativity, subjectivity of Amerasians, in particular black-Amerasians, are fluid, flux and unstable within these collapsed (Inter-nations) spaces, times and identities in transnational context, and the current discursive in Amerasian subjects (black-Asian/Amerasian subjectivity) lack research and scholarship. 

The Amerasian history is silent.   In this silence, the gaps are widening and a multiple source of intervention is needed to redirect the course of the history and to awaken the narratives found in the interstices in the U.S. military-Asia history.  Meditating on the transnational “mixed-race” history is one way to intervene in the way history is made and narrated in a global gaze.  In the past, Amerasian narratives were constructed in relations to war and sex and presented with a glum picture.  The current narratives present a more complex picture that includes multiculturalism, fetishism, and misrepresentation of black-Asians and mixed-race bodies in both continents and I argue that the misrepresentation and current discursive on Amerasian (silent) history cater to the capitalistic greed/monopoly and the U.S. hegemony over Asia through the historically silent narratives of Amerasians.   The continue silencing of the Amerasian narratives re/produces the false image, desire, and imagination through the extracted, constructed and/or abstracted visual representations superimposed on the black-Asian bodies in both nations in between the transnational site/field.  The power and control that suppress the history of Amerasians are cut from the same root of western hegemony.  The oppression is a way to maintain and produce the hierarchical structure of hegemony: oppressor-oppressor relations.  A mechanism of oppression has to be produced and reproduced over time and space in order to maintain power and control.  The “othering” and “silencing” are two-prong process to achieve the goal to sustain hegemonic order.  In the case of Amerasians, the hegemony lies in between the militarized zone in the transnational spaces, thus the intense focus and critical analysis on the movement, style, ideas, language, representation, formation and order of the space is essential.   I will look to transnational theories to help me name and contextualize the relational aspect of the trans-national spaces.  The investigation requires me to move directly into the thickness of tri-fold and to work through the unstable, mobile and migratory nature of the subject-body (black-Asian/Amerasian), while at the same time critiquing the ways in which the subject-body has been narrated and arrested in the spaces in between the militarized zone that continue to subsume the body into dominant narrative (represented under different body narrative – i.e., mixed-race in U.S. context), thereby silencing the subjectivity.  Thus, my research questions require me to investigate both nation-states simultaneously and independently, weaving the black-Amerasian history from the Pacific to the U.S. continent and back.  How does the remapping of history re-shape the history of U.S., Asia and U.S. militarism on Asia when those narratives become visible/privilege?  How does “un-silencing” the narratives animate the discourse on race, ethnicity, nationality and transnationalism in terms of its applicability, appropriateness and adaptability of the bodies narrated and circulated in both sites?  How does it trouble the discourse on mix-race and multiculturalism in the U.S. and “haafu”, “double” and Amerasian representation and subjectivity in spaces in between Okinawa, U.S. military and Japan? How does “blackness” in U.S. context manifest itself/deployed in militarized Okinawa as it directly relates to black-Amerasians?  Finally, how does the new narratives reveal the ways in which power and control are maintained by these hierarchical structures in trans-national space?  These are some of the deep thinking questions that I intend to unwound one thread at a time, as I go directly into the thickness of the past entering from the present moment.

End Notes

1. The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan

signed between the United States and Japan in Washington DC on January 19, 1960. It strengthened Japan's ties to the West during the Cold War era. The treaty also included general provisions on the further development of international cooperation and on improved future economic cooperation.

2. Occupational has triple meanings:  Military occupation, occupation as in vocation and avocation.

3. Amerasian is a term coined by late American Author and Pulitzer Prize Winner Pearl S. Buck in the 50’s. It describes the children who were born between the American service men who were stationed in Asian countries during the WWII, the Vietnam War and the Korean War.

4. Okinawan Amerasians with no ties to the U.S. and only speaks Okinawan dialect and Japanese and live in Okinawa islands.


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Statement from Okinawa

Words of Reflection

Human Trafficking, Prostitution & Militarisms: Framing a discourse of memory, colonization, and decolonial possibilities

Black-Amerasian Body in Spaces in Between Series:  Introduction

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