Gregory Cochran asked about Japanese-Brazilians, and I noted that they seemed to share a similar trajectory to Japanese-Americans: welcomed as cheap farm labor, but not stuck there for generations.
Wikipedia’s list of notable Japanese Brazilians is heavy on the artists (singers and models) and athletes (martial artists and footballers).
That doesn’t bode well, but then Cochran found this LA Times piece about the nikkei there:
Two nikkei — in Japanese, the name means “of Japanese lineage” — have been ministers in Brazil’s federal government, and one is currently a key adviser to the minister of finance. Three are members of the national Congress, including Antonio Ueno, now in his sixth four-year term.
Many nikkei have achieved remarkable economic success, too, especially in agriculture. The Cotia agricultural cooperative was founded by Japanese immigrant farmers in 1927, and today it is Brazil’s largest agricultural enterprise. About 70% of the fruits and vegetables consumed in metropolitan Sao Paulo are produced by nikkei farmers, according to Cotia executive Minoru Takano.
Other Japanese-Brazilians, like Fujio Tachibana, have excelled in business and finance. Tachibana, 76, started as a laborer on a coffee plantation in 1932, then became an office assistant in a Japanese company that helped recruit and settle new immigrants. Later he was transferred to the company’s bank in Brazil.
“I didn’t know anything about banking,” Tachibana recalled in an interview. “They taught me, and I learned.”
Today he is chairman of a banking and investment conglomerate with more than 8,000 employees and 18,000 shareholders. About 60% of the employees and 85% of the shareholders are Japanese-Brazilian.
With each generation, the Brazilian nikkei have become better educated and more prosperous in a country where ignorance and poverty are the fate of the vast majority. According to one survey of Japanese-Brazilians, more than 80% consider themselves middle class or above.
Until 1945, fewer than 50 persons of Japanese descent had graduated from the University of Sao Paulo. Currently, 13% of the university’s 30,000 students are nikkei. Japanese-Brazilian students account for about 20% of the enrollment at the Polytechnic Institute, Sao Paulo’s best engineering school.
At the Bandeirantes Institute, one of Sao Paulo’s most prestigious college preparatory schools, an estimated 25% to 30% of the students are descendants of Japanese.
I’m beginning to think there’s something different about Japanese-Brazilians…