Theses Doctoral

São Paulo as Migrant-Colony: Pre-World War II Japanese State-Sponsored Agricultural Migration to Brazil

Deckrow, Andre Kobayashi

This dissertation traces the state-directed agricultural migration of 200,000 Japanese farmers to rural Brazil in the 1920s and 30s. From its origins in late nineteenth century Japanese interpretations of German economic and colonial theory to its end in the mid-1930s under the populist Estado Novo government of Brazilian dictator Getúlio Vargas, my research connects this migration scheme to nation-state and empire-building projects in Japan and Brazil. Using Japanese, Portuguese, and English-language sources from archives in Japan, Brazil, and the United States, it argues that this state-directed migration scheme was an attempt by Japanese and Brazilian intellectuals and policymakers to use international migration to solve the crises of rural labor that stemmed from rapid industrialization and economic development. Japanese policymakers believed that their surplus agricultural labor could be settled in isolated Brazilian nucleos, where daily life for settlers was still dominated by Japanese cultural and government institutions. Japanese emigrants in Brazil saw themselves as imperial subjects performing service for a Japanese settler colonial project, and Japanese state institutions continued to define their everyday lives. Japanese government-produced guidebooks and migrants’ own writings in Brazil’s Japanese-language newspapers reveal how the unique circumstances of state-directed migration blurred the distinctions between migrants and colonists.
In Brazil, the Japanese found themselves trapped between two competing visions of the Brazilian nation. They owed their existence there to the loose federalism of the Old Republic (1889-1930) that allowed individual Brazilian states to set their own immigration policies. Under the terms of the 1891 Brazilian Constitution, wealthy Southern states, like São Paulo, could offer land concessions to foreign immigration companies without federal oversight, meaning they were free to enact racial preferences for immigrant labor at the expense of the country’s poorer, racially-mixed citizens in the Northeast. However, when the Old Republic fell in the 1930 Brazilian Revolution, the Japanese community quickly became a racialized symbol of the old political order’s regional political and economic inequality. Influenced by new fascist governments in Europe and anti-immigrant sentiment that had swept the Western Hemisphere, the Getúlio Vargas-led Provisional Government redefined national identity and redistributed political power. Furthermore, Vargas’s expansion of participatory politics in the early 1930s merged a strain of nativism with his efforts to erase São Paulo’s regional dominance. His government limited the economic rights of non-citizens in 1932 and introduced the first national immigration policy, a strict quota, in 1934. Through an analysis of Brazilian constitutional theory and the debates surrounding the country’s first national immigration policy – which was written directly into the 1934 Brazilian Constitution – my research demonstrates how regional competition motivated and racialized Brazilian immigration policy at the expense of the country’s Japanese community.
As neither Europeans nor Brazilians, the Japanese found themselves victims to more powerful political and racial ideologies in 1930s Brazil. In response to nativist efforts to close Japanese language schools in 1935 and 1936, the Japanese government attempted unsuccessfully to intervene on the community’s behalf. When news of the restrictions on Japanese Brazilian life reached Japan, the Japanese government used it to further justify its withdrawal from the international community and ramp up its colonial efforts in Manchuria. By 1937, when the Japanese settlement experiment came to an end, both the Japanese government and the Japanese in Brazil had already shifted their gaze to Manchuria as the preferred destination for surplus Japanese farmers, and Japanese government officials applied many of the same organizational techniques to facilitate agricultural emigration to Japan’s East Asian colonies.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Gluck, Carol
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 30, 2019