Japanese Peruvians

Identification: Peruvians of Japanese descent who were deported to the United States during World War II

Significance: Although Peruvians would elect a Japanese man, Alberto Fujimori, the president of their country in 1990, earlier generations of Peruvians resented and distrusted the Japanese living in their country. In an effort to send all its Japanese people to Japan duringWorldWar II, the Peruvian government began shipping them to the United States, where most of the deportees were interned for the duration of the war, along with many Japanese Americans.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the deteriorating economic situation in Japan prompted many young Japanese to migrate to the Americas. When the Japanese were legally barred from entering the United States, they turned their attention to South American nations. In 1899, the first Japanese began settling in Peru.

Although initially hired by Peruvian agricultural landowners, many Japanese immigrants eventually migrated to Peru’s cities to work as small-scale merchants. South Americans did not wholeheartedly welcome the Japanese immigrants, however. This distrust and hostility deepened during the 1930’s, partly because of the perceived affluence of the Japanese during the Great Depression and partly because of Japan’s aggressive empire building. During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, the Peruvian government enacted discriminatory laws directed against Japanese immigrants.

In May, 1940, rumors that the Japanese in Peru’s capital city, Lima, were planning to take over the country led to anti-Japanese riots. Anti-Japanese sentiments combined with the December, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval base in Hawaii, to lead the administration of President Manuel Prado y Ugarteche to view the internment of Japanese as both politically popular and expedient. However, in order to intern more than six thousand people, the government would need money that it did not want to spend. Prado found it easier and cheaper to send the Japanese to the United States.

On the grounds of "military necessity,” Peru deported about 1,800 first-generation Issei and second-generation Nisei to the United States. The first ship, the Etolin, left Callau in April, 1942, with 141 male Japanese Peruvians. No legal charges had been brought against any of these people, none of whom had criminal records. Designated as prisoners of war, the deportees were taken to temporary camps in Panama before debarking in New Orleans, Louisiana. From there, they were sent to internment camps in Texas and Montana.

Engaged in a version of ethnic cleansing, the Peruvian government expected that the Japanese whom it was deporting would eventually be sent to Japan. Meanwhile, U.S. secretary of state Cordell Hull and U.S. Armed Forces chief of staff George C. Marshall supported the collection of Japanese Peruvians, anticipating that they might be exchanged for American civilians interned in Japanese-occupied territories in Asia. No internees were ever exchanged, but 342 of the Japanese Peruvians did return to Japan in 1942. A lack of shipping hampered Peru’s internment program from its start and limited the number of deportees to 1,800.

After World War II ended in 1945, and U.S. internment camps were closed, about 100 Japanese Peruvians who had been interned in the United States returned to Peru. About 300 remained in the United States. The rest went to Japan.

Caryn E. Neumann

Further Reading

Kikumara-Yano, Akemi, ed. Encyclopedia of Japanese Descendants in the Americas: An Illustrated History of the Nikkei. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2002.

Masterson, Daniel M., and Sayaka Funada-Classen. The Japanese in Latin America. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

See also: Anti-Japanese movement; Asian immigrants; Japanese American internment; Japanese immigrants; Latin American immigrants.

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