A Druze-driven mass market for Argentine yerba mate emerges in Syria. Brazilian Pentecostalism arrives in Japan through nikkei return labor migration. A Mexican diplomat, reportedly “more Mexican than the nopal,” bears witness to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the rise of Vichy France, all while successfully hiding his Sephardi identity in an era when Mexico sought to ban all Jewish immigration. This essay considers twelve recent works that explore migration to, from, and within Latin America from a primarily historical perspective. As the above examples suggest, this emerging scholarship traces the unexpected entanglements of mobile peoples, goods, and ideas across disparate locales. These transnational subjects bedevil simple designations based on imperial, national, linguistic, cultural, or religious categories. At times, even selecting the vocabulary to describe the communities in question is an intellectual exercise in the spirit of Raanan Rein’s collection Argentine Jews or Jewish Argentines?1 Two important ends emerge in navigating this challenging terrain. First, the communities discussed by these authors force us to expand the localized meanings of Argentina, Brazil, or Mexico. Second, these relentlessly transnational works break from the geographical confines of the area studies mold to situate Latin America in a global frame.
The authors reviewed cover diverse communities. Nicola Foote and Michael Goebel’s edited collection is resolutely comparative, with chapters on regions (Brazil, Mexico, the Caribbean, Argentina) in which multiple migrant groups settled as well as others that trace the movement of a single migrant group (Jewish, German, Chinese, British Caribbean, Italian, and Arabic) across multiple locales. John Zucchi explores the disastrous migration of several hundred residents of Quebec to the coffee plantations of Brazil. Devi Mays tracks Sephardi Jewish emigrants from the Ottoman Empire through European and US cities and into Mexico. Ben Bryce explores German speakers in Argentina. Lily Balloffet writes on the mahjar (the Arabic-speaking diaspora) in Argentina. Pedro Iacobelli examines postwar immigrants to Bolivia from Japan and US-controlled Okinawa. The books by Emilio Redondo Carrero and Sebastian Klor analyze recruitment programs that brought Spanish migrants to Argentina and Jewish Argentines to Israel in the decades after the Second World War. Suma Ikeuchi and Anthony Ocampo analyze Japanese-Brazilian return migrants in Japan and Filipino Americans in California, respectively. Won K. Yoon’s and Julia Albarracín’s books consider recent immigration to, and within, the Southern Cone from Korea (Yoon) and Bolivia and Paraguay (Albarracín).
Latin Americanists turned to histories of immigration to rethink regional identity in the nineties, influenced by ethnic studies in the United States, critical analyses of race in Latin America, the transnational turn, and a booming scholarship on the Atlantic world. Sophisticated methodological approaches to the transatlantic slave trade certainly influenced approaches to postemancipation mobility. This fruitful period, bookending the millennium, resulted in several pathbreaking works including José Moya’s and Samuel Baily’s explorations of mass Spanish and Italian immigration to Argentina.2 Other historians turned to migrations that shed light on diasporic identity, state building, and racialized exclusion. Jeffrey Lesser, Leo Spitzer, Raanan Rein, and later Sandra McGee Deutsch all brought to the fore the experience of Jewish Latin Americans—from turn-of-the-century settlers to interwar refugees and postwar generations.3 Meanwhile, Aviva Chomsky and Lara Putnam offered critical studies of an overlooked major immigration within Latin America and the Caribbean, demonstrating how transnational labor and capital shaped the contours of the postemancipation African diaspora.4 Finally, works by Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Adam McKeown, Daniel Masterson and Sayaka Funada-Classen, and Lesser placed Chinese and Japanese migration to Latin America in line with a new Pacific worlds scholarship.5 In the past decade, scholars continued to explore “nontraditional” migration, evidenced by attention to Syrian-Lebanese, Jewish, and East Asian communities in the works discussed here.
The books in this review foreground the complexity of immigrant identities in Latin America. Immigrants entered nations moving between forced and free labor regimes, promoting settler colonialism in Indigenous territories, espousing myths of mestizaje and racial democracy, and transitioning from oligarchic to revolutionary regimes. How were new migrants seen by sending societies and receiving nations, and how might migrants strategically alter these perceptions? What social spaces and institutional arrangements contributed to the construction of migrant identity? And how did political and economic change from emerging nationalisms and declining empires to midcentury economic miracles and late century neoliberal reordering alter earlier migrant positioning? Identity mattered immensely in these shifting contexts.
In studying an era in which nations unapologetically cast immigration as “whitening,” several scholars show how migrants negotiated racial hierarchies of desirability. As John Zucchi indicates in Mad Flight?, Brazil’s attempt to recruit English and French Canadians from Quebec in a postemancipation era, when Italian labor was predominant on São Paulo coffee plantations, revealed the connections between a race-based ideology of immigration, in which Canadians figured alongside “Nordic races,” and a cynical diversification of plantation labor (30). The hapless movement of a few hundred Canadians to Brazil in 1896 was scarcely noticeable amid a stream of seventy-five thousand immigrants that arrived in Santos that year. But Zucchi’s analysis of the correspondence of state officials, recruiters, and foreign consuls related to the Canadian episode can be productively read alongside the cases of other Brazil-bound migration, from the abortive, prohibited, or small-scale (Chinese, African Americans, US Confederates) to the major (Russian and Eastern European, Japanese, Syrian-Lebanese). As the diverse Brazilian case reveals, the latter groups, while potentially “undesirable” from an elite perspective, were partially successful in negotiating the boundaries of whiteness and bypassing discriminatory barriers.
Brazil’s immigration history, as George Reid Andrews has shown, is unthinkable outside the elite attempt to replace, and then undermine, Afro-Brazilian labor power. While members of the African diaspora engaged in internal migration in the wake of Brazilian emancipation, in the British Caribbean they faced competition from new immigrants and looked to off-island emigration. Canadian migrants may have been enticed to Brazil with vague promises of future landowning, but as Nicola Foote points out in her contribution to the collection Immigration and National Identities in Latin America, edited by Foote and Goebel, British Caribbean emigrants of African descent were denied the category of “immigrant” in receiving countries. Though they represented one of the largest, most impactful, and multisite migratory movements outside the mass migrations to South America, British Caribbeans who settled throughout the circum-Caribbean were relegated to the status of “contract workers,” a designation that, much like modern recruitment schemes, was premised on the right to import and export labor while excluding residency claims (Foote, 205).
Although recognition as settlers was restricted by racial bias for Europeans, contributions by Stefan Rinke and Lara Putnam remind us that British Caribbean migrants exercised a “wide variety of collective identities” in the face of exclusion (Putnam in Foote and Goebel, 52). Paradoxically this included an alternative European identity claim. From the Panama Canal to Venezuelan goldfields and Costa Rican banana plantations, British Caribbeans regularly appealed to British consular officials for assistance as British subjects. At times, such as during the Venezuelan Crisis of 1902–1903, they championed British territorial claims. These practices in turn led them to be identified as “agents of empire” in some national contexts (Foote, 222). While the hapless white Canadian migrants described by Zucchi received extensive diplomatic assistance in repatriating to Canada, the imperial identifications of British Caribbeans of African descent often produced lackluster consular responses along with local enmity. However, as Putnam indicates, British Caribbeans espoused complex “national” identities in those same years. These included “small-island loyalties” and calls for solidarity linking Grenadians, Barbadians, or Trinidadians. Those cross-island identity claims could then be linked to imperial British identities or to the anti-imperial Pan-Africanism of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (52–54).
Steven Hyland, another contributor to Foote and Goebel’s collection, finds that Arabic-speaking migrants wrestled with group identities that similarly spanned imperial and subimperial categories.6 Most arrived in regions such as Argentina with Ottoman travel documents, but they possessed a complex array of layered national (Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian) and ethno-religious (Christian, Druze, Muslim) identities. Host societies may have falsely homogenized these diverse groups as turcos, but as Hyland points out, elites within the mahjar advocated for some ties to the Ottoman Empire and celebrated the Young Turk Revolution even as they imagined postimperial futures. With the Ottoman collapse, this balance shifted. Long-distance nationalism intensified, resulting in the reconfiguration of immigrant institutions.
Overlapping affiliations (imperial, national, local) were the subject of vigorous debate among urban immigrant elites. They leave a record of “long-distance nationalism” easily traced through diasporic print culture. In Argentina in the Global Middle East, Lily Balloffet takes an alternative angle on identity formation. Rather than presenting identity debated across space she argues for a profoundly spatial understanding of identity as produced through mobility. Mundane business directories testify to how the impressive spread of Arabic-speaking migrants bridged supply chain gaps in rural regions rarely covered by migration historians.7 Members of the mahjar fully grasped the power of infrastructure to generate what James Scobie termed “locational forces.”8 They anticipated the arrival of railways by branching out from Buenos Aires into remote rural regions from Mesopotamia in northeastern Argentina to Patagonia, which Balloffet recreates in an accompanying digital humanities project.9
Dispersed Arab Argentine settlement was about more than just niche marketing as a form of rural livelihood. Rural associational “nodes” were connected to the federal capital and transatlantic destinations. When activated, they facilitated the flow not only of prized goods but also of Arabic-speaking cultural producers (filmmakers, comedians, authors, musicians) seamlessly through Patagonian hamlets, the Retiro train station in Buenos Aires, and bustling Cairo and Beirut. In taking a “baseline of motion” (63) Balloffet’s work is not unlike Adam McKeown’s earlier exploration of Chinese migrant networks or Putnam’s more recent Radical Moves, which traces circuits throughout the circum-Caribbean drawing together rural peripheries (the banana production center of Limón), transport corridors (the Canal Zone), and urban centers (Havana and Harlem).10 While their experiences of racialization and labor differed fundamentally from these groups, members of the mahjar similarly “derived identity from the process of travel and mobility” (43).
In Forging Ties, Forging Passports, Devi Mays also privileges mobility to reflect on how another migrant community repositioned itself with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. In a study that entangles the transatlantic histories of Porfirian and postrevolutionary Mexico with Ottoman and post-Ottoman Turkey, Mays argues that Sephardi Jews adopted a life of “hypermobility [involving] sustained, long-term, nonlinear migrations lacking a clear teleology” (5). It was a practice that “necessitated acquiring and maintaining the tools—linguistic, monetary, legal and extralegal that enabled continued mobility” (5). However, while Balloffet’s subjects produced identity through mobility, the mobility of Sephardim allowed them to transition between multiple identities, a claim Mays supports by tracing an array of globe-trotting biographies through painstaking multisite archival research.
As Ladino speakers, Sephardim arrived in Latin America hearing familiar Spanish in the ports and could, unlike monolingual Arabic-speaking immigrants, escape the blanket turco designation and even strategically pass as Mexican by birth. In addition to this local claim to belonging, Sephardim also possessed French fluency, a result of Alliance Israélite Universelle schools in the Ottoman Empire. Sephardim who periodically relocated to France could thus present themselves as “ambiguously European” and play to the overt Francophilia of Porfirian Mexico (24). Benefiting from the presence of coreligionists throughout the eastern Mediterranean, others claimed Greek birth (or even Catholic or Orthodox faith) when Ottoman subjects were placed on no-travel lists during World War I (86). As they crossed borders, Sephardim encountered radically different legal requirements for marriage and inheritance. One family even mobilized a Filipino identity to move a probate case through US courts, thus avoiding civil registry requirements in Mexico and the competing claims of family members in Turkey (137). These abilities to pass became particularly valuable as the post-Ottoman Turkish state directed hostility to “passport Turks” while exclusionary legislation targeted potential Jewish immigrants to Mexico in the following decades. In discussing a highly unique response to an era of growing exclusion, Mays’s book makes an important contribution to the field of transborder studies.
The expansion and retreat of empire, which was central to British Caribbean, Syrian-Lebanese, and Sephardi mobilities, also conditioned the transplanted Japanese and Filipino identities analyzed by Suma Ikeuchi and Anthony Ocampo. They join a broader scholarship connecting Asia and Latin America also reflected in essays by Frederik Schulze and Kathleen López in Foote and Goebel’s Immigration and National Identities. López reminds us that Chinese in Cuba, Peru, and Mexico were central to discussions of national identity and racialized belonging. While arriving in Cuba in conditions analogous to slavery, Chinese participation in Cuban independence created space for Afro-Asian solidarity, which contrasted with the treatment of Peruvian Chinese, viewed as traitors, after the War of the Pacific. The 1920s saw nativist campaigns against Chinese businesses in Mexico and Peru and anti-Chinese migration policy in Cuba, but López, like other scholars, shows how this was actively contested by Chinese organizations who were “not passive victims of the Sinophobic campaigns.”11
Japanese experiences of labor and racialization differed fundamentally from those of Chinese and South Asian migrants. A robust earlier historiography reviewed by Schultze in Immigration and National Identities explored how imperial expansion enabled Japanese to claim “desirability” linked to whiteness in Brazil. In the 1930s and 1940s these identifications led to linguistic tensions over Brazilianization and postwar community violence on the part of those who rejected Japanese defeat. Others looked to a new postimperial identity, and scholars have shown how, in the following decades, Japanese Brazilians emerged as “model Brazilians” linking their identity to a rising modern Japan. Recently, Latin Americanists have analyzed how economic crises and neoliberal reform engendered internal rural-urban migration as well as transborder and overseas migration. The “lost decade” of the 1980s also reshaped the Japanese diaspora. Ikeuchi’s Jesus Loves Japan joins Karen Tei Yamashita, Lesser, and Gaku Tsuda in exploring the “return” migration of Japanese Latin Americans.12 After 1990, Japan altered its migration laws to allow nikkei (up to the third generation born abroad) to fill labor shortages in the country as dekasegi (migrant laborers) under long-term resident visas. As these scholars show, Japanese Brazilians who had identified as Japanese in Brazil for nearly a century found themselves treated as linguistic, social, and cultural foreigners when they came back to the ancestral homeland. Ironically, as Ikeuchi points out, dekasegi in Japan “feel—and are perceived as—unquestionably Brazilian for the first time in their lives” (23). As once upwardly mobile Japanese Brazilians turned to low-wage, repetitive, and dangerous factory labor, they idealized a “return” to Brazil and expressed to Ikeuchi a feeling of “perpetual temporariness” and detachment from a new generation born in Japan (50).
Jesus Loves Japan moves beyond nostalgia produced through alienation to demonstrate how a different sort of Brazilian migrant allowed for another reconfiguration of nikkei identity. Like labor migration, Brazilian Pentecostalism exploded in the wake of the economic dislocations of the 1980s and 1990s and was carried to Japan by migrant workers. Ikeuchi’s Pentecostal dekasegi informants employed this religious repertoire to make sense of their mobile lives. Feeling, perhaps like Mays’s “hypermobile” Sephardim, that they were trapped in “sustained, long-term, nonlinear migrations lacking a clear teleology,” Pentecostal Japanese Brazilians claimed conversion as a “return to the present.” Spatial and temporal aspects of Pentecostal identity—from late-night mountaintop vigils to prayer meetings—challenged the tyranny of factory time, placelessness, and the remittance-driven deferral of life. Pentecostal nikkei further inverted stereotypes of cultural backwardness by defining their expressive evangelical religiosity as decidedly modern in opposition to perceived Japanese traditionalism and emotional reserve.
Jesus Loves Japan is productively read alongside an ostensible outlier in this review essay, Anthony Ocampo’s US-focused The Latinos of Asia, which explores how Filipino Americans negotiate often-oppositional Asian and Latino identities. The dekasegi interviewed by Ikeuchi question and affirm elements of their Japanese and Latin American identity through changing immigration law, generational descent, laboring conditions, and religious practice. Meanwhile, Ocampo’s interlocutors in southern California claim a cultural, linguistic, and religious “colonial panethnicity” with Latinos as they point to common surnames, kinship expectations, and the presence of Spanish loanwords in Tagalog. Simultaneously, English language proficiency, a legacy of US-imposed schooling in the Philippines, leads some Filipinos to champion their relative assimilation vis-à-vis other Asian Americans in ways that Ocampo notes are “problematically stereotypical” (79). This persistent opposition emerges in multiple venues from residential patterns to dating practices, census categories, and racialized misidentifications (“Even other Filipinos think I’m Latina!”). Filipino students in elementary school and high school, when placed in advanced tracks, “reinscribe the racial difference [with Latinos and African Americans] and their perceived similarity with Asians” (117), while college experiences of “encountering whites and other Asian Americans in masse” (153) trouble middle-class and Asian identities and lead Filipino students to rediscover commonalties with Latinos. The Latinos of Asia affirms the contextual and institutional construction of migrant identity. For Filipinos, being “more Asian” or “more Latino” is inseparable from the presence of neighboring communities.
“Two Japanese make an association, and three found a newspaper,” was one of the many turn-of-the-century quips about migrant “associational instinct” recounted by migration historian José Moya.13 The institutional construction of ethnic identity is a central theme in Ben Bryce’s To Belong in Buenos Aires, which examines immigrant-run institutions, from churches to hospitals and schools, that proliferated over a century ago in the era of mass migration. What role did these serve? Were they incubators of civic nationalism or foreign enclaves on national soil? Many emerged in the absence of parallel state institutions, and as the institutional capacity of the state increased, these robust ethnic spaces threatened government officials and cultural nationalists.
As Bryce argues, many migrant groups relied on transnational connections for institutional support, but this practice took on an exaggerated significance for German speakers. Even before the loss of its overseas colonies, Germany imagined its diaspora as members of a “territorially unbounded nation” (105). The complex articulations of Germanness in overseas communities before and after the rise of the Third Reich has been the subject of extensive research.14 In Bryce’s analysis, immigrant institutions could satisfy two seemingly irreconcilable demands by funneling transnational ties toward local ends. Inflammatory rhetoric, such as claims that German speakers would be lost to Germandom, often resulted in tangible gains including the recruitment of German-speaking clergy and funding for German-language schools. Yet German Argentines could also assuage Argentine nationalist fears that they were agents of an informal empire by espousing an identity based on “civic belonging.” In his article in Immigration and National Identities comparing Japanese and German immigrants in Brazil, Frederik Schulze locates a similar spectrum of cultural persistence and acculturation (124). Sebastian Klor, in Between Exile and Exodus: Argentinian Jewish Immigration to Israel, 1948–1967, also reminds us that Jewish Argentines “saw no contradiction between their unqualified identification with the State of Israel and their affiliation with the Argentinian nation” (39). While transnational institutions appeared to be conduits to foreign influence, they could just as easily fill institutional gaps or promote local acculturation. This is evident if we consider the diasporic press. One can read the pages of a Yiddish, Japanese, Arabic, German, or British Caribbean newspaper for themes germane to long-distance nationalism (Garveyism, for instance). Yet those same papers devoted even more discussion to the politics of respectability or “uplift,” with elites prescribing behavior for poor migrants and succeeding generations.15
Class and gendered dynamics were paramount among German organizations in Buenos Aires. Their dues-paying elite would extend coverage to ensure that working-class Germans were neither burdens on the host state nor wholly assimilated. Arabic speakers in Argentina similarly policed community behavior and mobilized their rural-urban networks to fund hospitals. Sephardi Jewish immigrants in Mexico also cast themselves as brokers of group identity, creating a chamber of commerce in the 1930s to ensure that intragroup conflict was resolved quietly (Mays, 194). While men could embrace a paternalistic role in claiming to protect and educate working-class immigrants, the German-speaking women discussed by Bryce also pursued elevated status through philanthropy. Balloffet similarly finds that mahjar peddler-to-business-owner narratives were gendered masculine, but women took on substantial control of fundraising for hospitals and dispersal of aid. Interestingly, this gender dynamic was inverted among Koreans communities studied by Won K. Yoon in Global Pulls on the Korean Communities in São Paulo and Buenos Aires, where women dominated the garment industry and men sought status through associational life (60).
Institutional archives, an irresistible trove for historians, offer a remarkable curated vantage on migrant life. An uncritical reading can reproduce the elite claims of institutional brokers without questioning the gendered or class-based composition of these migrant spaces or their dual appeals to homelands and host societies, their representativeness, and even their uniqueness. The latter caveat is welcome in light of a persistent “groupist” tendency in migration studies identified by Foote and Goebel (3) that, like the tendency to national mythologizing, can lead scholars to embrace immigrant exceptionalism. Echoing others, Bryce reminds us that while impressive in scale, the passion for institution building among German speakers in Buenos Aires “resembled other Italian, Spanish, French, British, and Jewish institutions” (3, 50–51). Furthermore, many Germans eschewed institutional ties despite the grandiose claims of immigrant brokers, and nearly half married non-German speakers.
Julia Albarracín mirrors several authors in this review by situating Making Immigrants in Modern Argentina within a turn toward “bringing the state back in” as a “complex and contradictory” actor (21). While contributors to Foote and Goebel’s Immigration and National Identities in Latin America are attuned to migrants and state dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in the era of mass migration, Pedro Iacobelli’s book argues that the understudied post–World War II era bequeathed a “fundamental role” to the state. This moment witnessed a profusion of multilateral organizations and revived older or entirely novel forms of population transfer (Iacobelli, 33). Sending and receiving states subsumed eugenicist notions of “desirability” beneath ostensibly neutral selection categories, while shifts in relative status reordered state assessments of immigrants and their descendants. No longer viewing “their” diasporic populations as targets for assimilation or as threatening transnationals, some states came to see them as an ideal conduit to a globalized international order. These dynamics are evident in three complementary works connecting Okinawa and Japan with Bolivia, Spain with Argentina, and Argentina with Israel.
Few postwar schemes capture the intersection of neo-Malthusianism and Cold War geopolitics better than the planned emigration of Japanese and Okinawan settlers to Latin America. Shifting from migrants, or their impacts on receiving societies, Pedro Iacobelli compares three distinct statist perspectives in Postwar Emigration to South America from Japan and the Ryukyu Islands (2). This case-study approach is facilitated by the trajectories of postwar Japan and Okinawa. After claiming sovereignty over Okinawa in the San Francisco peace treaty, the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands promoted emigration from Okinawa to South America in conjunction with the elected, but subordinate, government of the Ryukyuan Islands. Meanwhile the Japanese government devised a separate emigration scheme to those same regions.
For Japan, mass repatriation and postwar rebuilding led to a spectrum of demographic responses. The newly created Japan Emigration Promotion Company recast the historical model of migration, presenting potential emigrants as agents not of empire but rather of “the new democratic and pacifist Japanese state” (45), which could be curated abroad. Meanwhile, the US emigration scheme on Okinawa harmonized with the US security vision for the Pacific. Land expropriations for US military bases engendered Okinawan protest. Iacobelli gives prominent space to the social scientist James Tigner, who traveled throughout the Americas at the behest of a nervous US military to identify relocation sites (99–108). Alongside Japanese and US concerns, Iacobelli takes seriously Okinawans’ active interest in emigration. Subject to Japanese control since the nineteenth century, Okinawans embraced the opportunity to engage in diplomacy, however circumscribed, that might “strengthen the Okinawan political identity” while linking their historical and contemporary emigration as the product of victimization by Japanese and US forces (122).
Like Iacobelli, Emilio Redondo Carrero, in Migrantes y refugiados en la posguerra mundial, connects pre- and postwar policy by charting the reestablishment of migration between two of the largest sending and receiving nations of the early twentieth century. Both Spain and Argentina turned to the new Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) in the postwar period. Franco, excluded from the United Nations for Spain’s dubious neutrality during the Second World War, saw ICEM as a pathway to the new international order. Across the Atlantic, Argentina was ostracized from Western Allies and faced US embargoes for its belated declaration of war, its reputation as a haven for war criminals, and its early advocacy of nonalignment. While offering a means to salvage a tarnished reputation, Spanish-Argentine participation in ICEM would dovetail with the Cold War aims of the Marshall Plan and Alliance for Progress. Redondo Carrero, like Iacobelli, provocatively casts migration as means to engage in international diplomacy. This aim exceeded the limited ends of ICEM, under which migration never reached prewar levels. Potential migrants were restricted by stringent medical criteria (a legacy of eugenicist models) and importantly, by a conception of selective immigration as a specialized motor for national development advocated by the Economic Commission for Latin America.
Amid these postwar sending schemes, Sebastian Klor’s study of Argentinian Jewish migration to Israel (aliyah) presents another opportunity to foreground the state. After all, Perón took an early interest in the state of Israel while the parastatal Jewish Agency sought to manage a vast and diverse aliyah and, in Argentina, worked closely with the Israeli diplomatic mission. Yet Klor opts to flip the perspective of Iacobelli, placing “the individual migrant as the central axis of the research” (7). Pairing institutional archives with personal testimonies, oral histories, and newspaper reports, Klor reveals how individual plans ran counter to official expectations. The Aliyah Department’s division between “ideological” and “economic” migrants presumed that olim (migrants) from wealthy countries would fall into the former category and be deeply committed to the Zionist project, while those from impoverished “countries of distress” might be motivated by basic questions of survival. Failing to attract significant migrants from North America and Western Europe, Israel viewed Argentina as a bridge to the recruitment of educated middle-class Jews. However, as Klor demonstrates, while much of the Jewish Argentine community fit this profile, the majority of Jewish Argentine olim did not. Their financial concerns, rather than ideological ones, dictated patterns of aliyah. Furthermore, a preference for rural migration to kibbutzim—ironically the very measure by which Argentina had attempted to restrict Jewish refugees a half century earlier—proved daunting for urban Jewish Argentines. In a final irony, Argentina teetered on the verge of becoming a “country of distress” while Israel experienced growing prosperity and modernization. Despite prominent anti-Semitism, it was this shifting relative status—a major theme in this postwar migration literature—that would drive much of the migration.
The accounts of Redondo Carrero, Iacobelli, and Klor reveal how states wage diplomacy through migration and acknowledge the limited results of state-based recruitment schemes. In the Japanese and Okinawan cases, direct state-run sending programs brought far fewer migrants to South America than “call-in” migration based on sponsorship by Japanese–Latin American communities. Family reunification was also central to postwar Spanish-Argentine migration (notable given its continued importance in global immigration policy). Reading Redondo Carrero alongside Iacobelli reveals other similarities. Post-1960 economic recovery in Japan and northern Europe redirected potential Okinawan or Spanish emigrants away from transoceanic locales and toward destinations closer to home (Redondo Carrero, 286).
The postwar order usually occupies an epilogue in Latin American migration studies. Mass overseas migration then gives way, according to reigning scholarly divisions, to something categorically different, the emigration and regional cross-border migration of Latin Americans. This compartmentalization reflects demographic trends, but it also inhibits meaningful comparisons. In the final section of this essay, I turn to two works that address post-1960s immigration: the cross-border immigration of Bolivians and Paraguayans to Argentina, and the overseas immigration of Koreans to the Southern Cone. Poetically, these migrant streams converged in the same urban neighborhoods that had been inhabited by earlier generations of immigrants.
In her assessment of nativism in the Greater Caribbean, Lara Putnam reminds us that even in the early twentieth century, “immigrants from adjacent countries invariably outnumbered all others. Yet for long stretches these ‘near neighbor’ migrants went unremarked in political debate, despite their highly visible presence in working-class communities near borders and within capital cities” (Putnam in Foote and Goebel, 33). A year before the first official ICEM-supported immigrants were arriving from Spain, “neighboring immigrants” were already the major source of imported labor in Argentina (Albarracín, 48). Addressing this scholarly omission, Albarracín compares the entrenched Eurocentric politics of Argentine immigration, covered by several authors in this review, with the Argentine response to Latin American immigration.
Argentine officials viewed these “neighboring migrants” through a lens of temporary labor recruitment and excluded them from residency and civil rights granted to foreigners by the 1853 constitution. By the 1960s, they were increasingly classified as “bracero” labor in agreements between Bolivia and Argentina analogous to the Mexico-US program, or pathologized as “policing” matters. Even with periodic amnesties, state media persistently associated transborder migrants with crime and threats to public health. Albarracín traces these currents through newspapers and the conflicting responses of the government branches. The administration of Carlos Menem favored reactionary orders while the legislature engaged in inconclusive discussion of reforming immigration. It was not until 2003 that Argentina prioritized immigration from Latin America, ending a century and a half of racialized Europhilia. As Albarracín shows, the timing indicates the lingering weight of early and midcentury European mass migration. Even when cross-border immigration outnumbered overseas entries for several decades, the 1980 census indicated that nearly half the foreign-born population was Italian or Spanish, while South Americans represented a third (69). By 1991, those numbers had shifted, but Italy and Spain still accounted for one-third (90). It was only in 2001, just before new migration policy was passed, that the foreign-born population from neighboring countries topped 50 percent (174). The presence of an aging but substantial European population and an emerging but rapidly growing “neighboring” immigrant population ensured a polarized discourse on migration.
Argentina previously looked to its Jewish population as a bridge to Israel, the Syrian-Lebanese community as a link to nonalignment, and ICEM-managed Spanish migration as a pathway to international recognition. Here, as in the postwar cases discussed above, the state understood immigrant communities as a corollary, if not a direct conduit, to its policy aims. With the establishment of Mercosur, the logic of free trade in the Southern Cone was tied to the belated recognition of once-maligned cross-border immigrants that included the normalization of the status of five hundred thousand South Americans in Argentina. Such gains could be reversed. As Albarracín demonstrates, the post-2015 Macri government revived the hostile rhetoric of the 1990s around crime and health.
Along with Bolivians and Paraguayans, a relatively new stream of Korean immigrants, many of them also undocumented, faced hostility under Menem. Newspapers fanned fears about an emerging Korean textile industry in historic immigrant neighborhoods (Albarracín, 83). Won Yoon’s Global Pulls on the Korean Communities is one of the few works detailing Korean experiences in Latin America. Recognizing the paucity of source material, his wide-ranging coverage includes a call for further scholarship. The book succeeds in revealing a nontraditional migrant community that, in a compressed frame, experienced numerous commonalities with the long-established migrants discussed above.
The early phases of Korean migration fit the Cold War model described by Iacobelli and Redondo Carrero and offer a parallel to the growth of the Filipino American community discussed by Ocampo. Koreans immigrated to South America in the early 1960s under a military government that, like the Marcos regime in the Philippines, declared emigration to be a national priority. Agricultural schemes in the Amazon and Patagonia largely failed, and many Koreans flocked to major cities while others, facing quotas on entry to Brazil and Argentina, saw Paraguay or Bolivia as ideal transit points for clandestine entry. As Yoon shows, the results of these submigrations (internal and transborder) were threefold. First, a prominent portion of the Korean population in Brazil was undocumented. Normalizing their status was a primary aim of the first Korean institutions. Second, in urban spaces, Koreans successfully pioneered a major role—like Syrian-Lebanese traders in rural Argentina or Sephardi migrants in Mexico—in the South American garment industry, which built on overseas expertise. Third, Koreans entered neighborhoods like Liberdade and Bom Retiro (in São Paulo) and Retiro (in Buenos Aires), which were magnets for earlier (Japanese, Jewish, and Syrian-Lebanese) and later (Paraguayan and Bolivian) migration. In the former, Koreans rented stores and warehouses from well-established Jewish and Arab owners, while in both Brazil and Argentina Koreans employed significant numbers of Paraguayans and Bolivians.
Given the overlapping immigrant urbanisms detailed by Yoon, it is unsurprising that a survey of immigration in Brazil by Jeffrey Lesser concludes with a trip to a Korean restaurant in the traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Bom Retiro where the author is served by a Korean American UCLA graduate.16 The establishment of a global Korean textile belt connecting Seoul, Los Angeles, and São Paulo may have initially resembled a linear spread of migrant expertise and production technology from Korea to the Americas. But as Yoon demonstrates, the subsequent movement of Koreans throughout this “spatial scaffold”—to borrow Balloffet’s reference to the mahjar—was multidirectional and intercultural. Even as some Korean Americans, like the waiter in the above anecdote, traveled south to assist family businesses in São Paulo, Latin American Koreans with Spanish and Portuguese fluency crossed boundaries separating Latino and Asian to emerge as key brokers in the thriving jobber market of southern California (Yoon, 126).
By the 1990s, the neoliberal reform that had driven nikkei to Japan opened the Brazilian economy to foreign business. Hyundai, Kia, and Samsung established operations in Latin American countries, and a new generation of Korean Latin Americans found opportunities as “international outposts of the global Korea” (xvi). Roles as local translators notably altered gender relations, privileging men who had played secondary roles in the garment industry. This final twist in Yoon’s narrative is hardly unusual in the literature. While state officials occasionally viewed the long-distance nationalism of diasporic communities as threatening in the decades prior to the Great Depression, the postwar rearticulation of the international order led these same groups to be viewed in precisely the opposite fashion. The Japan Emigration Promotion Company, whose role in supporting postwar Japanese emigration to Bolivia is discussed by Iacobelli, transitioned by the 1970s into the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which based much of its work in regions where Japanese migrant communities could benefit while employing development assistance in harmony with foreign policy.17 In a radically different fashion, Brazil’s military government mobilized its nation’s Portuguese heritage and status as the largest home of the African diaspora—fused under a myth of Luso-tropical racial democracy—to claim a privileged role in mediating the violent decolonization of Portuguese colonies in Africa.18 For Juan Perón and Argentina’s military dictatorships, the Jewish Argentine diaspora was central to relations with Israel. As Balloffet shows, Perón’s government simultaneously saw Syrian-Lebanese communities as a conduit to decolonization in Egypt. Indeed, just as a latter generation of Korean Argentines would act as translators for major Korean chaebol (corporations), Arab Argentine “citizen-diplomats” served as tour guides and translators for visiting members of the Arab League while translating Peronist writing into Arabic for distribution abroad (Balloffet, 146). Arab Latin Americans would continue to broker diplomacy in neoliberal Brazil “as export partners to the Arab World.”19
The works reviewed in this essay offer diverse approaches to migration studies and reveal Latin American entanglements with the Ottoman Empire and East Asia. A few tendencies, gaps, and thus areas for future research emerge. First, as Albarracín indicates, scholars should continue to explore racialized categories that have historically separated “immigrants” from “foreign laborers” throughout Latin America. Such comparisons would benefit further by incorporating the major waves of internal migration that surged in the latter part of the twentieth century. New arrivals from the countryside to the city or from one geographical region to another were often treated as racialized foreigners within their own nations as they settled alongside established immigrant communities once seen as threatening outsiders.20
Three related themes of rural, settler-colonial, and environmental migration also demand further consideration. Apart from Balloffet, who deliberately moves beyond Buenos Aires, the studies reviewed here are firmly rooted in urban spaces. This is an understandable tendency given the urbanizing trends of the mass migration era and the robust associational archives produced in these spaces. Yet it obscures the role of migrants in expanding commodity and settlement frontiers. An overdue engagement with rural history would help to rectify another gap by giving thorough attention to Indigenous-migrant relations in the context of settler colonialism. While this is a well-established theme in studies of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, comparable processes in Argentina and Brazil remain relatively unexplored.
Those turning to rural and settler-colonial histories would benefit from an attention to environmental factors, now established in Latin American studies but absent from current approaches to migration. Marco Armiero and Richard Tucker have recently argued that bringing together environmental and migration histories represents one of the major unaddressed challenges of those two vibrant fields.21 In turning to rural histories of migration grounded in landscape alteration, transplanted knowledge, environmental management, and Indigenous-settler relationships to nature, future scholarship can address this considerable omission. Environmental studies also offers scholars the opportunity to link natural disaster and diaspora while providing proven methodologies for exploring the accompanying movement of nonhuman actors that decenter the anthropocentric bias of migration studies.
Most authors reviewed here, while focusing on a single diaspora, are highly attuned to the need to confront diasporic essentialism by drawing parallels between migrant communities. Ocampo places Filipinos in dialogue with Asian Americans and Latinos. Zucchi reads Quebec and Italian immigration to Brazil as inseparable; Mays opens comparisons between Sephardi, Chinese, and Syrian-Lebanese communities. Yet for understandable reasons that are often logistical (linguistic ability, scale of a first major research project, depth of analysis), migration studies still tends toward a “group” focus (Goebel, 19–21). This problem is commonly addressed through edited collections rather than monographs. While highly comparative, the structure of Immigration and National Identities rests on a division between places and peoples. Deliberate comparisons between immigrants are manageable, it would seem, within a conscribed national (or regional) frame. Transnational complexity is better suited to studies of a single group. Albarracín’s Making Immigrants in Modern Argentina speaks to the perception and regulation of multiple immigrant groups but, like Iacobelli, operates at the level of state policy.
What would the other studies in this review look like if a comparative migration approach were taken? Could Ikeuchi’s nuanced description of Japanese nikkei benefit from cross-comparison with religiosity among other migrant communities (Korean, Chinese, Filipino) in contemporary Japan or, conversely, a disaggregation of Brazilian, Peruvian, and Bolivian dekasegi? Given the suggestive overlaps between the migrants covered by Yoon and Albarracín, would it be possible to engage in an explicit comparison of racialized belonging between recent overseas (Korean) and near-neighbor (Paraguayan, Bolivian) immigrant groups? Second and third projects are more likely to engage in comparative explorations of neighboring diasporas or turn to other immigrant communities within that same national context. Bryce’s To Belong in Buenos Aires has led to new research comparing Italian, Spanish, British, German, and French hospitals in Buenos Aires.
Confronting the exceptionalist tendency in migration studies can feel underwhelming at first. Indeed, reading twelve new works in Latin American studies quickly disabused me of the appropriateness of exceptional narratives of another nontraditional migrant community. Low-German Mennonites, a pacifist, Anabaptist community that left Canada and Russia to establish rural farming colonies throughout Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, Belize, and elsewhere since the 1920s appear primed for just such a treatment. Yet their experiences overlap directly with nearly every subject covered in this review, from mobility engendered by postimperial realignment, to identity negotiation through education, strategic long-distance ethnonationalism, to postwar refugee resettlement and frontier colonization.22 Even the surprising anecdotes that open this essay (Japanese-Brazilian Pentecostalism, Syrian yerba mate markets, Sephardi subterfuge) push against an exceptionalist reading of Mennonite migration. In the very years that Japan established a long-term resident visa to welcome back Latin American nikkei as low-wage laborers, third generation Kanadier Mennonites in Mexico reactivated Canadian citizenship to travel north to the homeland of their parents and grandparents, where they worked as laborers in greenhouses and factories. Treated as foreigners within Mexico, these returning Mennonites, like the dekasegi described by Ikeuchi, were identified as Latin American for the first time in their lives by Canadian host societies. Facing marginalization and social exclusion, many turned, like nikkei, to expressive evangelical Protestantism (distinct from their traditionalist Anabaptism) to recast their mobile precarity as a modern faith-based claim to belonging.23 Parallels also emerge between Mennonite, Syrian, and Sephardi mobilities. A world away from the unexpected market for yerba mate fostered by Druze in Syria, generations of Paraguayan Mennonites who immigrated to Canada beginning in the 1960s drank tereré (iced yerba mate) on job sites and in manufacturing warehouses in British Columbia. Like those highly mobile Sephardi migrants described by Mays, transnational Mennonites occasionally mobilized transborder repertoires to illicit ends, resulting in media associations of these diasporas with criminality.24
Pointing to parallels is not a call for a checklist approach to comparative migration studies that obfuscates, or even appropriates, differing experiences of racialization, violence, or exclusion in a naive search for similarity. However, acknowledging the simultaneous appeal of evangelicalism among Japanese Brazilian factory workers in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture and Mexican Mennonite greenhouse workers in southwestern Ontario reveals the interconnected global impact of neoliberalism while casting evangelical Protestantism as its own sort of transnational migrant.25 We could say the same for yerba mate–sipping Mennonites and Syrians, who provide a window onto displacement and the globalization of Latin American foodways, or Sephardi and Mennonite smugglers in relation to an expanding field of transborder studies. Broadened articulations of Latin America are at the forefront of new scholarship.26 The works surveyed in this essay are exemplary in this regard. Whether institutional, individual, or statist in scope, they provide welcome opportunities to consider the global entanglements that are opened by, but not limited to, the act of migration.27 They steer migration histories away from the comfortable confines of particularism while pushing at the conventional boundaries of Latin America.
2Jose C. Moya, Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850–1930 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Samuel L. Baily, Immigrants in the Lands of Promise: Italians in Buenos Aires and New York City, 1870–1914 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016). These authors would contribute to the first major edited collection on mass migration: Samuel L. Baily and Eduardo José Míguez, eds., Mass Migration to Modern Latin America (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2003).
3Jeffrey Lesser, Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Leo Spitzer, Hotel Bolivia: The Culture of Memory in a Refuge from Nazism (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998); Raanan Rein, Argentina, Israel, and the Jews: Perón, the Eichmann Capture and After (Bethesda: University Press of Maryland, 2002); Sandra McGee Deutsch, Crossing Borders, Claiming a Nation: A History of Argentine Jewish Women, 1880–1955 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).
4Lara Putnam, The Company They Kept: Migrants and the Politics of Gender in Caribbean Costa Rica, 1870–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Aviva Chomsky, West Indian Workers and the United Fruit Company in Costa Rica, 1870–1940 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996).
5Evelyn Hu-Dehart’s extensive publications include “Coolies, Shopkeepers, Pioneers: The Chinese of Mexico and Peru (1849–1930),” Amerasia Journal 15, no. 2 (1989): 91–116. See also Adam McKeown, Chinese Migrant Networks and Cultural Change: Peru, Chicago, Hawaii, 1900–1936 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Daniel M. Masterson and Sayaka Funada-Classen, The Japanese in Latin America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); and Jeffrey Lesser, Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).
9Lily Pearl Balloffet, “Argentina in the Global Middle East,” August 6, 2020, https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/0961fc018374445d8da4589f5f425a2a.
12Takeyuki Tsuda, Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Return Migration in Transnational Perspective (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003); Karen Tei Yamashita, Circle K Cycles (Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press, 2001); Lesser, Negotiating National Identity.
22See, for example, John P. R. Eicher, Exiled among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019); and Marlene Epp, Women without Men: Mennonite Refugees of the Second World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000).
25This is in line with studies such as Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), or Virginia Garrard Burnett, Protestantism in Guatemala: Living in the New Jerusalem (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998).
26Matthew C. Gutmann and Jeffrey Lesser, eds., Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016); Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
27See Benjamin Bryce and Alexander Freund, eds., Entangling Migration History: Borderlands and Transnationalism in the United States and Canada (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2015); the idea of entanglement is used by migration scholars in this review and beyond.
Ben Nobbs-Thiessen (PhD, Emory University 2016) is chair of Mennonite Studies and assistant professor of history at the University of Winnipeg. He also serves as editor of the Journal of Mennonite Studies and is a codirector of the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies. His research explores the movements of Mennonites and other migrant communities across the frontiers of the Americas, and has involved archival research and oral history in Bolivia, Paraguay, Mexico, Canada, and the United States. His first book, Landscape of Migration: Mobility and Environmental Change on Bolivia’s Tropical Frontier, 1952 to the Present, was published with University of North Carolina Press in 2020.