AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 472

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Session 472: The ‘Myth of Return’ in Transnational Migration: Issues of Leaving Home, Return, and the Way Its Imagined Amongst Asian Migrants - PANEL 2 of 2

Organizer: Michiel M. Baas, Independent Scholar, Netherlands

Chair: Nel Vandekerckhove, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

The myth of return of migrants is perhaps as old as the process of migration itself. Many migrants entertain the idea of returning to their country/region of origin after completing a certain migratory phase abroad. In practice, however, a return is often an illusive goal that is continuously being postponed to an indefinite point in the future. In this panel we would like to re-examine the meaning that transmigrants give to the idea and experience of leaving home, belonging and possible return in a transnational migratory context. • What does leaving home mean in a transnational context? How do issues of leaving, belonging and the myth of return feature into transnational migration? • How do people narrate about leaving home, belonging and the desire-to-return? How do these narratives relate to everyday experiences of migration? • How does the variety of roles Asian migrants have in transnational configurations shape the ideas and experiences of leaving, belonging and the desire-to-return? This panel will deal with these questions in detail. In particular this panel will investigate what the experiences of undocumented or forced migrants are in this regard. Such migrants often face additional difficulties when they contemplate to leave (the risk of forced deportation, the possibility ever to return, the chances for future legalization, etc.) It’s our intention to turn the submitted papers into a special issue in a peer-reviewed journal or an edited volume.

Chinese Migrants in Israel: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Barak B. Kalir, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

In this paper I shall discuss two related process that shape a new understanding of the decision to return home among undocumented migrants. On the one hand, I will detail the thoughts and practices that lead the vast majority of both documented and undocumented Chinese migrant workers not to desire a permanent residence in Israel. This is a rather unusual dynamic as Chinese migrants have been settling in countries the world around. On the other hand, I will outline the actions and procedures of the Israeli immigration police as they attempt to deport selectively certain undocumented migrants, and particularly Chinese migrants. The paper will more generally attempt to reveal the ways in which contemporary state policies regarding deportation impinge on the ideas and practices of migrants when it comes to the crucial decision: shall I stay or shall I go?

The problem of return for Partition’s Punjabi Hindu refugees
Neeti Nair, University of Virginia, USA

Much has been written on the refugee question: on the violence against women, between religiously informed communities, for / against the new states that came into being in 1947, and the role of the state in this catastrophe. In this paper I examine two different sets of interviews with former Hindu refugees who moved from west Punjab to Delhi during Partition. One interview tells the presumably typical story of loss, nostalgia, and the desire to return ‘home’ while the other speaks more openly of settling down and not wishing to return to what has now become ‘Pakistan’. Read closely, I argue that these different experiences are a testimony to the work of time over the last six decades. These interviews also complicate the way we tend to conceive of the Partition generation.

“The Forcible Repatriation of Koreans in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952”
Simon Nantais, , Canada

When Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers in August 1945, there were approximately two millions Koreans in Japan. During the colonial period, some had migrated to Japan in search of employment while thousands of others had arrived via labour and military conscription policies. The period of voluntary repatriation ended in December 1946, at which point approximately 600,000 Koreans remained in Japan. As I argue in my paper, most of those who remained in Japan had deep roots in Japan and found it impossible to “repatriate” to the ancestral homeland, which had become quite alien to them. Their presence in Japan, however, soon ran counter to American and Japanese policymakers. From 1948, when North and South Korea were established as separates states, until the end of the Occupation, and even beyond it, the rhetoric to drive Koreans out of Japan reached a feverish pitch. During this post-1948 phase of the Occupation, American officials drafted plans to forcibly repatriate (“deport”) Koreans in Japan to South Korea, especially those sympathetic to Kim Il-sung’s North Korean regime. The mass expulsion of Koreans, however, was never realized before the Occupation ended in April 1952. By placing this issue in the context of East Asian Cold War politics, this paper asks what role racial and anti-Communist ideologies played in shaping attitudes towards terminating the presence of Koreans in Japan and why the proposed deportation policy failed.

‘Going home by all means?’: The imagining of home, belonging and return in a Santhal IDP camp in Assam, India
Nel Vandekerckhove, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Policy reports are still found of portraying refugee camp residents as “pure victims” who were forced to flee from war or disaster, taking refuge in ‘suspended places’ such as a relief camp until the day has come to go home again. Once that day arrives, after NGOs or local state agents have assessed the ground conditions to be sufficiently safe, a massive return home is generally expected: people are believed to be eager to take up their ‘suspended lives’ again. This article claims, however, that such victimized view of refugee camp residents, overlooks the strong imaginative politics of home in these ‘suspended places’ and its impact on actual return. Based upon a politico-ethnographic study of Santhal IDPs residents in Sapkata relief camp in western Assam, this article will demonstrate that despite the suspended nature of this refugee camp, it soon became a critical political and moral space where the everyday imagining of home, who really belongs, and how return should be, shapes the willingness and patterns of return considerably.

Transnational migrants between Brazil and Japan
Sarah LeBaron von Baeyer, Yale University, USA

Twenty years have passed since Japan first turned to people of Japanese descent (Nikkei) as a source of foreign labor. Many of the early Nikkei migrants--most of them Brazilian--spoke of their decision to work in Japan not only in economic terms, but also as a form of return to their original, ethnic homeland. As the number of Nikkei Brazilian migrants continued to increase, many of them brought families to Japan, raising their children partially or even entirely outside their country of birth. While some Nikkei still speak of returning to Brazil, others seek to settle permanently with their families in Japan, viewing themselves no longer as temporary workers but as long-term members of Japanese society. As a result of the recent global economic crisis, however, the number of Brazilians in Japan decreased by about 15% between 2009 and 2010. In 2009, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party offered Nikkei financial assistance to return to Brazil, on the condition that they not return to Japan within a period of three years. Even with temporary financial support from the government, however, many Nikkei migrants struggle to find work and a sense of home upon their return to Brazil. This paper seeks to examine how the notion of “return” is negotiated within the constantly shifting spaces of changing government policy, personal desires and dreams, and long-term, multi-generational realities. What does return mean to transnational migrants between Brazil and Japan, and how does it help us understand return in other contexts around the world?