Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Flophouse Has Moved!

Moving the Flophouse to another blogging platform has been in my thoughts for a few months now.  Readers and blogging confrères et soeurs have kindly shared with me their  views about things that would make the Flophouse easier to read, to share and to comment on posts.  So I tried another blogging home (Wordpress) and I liked it.  I moved all the posts and comments over this week and have been tweaking it to make pretty.   You will notice that the font size is bigger - that's for me because my eyes are going. (Hey, I'm an old lady now.)

So from now on you can read the Franco-American Flophouse at:




And please let me know what you think of the new site.  Are there things from the old site you would like to see on the new one?  For example how useful are the categories (Americans Diaspora Tax War, Crossing Cultures, Cancer Journey and Flophouse Reviews ) and would you like to see the same on the new site?  All comments and suggestions are most welcome!

Friday, October 13, 2017

French Garden Dreams Inspired by Japanese Garden Reality

“Might I," quavered Mary, "might I have a bit of earth?”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

For years I dreamt of a "bit of earth" and when we moved to Versailles my fantasy was realized, first in the garden of our rental apartment and later when we bought our house.  A decent-sized lot was a requirement (I could care less about the size of the house) as was a layout with possibilities:  small and large spaces, shade and light, trees and shrubs;  and room for fruits and vegetables.  

That was a lot to ask for but the property we purchased has all that if I plan and plant it right.  My time in Japan has both inspired and instructed me.  The gardens here are amazing and they provide clever solutions that apply to my garden at home:  How do I get the maximum effect out of the space I have?

In the front of my is house a small rectangular courtyard which gets sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon.  It was separated from the street by a horrible chain link fence covered in blue plastic and a very nice maroon metal gate. Here is what it looked like back in 2012 after I got rid of the weeds.



The blue plastic went to the dump.  We had the chain link fence painted maroon to match the gate and I also painted the concrete brick walls.  After amending the soil I started to plant a few things every year.  Here is what has been accomplished so far.


Better but still a work in progress.  The house is very close to a busy street and the noise and pollution are a big problem.  M. (our house sitter) planted a row of shrubs along the chain link fence which (interestingly enough) is a plant that comes from Japan: Aucuba japonicaWe chose this shrub because it's an evergreen with lovely foliage and because there is already a row of them growing insanely fast in the backyard and they are lush and green with no hint of disease. The next phase is to plant more small trees like Japanese maples (there is already one on the other side of the courtyard and I'm waiting to see if it does well) and/or alders and/or witch hazel and a few box shrubs (or perhaps azaleas) so that there will be a mixture of tall and short things that provide a beautiful multi-layered screen against the dust and noise. Another idea I have is to pull up some of the flagstones and put a small tree in the middle of the north side for yet another beautiful barrier against the street.  

It was in Japan that I really got a feel for how to place and prune trees for a small space. The rule I have lived by ever since I read Cass Turnball's works  is never plant anything that you can't allow to grow to its full height and width.  Well, the Japanese don't do it that way and their way works and looks fantastic.  I have walked gardens in Himeji, Hiroshima, Shodoshima, Kyoto, Tokyo, Wakayama, Sapporo, and Osaka and have taken countless pictures of how they pruned in particular spaces and what trees were used to create certain effects.  Two books I have read and would recommend to you are The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs and  Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way.  Both are by Jake Hobson.

Turning to the backyard garden this is what it looked like when we moved into the Versailles house.


Messy but filled with potential.  A garden with great "bones".  Note on the right side of the photo the diseased shrubs.  In the back right corner what looks like a shrub was actually growth coming out of a tree stump.  But along the back stone wall there were roses and muguet which said to me that this garden was wonderful once.  The first step was one of subtraction - everything that was dead and dying had to go and it took months.  Only then could I amend the soil and start adding.  Slowly.  A few things a year.

Here is what it looks like now.


See what I mean by good "bones?"  So what's the plan here?  See that big bush on left side just after the bamboo?  That one is a conundrum.  There are many lovely varieties of weigelia but this isn't one of them.  This one has spindly boring flowers and has to be cut back fiercely at least once a year. So much work for so little reward.   I want to move it (perhaps to the front courtyard if there is enough light) and place a small pond in its place.  Something that looks like a smaller version of this:


In other words I want to dip my toes into water gardening.  When we were in Brittany we brought back some beautiful granite stones and a small auge which I will use instead of a waterfall.  The effect would be something like this:


So much to do and it's all doable with sweat and blood (I cut myself often).  And affordable if I just spend enough hours on Le Bon Coin

But I am so grateful to have spent time in Japan and to have had my old ideas about gardening challenged.  And to be abundantly clear, I don't want a Japanese garden.  What I want is a garden with the best and most locally appropriate ideas from the three countries I've called home:  the United States, France, and Japan.   I want it to be the best "bit of earth" it can be - a transnational garden from an old transnational gardener.

And just for fun (since it's Friday)  here is a short clip about my favorite garden in Japan:  Kokoen Garden in Himeji.  If you have only one thing to see in that city, skip the castle and go to see this garden divided up into nine spaces that are so beautiful that each and every one will make your heart sing.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Chain Migration

"Chain migration is the process by which one immigrant is admitted to the country, then he or she sponsors relatives back home to come to the U.S., who in turn could sponsor more relatives. In other words, under current U.S. immigration policy, admitting one immigrant to the country who can sponsor family members can set off a chain reaction that swells immigration numbers."

Tessa Berenson, Sep 15, 2017 Time Magazine

Lately "chain migration" has been in the US news  and the context of course is immigration reform, in particular DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals).  As the definition above shows, chain migration is being framed as a problem associated with family reunification policies.  Oh my goodness, let one immigrant in, give him or her legal status (residency or citizenship) and suddenly the entire family has an open door to move to the US.

Aside from the fact that family reunification in the US is not so simple (and this is true in more and more countries), the above definition of chain migration is misleading in so many ways.  Chain migration can be about families but it's also about transnational networks. And that definition is incomplete because it presumes that the chain is all about the immigrant and says nothing about other factors that made emigration likely for other individuals.

Chain migration is about networks - ties between a home and host country. If we look at yesterday's post Burke's arrival in Japan and getting the job she wanted was a very deft use of a migrant network.  The ties need not be familial all all; they can be professional, academic connections or friends and friends of friends.  (Maybe even just Facebook friends.)  Look at your email contact list and every one in another country is a connection to that place.  Some of my best contacts come through Alcoholics Anonymous which has a community in just about every city I've ever lived in.  

Multiply these connections by thousands or tens of thousands and they become very significant.  It's the folks already in place (and they can be either migrants/expats from your country or local citizens with connections to it) in contact with people on the other side of a border somewhere and using those contact to seek opportunity while mitigating the risks associated with migration by inspiring or helping them.  Sometimes even the dead are a kind of connection.  It's not unusual for Americans in France or Japan to cite the influence of Ernest Hemingway or Lafcadio Hearn as being instrumental in their decision to come to Paris or Tokyo. 

 Having a relative (a live one) in the host country who is a citizen is sometimes very helpful but it is not necessary in order for chain migration to occur.  Undocumented residents and mixed communities of citizens, legal residents and sans papiers can and do offer a kind of sponsorship  to friends and family seeking to enter a country.  So the focus on families and chain migration is overstated in my opinion. 

Chain migration is real but it's so much more than just family.  Stopping it (if that is indeed what you desire) involves a lot more than limiting family reunification.  People are, after all, free to talk with one another.  They are allowed to write and publish books about their experiences in the host country and explain how they managed to migrate and make a life for themselves.  They can even offer a spare bed to a friend of a friend until he finds his feet and a job.  Stopping the chain means limiting or stopping the information flows that are circulating all over the world even as we speak.  

My second point is that every migration chain has a beginning.  It doesn't just kick off of its own accord.  The very first migrants to come are sometimes called pioneer migrants because they are the ones who pave the way for others to follow.  But why do the pioneers leave in the first place?  This is where chain migration gets very interesting because a lot of things can start a chain or kick one into high gear.  Things like war, for example, or occupation.  According to the Migration Policy Institute in 1990 there were around 45,000 Iraqis in the US.  By the year 2000 there were  90,000 Iraqis living in the US.  In the 2016 Census Bureau report  Place of Birth for the Foreign-Born Population in the United States they estimate that there are now 222,000 Iraqis in the US.  Some were refugees but others were marriage migrants (not necessarily an easy road but soldiers did marry local men and women) or they were sponsored by contacts and allies in the US.

US bases around the world are also generators of family reunification and (potentially) chain migration to the US.  As Hidalgo and Bankston note many sources have noted the connection:
"Military wives have arrived from many of the countries in which the U.S. has had troops, including Germany, Japan, and Korea. In some cases, a military presence has led to a country becoming a major source of female marriage migration. After the World War II, for example, the U.S. kept two large military bases in the Philippines. By one estimate, about half of all the immigrants who came to the U.S. between 1946 and 1965 arrived as wives of U.S. military personnel (Riemers 1985)."
(And now that there are many more American women in the military, we will surely see more foreign "military husbands"  arriving in the US.)

 And then there are the other Americans abroad, the civilians.  There are about 7 millions Americans living outside the US and countless others who go as tourists or students.  While they are abroad they make friends, find spouses, adopt which also can sustain a a chain of migration.  Most of the people I know abroad are married to non-US citizens.  All the spouses are aware that moving to the US is a possibility though the folks I know haven't or won't exercise that option.

In short chain migration doesn't start with an immigrant who becomes a citizen who sponsors her relatives for entry into the US.  It starts well before that with contacts, connections, voices long dead that still speak to us today and the presence of a country's citizens in a foreign country.  There are around 300 million native-born and naturalized Americans in the US and every one of them has the potential to be part of a migrant network and has the right to leave the country and return.  The activities of the government abroad and the creation of a permanent American presence (military or civilian) abroad are also factors in creating or sustaining immigration.  

And yet, it seems that very few people want to admit that there is a link between American citizens, the global communications network, US military interventions and migration.  Another case, I think, where people prefer to place responsibility for the immigration "problem" firmly on the backs of the migrants with the citizens themselves portrayed as the innocent victims of the "hordes" of people trying to crash the gate.  Nonsense.  Not when they were the ones to unlock the gates of globalization  in the first place.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cutting Back by Leslie Buck

Himeji, Japan



My time here in Japan has one fatal flaw:  no garden.  Yes, there are gardens everywhere to admire, but there is not one bit of earth here I can call my own. At moments like these, it heals the heart to live vicariously though someone else's experiences.

Cutting Back:  My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto by Leslie Buck was all that for me and more.  If you are a migrant/expatriate and a gardener, I think you will love this memoir.  And for those among you who aren't particularly enchanted by the finer points of Japanese pruning techniques, I would still recommend it for insights into the Japanese system for training craftsmen and women.




Buck is from California and when she left for Japan she was 35 years old and the owner of a landscaping company in the United States.  She had studied under Japanese craftsmen living in the US and had a portfolio of her work.  This is a definite advantage that craftsmen and artists have because they don't have to rely entirely on language;  they can actually show what they have done.   

How she managed to get the apprenticeship in Kyoto is illuminating.  Much of it was about using a Japan-US migrant/expatriate network.  Through one contact she found a place to live in Kyoto.  Through another master gardeners from Japan living in the US gave her names and letters of introduction.  A very kind woman at an party translated her cover letter into Japanese.  Another contact introduced her to a neighbor in Kyoto who spoke English and owned a landscaping company.  And yet another person went with her on an interview as a translator.  Her approach, which was a combination of persistence, determination, and humility, was successful and in the end she had two offers.  The power of a transnational network?  Absolutely.

How did she make her choice between the two companies?  One was very tempting because the company was close to where she lived in Kyoto and the owner spoke English.  The other was a very well-known company but it was much farther away and she was told before she interviewed that no one in the company spoke English (something that turned out to be false by the way).  She chose the harder road and became an apprentice at the Uetoh Zoen company.

And it was hard in so many ways.  What makes her book a cut above many other expat memoirs is how forthcoming she is about her many mistakes and things that she found particularly difficult.  She was integrated into a hierarchical, all male work crew and since she was the latest arrival, she was almost at the very bottom of the hierarchy.  The work itself was physically taxing (6 days a week) and sometimes very frustrating because there was almost no spoken guidance given.  She was given a tree to prune and if she did well, she was given another.  If she did poorly, she was yelled at and told to start hauling brush.  Learning was 90% observation and 10% negative verbal feedback.   She writes,  "Working with the men was a codependent's dream job!  The company hierarchy kept the momentum going. No one stopped to discuss a plan.  You do as you're told, or guess and accept the consequences."

Among the many things she found odd was the requirement that she wear white gloves when working.  If you've ever gardened than you know that anything white will turn grey within the first hour.  The boss of the crew mocked her when she tried to get away with reusing her gloves.  All of us migrants/expatriates have experienced these moments when something just doesn't make any sense to us and we search for why the culture asks this of us.  Buck did, in my view, exactly the right thing which was to obey and buy a pack of fresh white gloves at the store.  And only then did she attempt to make sense of it. 

Her conclusion was, "By asking me to wear new white gloves every day, I think Nakiji was trying to teach me that if I act like a premier craftsperson, I might feel like one."  That may or may not have been true but her after-the-fact reaction feels more like an attempt to rationalize obedience.  Here is a strong independent woman needing a reason to put aside her own thoughts and beliefs and performing an act of humility when faced with a cultural difference.

The nadir of her apprenticeship occurred toward the end when she was temporarily assigned to another crew.  It was snowing and when the crew broke for lunch they climbed into the truck to warm up and eat and the crew chief handed her a sandwich and told her she had to eat outside by herself.  "Fine, I thought spitefully, I can adapt to this situation, like all the other workers would.  I ate my lunch with my back turned to the men, my silent protest."

Cold, wet and physically exhausted she was in that state of cultural confusion where one begins to imagine all kinds of nefarious intentions on the part of the natives, she stubbornly sat there even when a woman came out from the nursing home and invited her to come inside.  When she wouldn't move the woman brought her a cup of hot coffee.
"As I sipped my cooling cup of coffee with lovely, icy snow falling around me, the woman came out again to retrieve the cup.  I looked at the ground so she couldn't see my tears.  But she kept saying something to me over and over.  I finally looked up.  I must have looked a sight.  I watched her expression turn from polite friendliness to horror then to tenderness in the space of a second. She understood... I struggled not to feel ashamed.  Surely she must have understood my determination to act strong, like a dedicated craftsperson.  But deep down, I felt expose and overly sensitive.  What I believed was our female pact, to suffer in silence, made me cry even more."
I think many of us woman migrant/expatriates can relate to this experience though our reactions and actions might have been different.  When entering another culture a woman has to find a way to fit that does not do deep damage to her deepest self.  Buck was fearful from the very beginning that she would be treated differently because she was a woman and she went to great lengths to prove that she could keep up with the men.  Being yelled at, for example, was (she was told) a good sign: "You'll be lucky if your boss yells at you.  That means you're being treated like one of the guys, not an outsider." Buck wasn't asking for positive special treatment, but here was a situation where she was experiencing negative special treatment: isolation from the crew. 

Was she treated this way because she was a woman, a foreigner, or just the lowest person in the hierarchy?  Buck didn't know a culturally appropriate response to what was happening. And that is a situation I have encountered many times in my workplaces in France.  What actions can you take and which options are not acceptable?  Only time and observation can give you answers.  Watch what men and women actually do (and not what they say) in order to solve the riddle of gender relationships in the host country workplace.

A really fine book.  I have not written nearly enough about the gardens and how hard it is to make a Japanese garden look "natural."   There is every bit as much work as there is in a formal "unnatural" garden like Versailles. 
"We picked up every last pine needle by hand.  On top of that we cleaned up a gravel area around a sitting bench, per Nakiji's request. All he had to do was point and grunt. I knew instantly that the area wasn't up to his standards, that I would have to grab a bucket, move the rocks aside, square foot by square foot, dust the ground and replace the rocks."  
The great Japanese gardening classic (Sakuteiki) says  that nature is the guide but the act of creating a garden is one of interpretation, not re-creation. Gardening is a craft and an art. And I think there is an analogy here to integration.  The culture is the guide from which we take inspiration but we ultimately are the interpreters.  I like this notion much better than the one that says culture is static and something to be bullied into learning by rote. Because as every landscape, every garden, is unique, so are we.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Neo-Nationalism and Identity in Japan

Over the past year I have been paying attention to a national scandal here in Japan that is centered around a kindergarten here in Osaka.  (The school is not far from where I was biking a few weeks ago along the Yodo River.)  The larger context of the scandal is the emergence of nationalist movements which are provoking debates over Japanese identity.

The Tsukamoto Kindergarten (école maternelle is a private school with some very public supporters including the wife of the current prime minister.  Elements of the curriculum are definitely on the very conservative side of the political spectrum and are meant to instill pride and patriotism in Japanese children.  Children stand before the Japanese flag, bow to a portrait of the Emperor, recite the Imperial Rescript on Education (1890) and learn what are called "pre-war" (World War II) values.  Here is a short video filmed at the school that shows a few of these activities.  (Note that uniforms are not something particular to this school, but are common in public and private schools.)


The scandal was not so much about the curriculum (though criticism of it abounds) as it was about anti-foreigner comments by school officials and corruption. The corruption is said to have occurred when the Japan government sold a piece of land to the school's owners at a very good (some say ridiculously low) price so they could construct an elementary school .   The bigotry was discovered in letters and pamphlets issued by the school with statements like, “The problem is that people who have inherited the spirit (of Koreans) exist in our country with the looks of Japanese people” and reports that  the school administrators were espousing belief in the "uniformity of the Japanese race."  
And for the cherry on the top, the school's principal is a member of a Far Right organization called Nippon Kaigi (The Japan Conference).  Lest you think that this is a marginal organization with few members, think again.  Nippon Kaigi is reported to have around 38,000 members but more importantly it enjoys strong support from the prime minister, members of his cabinet, and parliament. 

Here is a short video from France 24 in English about the organization which I think is fairly balanced reporting.  Looking beyond the title of the piece, The Return of Japan's Imperialists, Nippon Kaigi members are interviewed and give their side of the story.


This is a classic modern battle over national identity, one that is very similar to such debates going on elsewhere.  The tactics are also very familiar:  revising the curriculum, arguing for a different interpretation of historical events, creating a top-down movement led by political and social elites, and using religious, philosophical or ethical systems to support a return to an older (and ostensibly better) framework of national values. (And here I deftly avoid the question of whether or not Emperor worship is a religion.)  It reveals a belief that it is possible to construct a different national reality through institutions, the education of children, and persuasive efforts led by political elites.  And it makes me wonder to what extent these tactics, even in a democratic society, are a way of circumventing the wishes of the citizenry.   I do not see great enthusiasm for the prime minister's commitment to a more militarized society and yet, he seems to be moving forward anyway.

Ultimately, the big questions for me are:  How successful is this movement likely to be?  In other words, is Japanese national identity going to change significantly in the near future as a result of neo-nationalism?  (Perhaps it has already changed in some ways.)  And, if so, how might it change citizenship laws and immigration policies?  Or to put it another way do migrants and naturalized citizens have good reasons to be very concerned about where this might go?  

A suivre....

Friday, September 29, 2017

Reclaiming French Nationality

As I was writing the post on Turkey and dual nationality, a conversation I had here in Japan flashed through my mind but I decided to leave it for later.  The core issue is:  Can you get your French national back if you renounce it?  The person (French) I was talking to believed that it was easy to reclaim French nationality, and therefore, no worries for a French about becoming Japanese.  The day she wants to leave Japan she simply applies to be "reintegrated."  Easy peasy.

Now far be it from me to argue with a French citizen about this.  But I have lived in France for a long time and in my experience French citizens don't always follows changes to immigration or citizenship law.  This person could be wrong, could have missed something. On the other hand I sure hope this person does check it out before doing something irrevocable.  Because it turns out that, well, it's complicated.  So complicated that I read a bunch of articles that seemed to say conflicting things and so I threw up my hands and went to look at the law and at government websites.  What follows here is what I was able to determine from those sources, which I tried to verify in the  décret n° 93-1362 du 30 décembre 1993, (the updated version as of 29 septembre 2017).  I nearly went blind reading so if there are any errors or nuances I missed, please let me know.

Voluntarily Losing French Nationality:  There are different ways to do this depending on the situation:  Repudiation is available to French citizens with a non-French parent upon reaching their majority or following the naturalization of a French citizen who has married a citizen of another country and that country does not accept dual nationality.  Or it can be done through a declaration following the acquisition of another nationality.  The Declaration is a limited time offer - 1 year to apply after acquiring another citizenship.  After the year is up one can still ask to be Liberated from the Ties of Allegiance to France under certain conditions.

Some of the conditions are pretty standard like having another nationality so the person won't be stateless.  The would-be-renouncer must also prove that he or she is French and that may involve getting a certificat de nationalité française - something that takes time in my experience.  He must also provide a certificate from the country of which he is a citizen with information about how and when it was acquired. And he must prove that he habitually and durably lives abroad (at least 10 years) and has no unmet obligations to the French state. The state also reserves the right to examine the motives that the citizen has for making the request.  Tax avoidance, for example.  If those conditions are not met and they are not satisfied that the motives are pure, the French government can refuse the request.   If it is granted than a decree is issued and published in the paper version of the official government journal.

Reclaiming French Nationality:  How she gets it back depends on how the French citizen gave it up.  The process is called reintegration.  Yes, it can be done but again there are conditions.

The easiest is Reintegration by Declaration which is available to those who lost French nationality via marriage.  The I-want-to-be-a-citizen-again must show that she has retained ties to France and may not have acted against the interests of France abroad or have committed crimes.

In the case of a French citizen who was Liberated from the Ties of Allegiance (decree) it's more complicated and there are more conditions.  It can't be done through a declaration; it must be done via another decree.  And, in essence, the I-want-to-be-a-citizen-again is treated as if he was an immigrant seeking naturalization.  The state asks for proof of assimilation and adherence to the values of the Republic. Her life is examined in terms of morals and good conduct in addition to not having been caught doing something criminal like not paying taxes. And, finally, he must come back and live in France. Here again the state has the right to refuse the request.

So the French citizen I spoke to is, in principle, correct that it is possible to renounce French citizenship and then get it back.  That said, it appears loss via declaration due to marriage or naturalization (if done within 1 year) would be much safer and easier than trying to get it back via decree.  I can also see how a French citizen could theoretically do an end run around Japan's laws against dual nationality:  become Japanese, renounce via declaration, apply for reintegration, move back to France as a French citizen, retain Japanese citizenship on the sly.  However, getting that French citizenship back is not at all a sure thing and is contingent on things like how the former French citizen has lived his/her life abroad.

Fascinating.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

National Unity and the Sins of the Past

"Dans le passé, un héritage de gloire et de regrets à partager, dans l'avenir un même programme à réaliser ; avoir souffert joui, espéré ensemble, voilà ce qui vaut mieux que des douanes communes et des frontières conformes aux idées stratégiques ; voilà ce que l'on comprend malgré les diversités de race et de langue. Je disais tout à l'heure : « avoir souffert ensemble » ; oui, la souffrance en commun unit plus que la joie. En fait de souvenirs nationaux, les deuils valent mieux que les triomphes, car ils 
imposent des devoirs, ils commandent l'effort en commun."

"A people shares a glorious heritage as well, regrets, and a common program to realize. Having suffered, rejoiced, and hoped together is worth more than common taxes or frontiers that conform to strategic ideas and is independent of racial or linguistic considerations. “Suffered together”, I said, for shared suffering unites more than does joy. In fact, periods of mourning are worth more to national memory than triumphs because they impose duties and require a common effort." (Translation by Ethan Rundell.)

Ernest Renan, Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? (What is a Nation?), 1882.

If you've never read this text, I really encourage you to do so.  It was a lecture Renan gave at the Sorbonne in the late 19th century in which he asked this deceptively simple question.  At a time when people viewed race, ethnicity, language, national borders and even common interests as the elements that make up a nation, Renan argued rather that a nation has a "soul" that is composed of the past and the present:  "One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present consent, the desire to live together, the desire to continue to invest in the heritage that we have jointly received."

That is a emotionally stirring and surprisingly inclusive definition.  It's not something that one can prove empirically and the fact that he had to argue for it says that many at that time would have disagreed. Many still would.  Is is possible to conceive of the French or Japanese nations today without the French and Japanese languages? And yet Renan argues against making it a defning feature of the nation for "When one exaggerates its importance, one limits and closes oneself up in a particular culture understood as national. One leaves the open air that one breathes in the midst of humanity in order to lock one’s self away in little freemasonries of one’s compatriots."

However, where I definitely part ways with Renan is when I read these passages (the ones most often quoted):   
"Forgetting, I would even say historical error, is an essential factor in the creation of a nation and it is for this reason that the progress of historical studies often poses a threat to nationality. Historical inquiry, in effect, throws light on the violent acts that have taken place at the origin of every political formation, even those that have been the most benevolent in their consequences." and "However, the essence of a nation is that all of its individual members have a great deal in common and also that they have forgotten many things. No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgund, an Alain, a Taifala, or a Visigoth. Every French citizen has forgotten St. Bartholomew’s Day and the thirteenth-century massacres in the Midi."
Renan argued that forgetting was a good thing: A collective memory of the past is what makes it possible for members of the nation to envision a common future.  This is an appeal to national unity which should, in his view, override historical accuracy.  

This argument is still with us;  you can hear it in the US, in Japan and in France.  Some say Why do we have to keep talking about the history and legacy of slavery and colonialism?  Let us all instead indulge in a collective act of selective amnesia and just move on. There are many answers to that suggestion written by far wiser people than I.  But my belief is that this simply can not be asked of people whose recent ancestors suffered great injustices and who are still feeling the weight of the past in the present.

This proposition also offends my own honor:  Am I so small a person (so delicate a flower) that I need lies or erasure of facts in order to think well (or badly) of my or any other nation?  Nor would I like to think of myself as so lacking in intellectual integrity that I decide to accept one pleasing and palatable version of an historical narrative and sweep all others aside.  "You can't handle the truth!" was an insult, not the wise words of a venerable warrior.  The truth certainly can elicit all kinds of emotions but it is not for someone else to say whether you or I can "handle" it.

In the context over these thoughts about forgetting, I am following debates over the Confederate statues in the American South and the shrines to the war dead in Japan.  I confess that I have never been to that part of the US but I have been to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.  (And I went with full knowledge of the controversies surrounding it.)   The arguments for and against them are not so far apart though the existence of the shrine is a recurring national debate and an international cause célèbre in Asia.  

Are they memorials or monuments?  Are they recalling events to which Renan might counsel forgetting in the name of national unity?   Do they promote an historical narrative that is one-sided and based on principles like imperialism and white supremacy?  What does it mean when a Japanese prime minister pays a visit (or for that matter, Jean-Marie Le Pen) or when American politicians argue against the removal of statues?  Do we accept that "Yasukuni Shrine was established to commemorate and honor the achievement of those who dedicated their precious lives for their country" and Confederate statues and flags as simply a part of the "heritage" of the region?* Or do we reject those arguments and ascribe far more nefarious motives to those who built them, visit them, or support their continued public existence?

National tragedies are not so forgettable as Renan seems to suggests, nor is it obvious that a people necessarily see themselves as united in suffering.  Akiko Hashimoto had this to say about the nation and the past in The Long Defeat:   "Memories of difficult experiences like war and defeat endure for many reasons: the nation's trajectory may change profoundly as it did when Japan surrendered sovereignty in 1945; collective life must be regenerated from a catastrophic national fall; and losers face the predicament of living with a discredited, tainted past." May I suggest that if people perceive that those are the stakes, then efforts to explore the past together in order to come to a place where there is that desire to move on together will be a Sisyphean task.  Because anything that smacks of Sin without the possibility of compassion and redemption leaves people with nowhere to go but Hell (in which case they will fight like devils just to get into Purgatory.)

I think these debates are necessary, however acrimonious and painful they may be.  It may very well be that what we are experiencing now in so many places - the angry debates, the culture and identity wars and the never-ending arguments over "the moral character of heroes, victims and perpetrators" (Hashimoto)- is a form of Renan's "suffering together."  Like all things under the sun, it will be over one day and how it will end, I cannot say.  But I do think that Renan is right  and national unity (and better international comity) may actually come to pass once we have learned  to sincerely regret and to grieve with and for each other.  

*This connection has been made before by others.  Just google Yasukuni and Confederate Flag.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Immigration and Worksite Enforcement in the US: Verification Hell

We hear a lot these days about a big beautiful Wall that is going to be built on the US southern border.
I'll believe that when I see it.  And so far I'm seeing nothing which means that sometimes a government's inability to get things done is a very good thing.  As you can tell I am not a fan of the idea.  I think it's useless and expensive and as a US taxpayer I'm not willing to shell out money just to make homeland Americans feel like they have their very own brick and mortar doudou to help them sleep better at night.

The other day it occurred to me that there is a very good reason that stricter border enforcement is all the rage (and not just in the US): it requires very little inconvenience, effort or sacrifice on the part of resident citizens (also known as "voters").  Their lives need not be disturbed in any way, and it might even generate a few jobs. What's not to like about that?

Contrast enhanced border security with other forms of immigration enforcement that might be a better bet like worksite enforcement, so unloved and regularly ignored by millions of Americans. Because, you see, worksite enforcement applies to them as well as the undocumented workers.

Yes ma'am/sir, It is illegal in the US to hire an undocumented worker.  That means that a citizen who hires someone who does not have the right to work in the US is breaking the law.  Funny how so much of the focus is on illegal entry by migrants  ("They broke the law!") while Americans seem to be rather sanguine about the lawbreaking by their fellow citizens.  Silly me, I didn't realize citizenship meant getting away with only obeying the laws you take seriously.

On the other hand they have reason to be only moderately concerned.  The penalties for breaking hiring an undocumented worker are relatively modest.  According to this site, it's about 250 USD for a first offense which goes up to 2000 USD for the second offense. (To give you a basis for comparison, in France the fine is 15,000 Euros and 5 years in prison.)  Sometimes employers get caught (IFCO) but more often they don't. Some of that has to do with the fact that ICE just doesn't have the staff .According to Jerry Kammer (What Happened to Workplace Enforcement?) ICE conducted 2,196 workplace audits in 2010 and 3,127 in 2013.  This, say Kammer, "represent a tiny fraction of 1% of the nation's employers" (loc 1510).

But one could argue that it's the employee verification process that is fatally flawed. (E-Verify is supposed to be better but it's not implemented in all states.) How can a US employer tell an undocumented worker from someone who is authorized to work?  That's a conundrum; it's not as if you can look into someone's eyes and ascertain their citizenship or immigration status.  So US employers are not supposed to guess or assume anything (though clearly there is discrimination based on things like accent or skin color.).

So, with very few exceptions, all employees in the US are required to fill out section one of the I-9 form (employers fill out section two) and provide proof of identity and authorization to work.
"While citizens and noncitizen nationals of the United States are automatically eligible for employment, they too must present the required documents and complete a Form I-9. U.S. citizens include persons born in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. U.S. noncitizen nationals are persons who owe permanent allegiance to the United States, which include those born in American Samoa, including Swains Island."
Have a look at the list of acceptable documents here.   Quite the list, isn't it?  I certainly didn't know that  a "Passport from the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) or the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) with Form I-94 or Form I-94A indicating nonimmigrant admission under the Compact of Free Association Between the United States and the FSM or RMI" is an authorization to work in the US.  And for the life of me I couldn't tell the difference between a Green Card and a well done fake one. And that's OK because  it appears that the system works on a "best effort" basis.
"You must physically examine the document(s), and if they reasonably appear on their face to be genuine and to relate to the person presenting them, you must accept them. To do otherwise could be an unfair immigration-related employment practice. If the document(s) do not reasonably appear on their face to be genuine or to relate to the person presenting them, you must not accept them."
Americans are not fond of this system.  Business owners hate it (and try to get around it.)  US citizen employees submit to it because they must, and grumble about the "damn government" and its prying ways.  Attempts to make it more efficient and effective are, as Kammer notes, resisted by Left and Right alike.  Yes, my fellow Americans, here is something some of the Left and Right actually seem to agree on. A proposal in 1994 for pilot employee verification programs designed to be more efficient than the I-9 process was seen by the ACLU as "'merely a launching pad for a national computer registry and a de facto ID card that will make human guinea pigs of...millions of people.'"  The National Rifle Association (NRA) agreed as did the Cato Institute, the National Council of La Raza, and Grover Norquist (loc 542).

A new system that is in place but is not mandatory for all US states, is called E-Verify.  This MPI report says that in 2011 only 1 business out of 25 in the US was registered in the system.  Breitbart thinks it's a fine idea but the Cato Institute is still publishing articles like this one against it.  As for the ACLU it made this video and clearly they still think it's a bad idea.



So how exactly is immigration enforcement supposed to work inside the United States?  It's not if it means that Americans have to personally sacrifice something to make it effective.  Everyone agrees that "something must be done" about immigration, and that laws in principle should be enforced but they want solutions that don't affect them - solutions that conform to their desire to keep the government out of their lives as much as possible.  They seem to expect that somehow the US government is supposed to be able to just tell who is a citizen and who isn't, who has papers and who doesn't.  The fact that they can't is apparently a sign of incompetence: they don't have superpowers and can't read minds.

So it is, I contend, a hell of a lot easier to sell better border security (that darn wall) than it is to suggest that if the goal is to identify citizens, legal residents and undocumented residents, this would be a lot simpler if, say, the US had national ID cards.  If as Americans we don't care for that idea (and we are unwilling to obey our own laws) then perhaps we might want to rethink the need to make such distinctions in the first place and extend the right to be left alone to all residents.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Roman Catholics in Japan

It is early Sunday morning in Osaka and we have planned a long bike ride along the Yodo River.  Our path will take us past the Osaka Cathedral.



The history of Christianity in Japan is a fascinating one. This faith arrived in the 16th century and never really left though it went underground for a time only to come back in the 19th century.  For a good overview of the history of Roman Catholicism, Orthodox and Protestantism in Japan I recommend Otis Cary's book A History of Christianity in Japan (kindle version available) which was first published in 1909.  Cary (1851-1932) was a Protestant missionary in Kobe, Osaka, Okayama and Kyoto and many of his children were born in Japan.

His son was also a missionary in Japan and his grandson (also named Otis) grew up in Japan and was a professor at Doshisha university in Kyoto.  That's three generations of Americans in Japan with a high level of cultural and linguistic fluency.   Which, when you think about it, makes a great deal of sense.  If the goal is to convert the people then first you must know them and speak their language - a case where integration has a purpose other than simply belonging?

The most interesting new knowledge I gleaned from Cary's books was a French connection.  In 1855/56 French Roman Catholic missionaries (carried by French naval and merchant vessels) were waiting for an opportunity to enter Japan and were studying the language.   One (M. Mermet) finally did arrive in Yedo in 1859 as a priest/interpreter for the foreign community, but he soon began construction of a chapel  and started preaching.  Other French missionaries followed building churches and proselytizing.  This led to a wave of persecutions against Japanese Christians which lasted until the edicts against Christianity were finally repealed in 1873. Mgr. Petitjean sent this message to the Missions Etrangères de Paris (which is still around by the way):  "Edicts against Christians removed.  Prisoners freed.  Inform Rome, propagation of faith, holy infancy.  Need immediately fifteen missionaries."

Today Christians of all stripes are a very tiny minority in Japan.  Roman Catholics are said to number around half a million and the Church struggles with some of the same issues as Catholicism in other countries:  an aging population and a very secular society.  I do note, however, that Japan has had a surprising number of Christian Prime Ministers.  I would be very curious to hear your thoughts on why that is.

I wish you all a very pleasant Sunday and, if you are interested, here is a short video (no audio) about Catholics in Japan that shows many churches and highlights Christianity translated into another context.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Laws Against Dual Citizenship - Moves and Counter Moves

After finishing Notes on a Foreign Country I returned to another book that I picked up recently:  Dual Citizenship in Europe (2007) edited by Thomas Faist.  This book is 10 years old which says to me that the citizenship laws cited must be checked against the current laws.  Yes, a lot can happen in just one short decade.

What sparked my interest this morning was a reference in this collection of articles to Turkey and Germany.  Germany is a state known for its jus sanguinas citizenship laws which meant that citizenship was transmitted by "blood" and not by place of birth (just soli).  This meant that the children of immigrants and their children were not German at birth and that led to a large population of  resident aliens many of whom were of Turkish descent.  This is not the only country where this has happened:  Japan still has a large population of Koreans who are "special permanent residents" but not citizens.

I note that some of the resident Koreans are descendants of individuals who did have citizenship at one point and lost it after World War II. Today they can apply for naturalization and many have.   In Germany Jewish citizens were stripped of their German nationality before World War II and Article 116 of the German Constitution allows them and their descendants to reacquire German citizenship.  Peter Spiro, an American citizenship scholar  whose books I highly recommend, did so in 2013.

 German citizenship law changed in the year 2000 when a limited form of jus soli was introduced and Turks (and others) were allowed to naturalize under certain conditions.  However, for the most part the German rules against dual citizenship remained for non-EU migrants.  Renunciation of all other citizenships is required in most cases (as it is in Japan).

The renunciation requirement is not always enforceable.  It's hardest to enforce when it's a birthright citizen who goes out into the world and naturalizes in another state since states don't generally inform other states about who naturalizes.  It's not impossible to enforce, however.  One method might be to ask during a consulate administrative procedure like passport renewal for the citizen abroad to produce her residency papers or visa for the state of residence.  From my experience (and let me know if yours is different) consulates abroad don't do this which effectively makes dual citizenship "tolerated."

Enforcing a dual citizenship ban is easiest when it concerns a naturalized citizen.  The receiving state can require proof of renunciation of the prior citizenship before granting citizenship (or making it contingent on the presentation of the necessary documents).  Both Germany and Japan do ask for this as part of the naturalization process.

But that, it turns out, is not foolproof either and Turkey is an excellent example of the kind of counter move another state can make against another state's citizenship laws.  One is the easy reacquisition of a former citizenship citizenship and the other is a special status conferred on those living outside the national territory who have ostensibly renounced  which nonethless allows them to retain most of the rights of citizenship including the right to return and so on.

According to this 2012 EUDO report, in 1981 Turkey changed its citizenship laws and permitted dual citizenship as long as the person who acquired another informed the Turkish government of the fact.  It also allowed Turks to be "released" from Turkish citizenship and then permitted them to have it reinstated once the naturalization process in the other country had been completed.  Neat trick.

The Germans then turned around and changed their law to allow them to unmake a German citizen who had "illegally" taken on another citizenship after becoming German.  And they did.  At least the ones they were able to find. (And how they found them deserves its own post.)

In 1995 The Turkish government created a special status for its former citizens abroad.
"[T]the amendment created a privileged noncitizen status. This status permits holders of a pink card to reside, to acquire property, to be eligible for inheritance, to operate businesses and to work in Turkey like any citizen of Turkey. Pink card holders were only denied the right to vote in local and national elections." (p. 6)
Another neat trick.  One could argue that this is just citizenship under another name. Note that one had to be a birthright citizen of Turkey in order to have this status and  it was "never intended to include the minorities who left Turkey before 1981."  This was primarily about Turks in Germany, not an open door for the acquisition of rights by other former residents and citizens.  Fascinating.

In 2004 Turkey extended some of the rights of these non-resident-sort-of-citizens and they renamed the Pink Card the Blue Card.

In 2017 the Turkish Blue Card is still around.  Have a look at this government website which says who is eligible and what rights and exemptions this status confers.

Question:  Is this an acceptable compromise?  Naturalized citizens can retain the right to return and reside in the home country but they can't vote and they are exempted from things like military service.  Would this be a partial solution to the issue of  citizenship-based taxation?   For those of you who are naturalized, would you accept a status like this in your former country of citizenship? Would you have liked to have had that option?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: Notes on a Foreign Country - An American Abroad in a Post-American World

It is always deeply satisfying to find a book that I can add without hesitation to the Flophouse American Diaspora reading list.  Notes on a Foreign Country:  An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen is such a book.  It is certainly one of the better takes on living abroad that I've read in the past few years.  Not only did it satisfy my desire to better understand how American identity changes through emigration,  it is a fair accounting of  the innocence with which Americans at home (and sometimes abroad) view the home country's relationship to and place in the world.  For make no mistake, Hansen believes in the decline of American power, prestige and influence in the world.   She is "an American in a post-American world."  

Before I tell you what I liked about the book I will start with a caveat emptor and some of the things I didn't like.  This is not a book that attempts to be neutral or objective - in fact, Hansen suspects that objectivity is simply impossible.   Notes on a Foreign Country is not an academic book but it isn't a typical expatriate biography, either.  You won't find much in the way of citations and you won't learn a lot about what it's like to live in Turkey.  Much of the book is about her discovery of the history of her own country in Turkey, Greece, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

If you studied Political Science or History she covers things that you probably already know.  Read it anyway to see the process of discovery.  In spite of an Ivy League education she seems to have been completely unaware of just how deeply intertwined the US was with those countries.  She came from a conservative background in the US and one could say that with each migration she became less so.  Sometimes the book feels like one is listening to a convert which can be rather tiresome.

There is also a complete absence of other Americans abroad.  It is as if she is the only American in Istanbul which we all know is not the case.  She did not solicit their views for the book which is a shame.  It would have been interesting to hear from other resident Americans, especially those who had been in the country for twenty years, say, instead of ten.  It is also sometimes irritating when she claims this or that characteristic for all Americans which may be true in her part of the US (East Coast) and in the socioeconomic circles she was raised in but is less applicable in others. Sometimes she qualifies this by reference to race: "White Americans."

I don't know quite how to describe her politics but I will say that there is much in the book that will anger American conservatives and a few things that will surely anger progressives. I certainly was not amused by her using "missionary" as one of the examples of "terrible" things Americans can be in the world.  She is deeply critical but generally thoughtful and that was enough for me to have kept reading.

Migration: Hansen left the US in 2007 for Istanbul, Turkey on a writing fellowship and has lived there ever since .  Like many Americans abroad she arrived abroad as a young adult after she had completed her university studies.  The era in which she left the US is important, I think, to understanding her perspective.  Growing up in what we might call these days "Trump country," she was a child during the Reagan era and still young when the Berlin Wall fell.  Thus, the three national events that mark her consciousness are 911, the Afghanistan/Iraq wars and the Great Recession.   The first was a direct attack on US soil, the second was military interventions that did not end well (did not, in fact, end at all) and the third an economic crisis that left many Americans impoverished. Her conclusion is that these things profoundly changed Americans.
"[T]he lives of American citizens, who have long been self-sufficient and individualistic - the masters of their own fates- have become entwined with the fate of their nation in a palpable way.  It is also perhaps the first time Americans are confronting a powerlessness that the rest of the world has always felt, not only within their own borders but as pawns in a larger international game.  Globalization, it turns out, has not meant the Americanization of the world; it has made Americans, in some ways, more like everyone else."
"More like everyone else."  Yes, and Hansen, in some ways, is no exception. Intentionally or not, she joined the 200 million or so people on the move in the world.  In fact she is a migrant twice over. First she migrated internally from a small regional town to the big city; from Wall, New Jersey (pop. 25,000)  to New York (pop. 8 million) and then she finally landed in Istanbul (pop. 14 million.)  She describes her hometown in the US this way:
"My town, populated almost entirely by the descendants of White Christian Europeans, had few connections to the outside world...I don't remember much talk of foreign affairs, or of other countries, rarely even of New York, which loomed like a terrifying shadow above us, the place Americans went either to be mugged or to think they were better than everyone else."  
Every step of the way Hansen was drawn by opportunity:  the chance to go to university and later a fellowship to go abroad and write.  She stayed in Turkey for what sounds an awful lot like economic reasons: there was work in Istanbul  and the economy was booming.
When my fellowship finished in 2009, the financial crisis whittled away any desire of mine to go home either in the short term -there were no jobs- or in the long term.  The financial crisis made me stop looking at my future as I once had...[I]t was no longer clear that our lives would get exponentially better, as our country had always promised us. 
Identity:  What led Hansen to leave the US was more complicated, however, than economics.  She believes that she was in the midst of an identity crisis which was not about sex or class or calling but about her nationality.  What does it mean to be American in the 21st century?  What is America's place in the world?   Americans were always told that "they were the best, that America was the best, that their very birthright was progress and prosperity, and the envy and admiration of the world." Recent events seemed to contradict that; her emigration confirmed it.  Her first glance at the airport in Istanbul in 2007 was where her sense of America as the "best" was wounded.  The Istanbul airport was cleaner, more modern, and more efficient than "the decrepit airport in New York I had just left."

Returning to the US on two occasions she was able to look at the US with new eyes and to see and experience an America she had not known before.  In the first she encountered the American health care system without insurance: "flies lived in the public hallway showers" and "that night in the hospital was one of the two times I viscerally understood how degraded America had become for many of its people." In the second she went to Mississippi to interview a doctor serving African-American low-income (or no-income) patients who had the audacity to suggest that America might want to look at Iran's rural health care program because something about the American system was not working. "Half of HIV-positive Mississippians didn't seek or receive treatment, because the vast majority of the people didn't have health insurance."

What does it mean to be the citizen of a country where one isn't sure that life will be better, where the infrastructure is crumbling, where schools do not teach about the wider world, where a hospital is dirty and unpleasant, where people with life-threatening illnesses cannot be treated because they have no money?  There are countries like that all around the world, but Americans never thought their country was one of them.

Ignorance and Innocence:  Hansen's argues that Americans'  ignorance of the world and professed innocence about their country's presence outside the US are a terrible combination and has done enormous harm at home and abroad.
"We cannot go abroad as Americans in the twenty-first century and not realize that the main thing that has been terrorizing us for the last sixteen years is our own ignorance - our blindness and subsequent discovery of all the people on whom the empire-that-was-not-an-empire had been constructed without their attention and concern."
And I would add here that going abroad is not necessarily a cure.  However well-travelled, however long Americans stay abroad, my experience has been that they know precious little about the history of the relationship between the US and the host country.  Many seem to have no idea that as Americans they don't just walk into another world where all agree that the slate is clean, where they can completely reinvent themselves without reference to the past and the relationship between the US and that country.  From that comes an arrogant expectation that they should be deemed personally innocent in any encounter where that country's citizens raise uncomfortable topics .

Americans were liberators and occupiers in France.  They were conquerors and occupiers in Japan and after seeing a picture of Osaka in 1945, I will never look at the skyline of the city from my balcony in the same way ever again. It is very easy to say, "I wasn't born then and I had nothing to do with it."  But it is worth thinking about whether or not many of the migrants I know (including myself) would be Americans abroad in France or Japan today if those things had not happened. Are we, in a sense, beneficiaries of someone else's tragedy?  That, I think, is an excellent topic for discussion.

What is not, in my view, reasonable is to simply disavow any connection to these things at all. To say there is no empire and, in any case, it has nothing to do with me.   What Hansen shows is that despite ignorance and self-proclaimed innocence, the people of the countries we enter know quite well what that history is and have their own feelings about the responsibility of Americans for their nation's actions past and present.  Perhaps one element of local integration for Americans abroad is acknowledging those feelings and accepting that history in its entirety.

A book written by an American cannot end without a proposed solution.  Hansen argues that one antidote is "love" and I scoffed at that until I read further:
"[i]t is not until one contemplates loving someone, caring about that person's physical and emotional well-being, wanting that person to thrive, wanting to protect that person, and most of all wanting to understand that person, that we can imagine what it would feel like if that person was hurt, if that person was hurt by others or, most important, if that person was hurt by you."  
 This is a call for Americans to learn to love the world and to stop viewing it as "a place where Americans go to get hurt and to hurt others." This, Hansen admits, was her starting point for thinking about big American cities and the world beyond America's borders.

 The second is acknowledging that we are imperfect like the rest of humanity.  ("Less than the gods and more than the beasts...")   "We are benevolent and ordinary and we are terrible things, too; we are missionaries and oil speculators, racists and soldiers, bureaucrats and financiers, occupiers and invaders, hope mongers and hypocrites."  And what would it cost us, really, to cast off the veil of innocence?  In any case, as Hansen points out, local citizens who know their history don't believe it of us anyway.  And, in my view, it makes us even more untrustworthy.

Hansen ends by conceding that she doesn't know what Americans and American identity will become but this is what she aspires to:
"Whoever Americans become after this time of reckoning, it will, hopefully, not be about breaking from the past but about breaking from the habit of its disavowal.  If this project of remembrance requires leaving our country, then so be it, because it is not an escape; we will find our country everywhere, among the city streets and town squares and empty fields of the world, where we may discover that the possibility of redemption is not because of our God-given beneficence but proof of the world's unending generosity."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bubbles and Ghettoes

It was in Japan that I first encountered the term "bubble" in the context of migration. Foolish literal-minded me was a bit confused at first because "bubble" in my mind is 1. what small children create with soapy water and wands; 2. extravagant prices for tulips or stock; and 3. a way to keep a pleasant reality in and an unpleasant reality out.  Using those definitions/images I could not immediately connect the term to migration.  Clearly, it meant something else to the people who were using it here.

"Bubble" in the context of the English-speaking migrants in Japan is a metaphor for what is referred to elsewhere as a "[country of origin] ghetto" or, to be more politically correct, "[country of origin] community."  Metaphor because people don't actually live in "[a] thin sphere of liquid enclosing air or another gas."

Why eschew the old and venerable term "ghetto?"  Maybe because a strict definition of the term implies extreme poverty - something that I think it's fair to say most Americans, British and Canadians don't experience in the destination country.  It may also be because "ghetto" implies spatiality;  it's a place that you can point to on a map and where the well-meaning native counsels the tourist to avoid.  The ABC's (and continental Europeans) simply aren't numerous enough in most places in Japan to completely overwhelm a neighborhood and call it theirs, though they can shape its character.

At best they live in a part of town that caters to the "international community" or apartment complexes that are "foreigner-friendly" but even there they are rarely a majority.  In 2008 there were 152 Americans per 100,000 residents in Tokyo which meant about 18,000 Americans in a city of 13 million people. In Osaka there is a neighborhood called "Little America" (Amerika-mura) which is 99% Japanese, other Asian and African youths.

"Ghetto" is also pejorative;  it's a place where we imagine that people are trapped and can't easily leave but there is a certain ambiguity introduced when the people in that space are a culturally and linguistically homogenous community of migrants.  There are arguments for and against their agency: choice versus forced segregation.  I note that when such an area becomes an area of interest for the cultural tourist it is elevated to a "town" ("Koreatown" or "Chinatown.")

"Bubble" when used in the context of migration here is combined with a not very nice word for foreigner.   Added together these two terms become "gaijin bubble."  Unlike "[country of origin] ghetto" a "gaijin bubble" is mostly disconnected from physical space and describes a combination of actions and intent on the part of a migrant in Japan and both concern integration.  A migrant living in a "gaijin bubble" is one who has not integrated - much or most of their daily life is spent speaking their home country language and having very little contact with Japanese and Japanese life - and chooses to remain unintegrated.   The notion of agency here is powerful - there is no ambiguity as with the word "ghetto."  A "bubble" is a choice and with a little or a lot of   effort (I've heard both) a migrant/expatriate can step out and be an active integrated member of Japanese society.

Is the term more descriptive or prescriptive.  I would make an argument for the latter.  When I hear an Anglophone in Japan use the term " gaijin bubble" they aren't talking about themselves, they are referring to how other people live.  They are making a moral judgment that says "my way of living in Japan is superior to yours."  Put that way it doesn't sound like very attractive behavior - it smacks of a sort of puritanical policing (as does, I would admit, the accusation that some Americans in France are living in an "American ghetto.")  And, yet, I can see why they would do it.

The fact that such terms as "ghetto" and bubble" exist as epithets says to me that those migrants who consider themselves integrated are paying attention to those who they perceive as unintegrated. They claim to be on the outside looking in and yet (unless they have no direct experience with such people) they do have connections to them - some window into their lives which leads them to believe that they know and can judge them.  However, outside of one's immediate circle of colleagues and friends the Japanese are likely to make no distinction between those who have integrated and those who haven't.  Those who are integrated find this to be extremely frustrating and I can understand that.  There is an argument to be made here that the behavior of those who don't integrate does affect the lives of those who do.

How can one change this situation?  Well, asking the Japanese to approach migrants/expatriates differently would be one possibility, but is it realistic?  Given the numbers, probably not.  Asking 100,000 people to be more open to the possibility that some gaijins are fluent in Japanese so as not to hurt the feelings of the 152 foreigners is unlikely to work.  As minority migrants and citizens they just don't have that kind of power or influence, and that's not likely to change anytime soon.

Another possibility which is easier and may seem more likely to produce results is to go to work on those who persist in living their "gaijin bubble" lives.   Alas, this usually means: insinuating that their manner of living in Japan is all wrong; criticizing them for not speaking Japanese well enough or being illiterate; whispering, "he/she is still  teaching after 10 years in the country" and so on.  There are several reasons why this doesn't work.

First of all there is the lack of a clear and common definition of integration.  The Japanese themselves don't seem to have an integration policy with regard to this population. (Perhaps it would be easier if they did.)  So it's a very subjective thing.  Since most migrants are on some sort of integration continuum just about anyone can point to some things they do which would make "bubble" or "ghetto" inapplicable to them.  So when they hear those words they assume that the article or comment is referring to other people.

Another difficulty is that, frankly, there are migrant/expatriates who are not integrated and refuse to do so and those who are integrated have no real leverage to convince them otherwise.  They don't care one whit about the good opinion of the integrated foreigners and are inclined to say that it's none of their business how they choose to live in Japan.

Last possibility I see is to simply let it go. In the schemes of things this is hardly the most important issue of the day.  As they say, keep your own side of the street clean, live in accordance with your principles, negotiate your own integration in your community, and don't worry too much about what other people do.

That's how I see it.  Feel free to disagree in the comments section.  I will end this post by making three suggestions to those who can't/won't let this one slide.

The first is that with all this angst about whether or not a migrant/expatriate is integrated (enough) perhaps  it might be worth asking the Japanese what their definition is and requesting some sort of official policy.  Here is what we expect and if you do these things you are integrated to our satisfaction. At that point I think we could safely say that the debate amongst the migrants/expats would be over.

The second is that who feel they are integrated and are frustrated by those who aren't might want to consider moving the discussion away from talk of "bubbles" and superior versus inferior integration and toward a discourse that sounds like this: "Look, folks, things would be much better for all of us if, say, we all spoke, wrote, and read Japanese more fluently." Make a case.  Make it here if you like.

And thirdly, complaining incessantly about and slapping labels on other people is like moving air - it accomplishes nothing. Or if it accomplishes anything it is the accumulation of resentment and the sparking of contentious debates. I'd take another look as well at the "choice" because, yes, there are those who refuse to integrate but I suspect there are many more who want to and are struggling. Personally, I would have much more respect for the position of those who talk of "gaijin bubbles" if they were actually doing something concrete to help people get out of them.  My .02.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Some Thoughts on DACA and Child Migrants

"A peculiarly disenfranchised population that clearly illustrates this functional statelessness
and its dire consequences is the subset of child migrants who lack their own government. I will call this population Arendt's children." 

Bhabha, J. "Arendt’s Children: Do Today’s Migrant Children Have a Right to Have Rights?" Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 31 no. 2, 2009, pp. 410-451. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/hrq.0.0072: Available online:  http://www.corteidh.or.cr/tablas/r22419.pdf

Jacqueline Bhabha argues that we can expand the definition of "stateless" to include those who for all extents and purposes have no government to appeal to and no one to enforce their rights. Undocumented migrants, for example, have a citizenship but not the citizenship of the country they reside in and the home country is not generally in a position to protect them in the same way that they ostensibly protect citizens within the territory.  Undocumented child migrants, Bhabha argues, are a particularly vulnerable subset of the "functionally stateless."

The DACA children in the US (those who entered as minors) are seeking a regularization of their status because, it could be argued, they are effectively stateless;  they are not under the protection of their country of origin, and they are in a rights limbo in the US, their country of residence.  There is no question that they suffer severely in the US because of this.  As chldren they did not choose to come to the US so they did not enter illegally of their own volition. Now that they are old enough to make their own decisions, they wish to stay.  Most American are agreeable to this.  In fact, only a very small minority of Americans support deporting them.

The US is not the only country coping with this issue.  Nation-states are struggling come up with legal solutions to address what is an issue of ethics - how we treat and protect non-citizen undocumented children residing irregularly in the national territory?   Japan deports them.  France offers some protection when they are minors.  The former is harsh, the latter is only (like DACA) a temporary solution leaving the children with an uncertain future.

Do these child migrants have a moral claim on the community in which they reside?  The answer to this is, in my view, "Of course!"  If a child is drowning, we don't say "Papers, please!" before we pull them out of the river.

But do undocumented children have rights?  Ah, that is a much stickier question.  Even citizen children don't have the same set of rights as adult citizens and most of us find that to be quite normal. But there is one right that citizens supposedly have from birth but is entirely at the discretion of their parents in childhood and that is "the right to remain."  Most migrants/expatriates I know did not ask their minor children if they wished to remain in the home country (France, Japan or the US) - they simply announced the decision. A couple of interesting question would be:  Does a child have the right to remain in the country of citizenship even if the parents want to migrate?  If a child does migrate with his/her parents does she have the right to insist upon returning to the country of origin regardless of the parent's wishes?  Something to think about....

I would agree with Bhabha and say that the DACA argument over child migrants comes down to "the right to have rights" and for me it centers around one specific right:  the right to remain in the country of long-term residence, the only country in a position to actively protect/enforce that child's rights.

So far I am hearing two arguments against recognizing their moral claims and giving them the right to remain:  The first says that this combination of recognition and rights creates an incentive for undocumented parents to bring in their children which will simply perpetuate the problem (or in the parlance of the anti-immigration crowd, "reward" them.)  This is not not an entirely specious argument when you consider that children can be in real danger when they enter a foreign country.  They can fall prey to child traffickers and other unscrupulous people.  They can also fall into the hands of the immigration authorities who may detain even very young children. (See the case of Tabitha.)  It is not wrong to want to limit situations where children can be endangered.

What this argument ignores is the most important incentive which they cannot legislate out of existence:  the desire of parents to have their children with them and vice versa. (And I should not be having to explain the importance of family to my fellow social conservatives but, hey, that's where we are.)

The second argument I've heard sends a chill down my spine and that is "the prevention of chain migration."  If the DACA children/young adults are legalized and put on a path to citizenship then eventually they can sponsor their relatives to come to the US.  Well, yes, last time I looked US citizens do have the right to request "family reunification"  and bring relatives and spouses to the US.
This means that every US citizen whether a citizen by birth or naturalized is a possible source of "chain migration." So, if preventing this is the goal, than are they suggesting that all US citizens should lose that right or have it be more limited than it already is?  I think that's where they are going with this and for those of us with foreign spouses we need to pay attention because we could lose or see limited our family reunification rights.

Neither argument is convincing to me and I believe that there is a moral imperative to regularize the situation of the "functionally stateless" children in the US and elsewhere.  Children without sufficient rights or even "the right to have rights" are in danger.  It's the child drowning in the river, folks. As Bhabha argues:  "[B]eing functionally stateless, whether by virtue of "alienage" or familial noncitizen status, also brings with it economic, social, and psychological dangers."  Fundamentally, removing the danger means recognizing their right to have rights, putting them under the protection of the state in which they live which agrees to enforce those rights, and guaranteeing their right to remain.

Now the question becomes how to do that.  Joseph Carens (The Ethics of Immigration) argues that just as we don't ask native born children whether or not they want to be citizens, we shouldn't ask the DACA children.  They should simply be made citizens.  I don't care for that idea.  His argument is that we give citizenship to children when they born because we have an expectation that they will grow up in a particular political community (or with at least one parent who is a member.)  His view of birthright citizenship reminds me a lot of baptism.  In my church, babies and very young children  are baptized without their consent because the expectation is that they will grow up in the Church and then, if they choose to, there is a validation of that baptism when they become adults.  However, older children and adults have to give their explicit consent: they must "opt in."  And all this seems quite reasonable to me.

The flaws I see in Carens argument are twofold:  1. I think all birthright citizens should explicitly consent to citizenship and there should be some kind of procedure/ritual for instantiating that consent when they become adults; and 2. I am uneasy at the idea that older children/young adults can be deprived of the right to make a decision about whether or not they want to be US citizens.  Perhaps they wish to defer it.  Perhaps they will chose never to become citizens.  Regardless of the decision they make they should still retain the right to remain without any risk of deportation.  And, yes, that means that that the right to stay should be unconditional  and not contingent on their behavior. Their long-term residence since childhood should be sufficient to shield them from any possibility of being removed.  A Green Card Plus is in order here.

Those are my thoughts so far.  What do you think?