Memo #134 (The third Memo from the Theme, Labour Migration to Northeast Asia)
By Tomoko Tokunaga – ttomoko22 [at] gmail.com
Filipina women, who entered Japan as “entertainers” or as the spouses of Japanese men, sometimes left children behind to be raised by relatives in the Philippines while they built economically viable lives in Japan. More and more, the teenage children of these migrant women are entering Japan, entering Japanese schools, and entering society as an important and recent immigrant youth population. These youth are being reunited with their mothers, beginning lives with unknown step-families, and struggling to learn Japanese – which is often their third or fourth language. Most scholars focus on how immigrant youth are victimized by an assimilationist-oriented education system, with its Japanese-only language policies and hyper-competitive high school entrance exams. But this focus allows only a small glimpse of their lived experience.
Yes, these teenage Filipino youth often struggle in their new homes and schools. Yet, a broader view of their experience reveals their human agency, possibilities, and how they personally navigate difficult and unequal structures. For example, Filipina teenage girls often gather at places such as Internet cafes, fast food restaurants, malls, Karaoke bars, or streets and use hybrid languages – a mix of Tagalog/English/Japanese. In these virtual and actual spaces, they practice their favourite hip-hop dances, share employment information, explore ways to navigate the school systems, and reveal personal stories of hardship and hope. Activities in these spaces, which are themselves informally created by and for these Filipina youth, reveal their ability to navigate structural inequalities and to create a sense of belonging in a foreign environment.
Since the 1970s, educators, policy makers, and administrators in Japan have struggled to provide adequate support to help immigrant students thrive. But the kind of support that immigrant students themselves seek is most visible beyond the school and education system. Learning from these unstructured public spaces that are meaningful to youth would allow us to explore their potential as agents of social change and to expand the discourse about immigrant youth in Japan.
Tomoko Tokunaga – PhD Candidate in Education Policy Studies at the University of Maryland College Park, specializing in Socio-Cultural Foundations of Education.
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- Tokunaga, T. “I’m not going to be in Japan forever”: how Filipina immigrant youth in Japan construct the meaning of home, Ethnography and Education, June 2011.
- Tokunaga, T. Learning from the In-between Spaces of Filipina Immigrant Youth in Japan, Intersections and Inequality, 2011.