The little known story of Japanese migration, assimilation, suffering and identity in Mexico
By Lorraine Orlandi Original Print Publication: July, 2007
7th - Japan’s foreign investor rank in Mexico.
1888 - Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation signed between Mexico and Japan.
1952 - Octavio Paz travels to Japan to reestablish the Mexican Embassy.
1977 - Opening of the Japan-Mexico Lyceum. Plan got a boost when Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka visited Mexico in 1974.
2004 - Mexico-Japan Agreement for Strengthening of the Economic partnership signed.
4,100 Japanese nationals residing in Mexico (1999).
15,650 - population of Japanese descendants living in Mexico (1999).
109,000 - approximate number of Japanese tourists to visit Mexico in 2007.
27.81% - growth in trade between Japan and Mexico inform 2005 to 2006.
10.56% - increase in Mexican exports to Japan in 2006.
34.14% - increase in Japanese exports to Mexico in 2006.
60.9% of Mexican exports to Japan are manufactured products.
95.3% of Japanese exports to Mexico are manufactured products.
$85,112,000 USD of fresh fish sold to Japan from Mexico (2005).
$176,329,000 USD of pork sold to Japan from Mexico (2005).
Francisca Ono , 80, is the child of Japanese emigrants to Mexico. She lives near Tapachula, Chiapas, close to where the first Japanese colony settled.
“They were promised land to plant and growcoffee, but when they arrived they were giventhe worst land possible to grow coffee and theylacked proper equipment,” says Garcia. “Theirinexperience played a part, but essentiallythe best coffee land was already taken up byGermans who had come a little bit earlier. TheJapanese and Mexican governments are bothculprits. Mexico promised land and resources,the Japanese government promised to helpthem with start-up funds through the consulatein Mexico City, but the consulate prettymuch turned a blind eye to the situation.”
Desperate, a handful of the colonists walkedfrom Chiapas to Mexico City to confront Japaneseofficials. They arrived on the consul’sdoorstep in tattered clothes, sunburned andhungry after a 30 day walk, Garcia says. Theywere returned to Chiapas. But the arrival ofa group of Japanese Christians revived thecolony. The newcomers started cattle ranchesand introduced other successful businessesinto the community.
“They were not just farmers, there were cattleranchers and really prominent people fromJapan,” Isao Toda, president of the MexicoJapanese Association in Mexico City, says ofthe early immigrants. “It’s said that some weretrained as Samurai warriors. That’s the onlyway they could have survived as they did.”
Toda comments that the impact of the Japaneseon the Chiapas locals “must have beensomething like when the Aztecs first saw theconquistadors, with their elaborate clothingand their formal ways.” Still he and descendantsof the first immigrants emphasize thatthe local people welcomed the strangers andlikely saved them from perishing altogether.