My interests surround the construction of national identity. My past work has focused on how ethnic groups understand their own and national space. I have studied a range of people including Asian-Brazilians, Arab-Brazilians, and Jewish-Brazilians.
My most recent book, Immigration, Ethnicity and National Identity in Brazil (Cambridge University Press, 2013; Editora UNESP, 2015) examines the immigration to Brazil of millions of Europeans, Asians, and Middle Easterners from the nineteenth century to the present.
I am interested in how these newcomers and their descendants adapted to their new country and how national identity changed as they became Brazilians along with their children and grandchildren. I argue that immigration cannot be divorced from broader patterns of Brazilian race relations, as most immigrants settled in the decades surrounding the final abolition of slavery in 1888 and their experiences were deeply conditioned by ideas of race and ethnicity formed long before their arrival.
I am also the author of A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese-Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy (Duke University Press, 2007; Editora Paz e Terra, 2008). This book investigates broad questions of ethnicity, the nature of diasporic identity, and Brazilian culture. I do this by exploring particular experiences of young Japanese Brazilians who came of age in São Paulo during the 1960s and 1970s, an intensely authoritarian period of military rule. The most populous city in Brazil, São Paulo was also the world’s largest “Japanese” city outside of Japan by 1960. Believing that their own regional identity should be the national one, residents of São Paulo constantly discussed the relationship between Brazilianness and Japaneseness. As second-generation Nikkei(Brazilians of Japanese descent) moved from the agricultural countryside of their immigrant parents into various urban professions, they became the “best Brazilians” in terms of their ability to modernize the country and the “worst Brazilians” because they were believed to be the least likely to fulfill the cultural dream of whitening. My research analyzes how Nikkeiboth resisted and conformed to others’ perceptions of their identity as they struggled to define and claim their own ethnicity within São Paulo during the military dictatorship.
For this project I used a wide range of sources, including films, oral histories, wanted posters, advertisements, newspapers, photographs, police reports, government records, and diplomatic correspondence. I focus on two cultural arenas—erotic cinema and political militancy—to highlight the ways that Japanese Brazilians imagined themselves to be Brazilian. Young Nikkeiwere sure that their participation in these two realms would be recognized for its Brazilianness, but they were mistaken. Whether joining banned political movements, training as guerrilla fighters, or acting in erotic films, my research subjects militantly asserted their Brazilianness only to find that doing so reinforced their minority status.
A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese-Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy was awarded the 2010 Roberto Reis Prize (Honorable Mention), Brazilian Studies Association.
Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (Duke University Press, 1999; Editora UNESP, 2001; Akashi Shoten, 2016) analyzes why, despite great ethnic and racial diversity, ethnicity in Brazil is often portrayed as a matter of black or white, a distinction reinforced by the ruling elite’s efforts to craft the nation’s identity in its own image—white, Christian, and European. I explore the role ethnic minorities from China, Japan, North Africa, and the Middle East have played in constructing Brazil’s national identity, thereby challenging dominant notions of nationality and citizenship.
By employing a cross-cultural approach, I examine a variety of acculturating responses by minority groups, from insisting on their own whiteness to becoming ultra-nationalists and even entering secret societies that insisted Japan had won World War II. I show how various minority groups engaged in similar, and successful, strategies of integration even as they faced immense discrimination and prejudice. Some believed that their ethnic heritage was too high a price to pay for the “privilege” of being white and created alternative categories for themselves, such as Syrian-Lebanese, Japanese-Brazilian, and so on. By giving voice to the role ethnic minorities have played in weaving a broader definition of national identity, this book challenges the notion that elite discourse is hegemonic.
Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil was awarded the Best Book Prize, Latin American Studies Association-Brazil in Comparative Perspective Section.
Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question(University of California Press, 1994; Imago Editora, 2005; Tel Aviv University Publishing Projects, 1997) tells the poignant and puzzling story of how, in spite of the power of anti-Semitic politicians and intellectuals, Jews made their twentieth century exodus to Brazil, “the land of the future.” What motivated the Brazilian government to create a secret ban on Jewish entry in 1937 just as Jews desperately sought refuge from Nazism? And why, just one year later, did more Jews enter Brazil legally than ever before? The answers lie in the Brazilian elite’s radically contradictory images of Jews and the profound effect of these images on Brazilian national identity and immigration policy.
Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Questionwas awarded the Best Book Prize, New England Council on Latin American Studies.
Co-editor (with Raanan Rein): Rethinking Jewish-Latin Americans (University of New Mexico Press, 2008);
Editor: Searching for Home Abroad: Japanese-Brazilians and Transnationalism (Duke University Press, 2003);
Editor: Arab and Jewish Immigrants in Latin America: Images and Realities (Frank Cass, 1998).
Articles, Chapters, and Essays
“A Platform for Collaborative Historical Research based on Volunteered Geographical Information.” (Co-author). Journal of Information and Data Management 9:3, December 2018, 291–304.
“Moroccan Immigration and the Making of Brazilian National Identity” (with Shari Wejsa) in As Relações entre o Marrocos e o Brasil, eds. Fatiha Benlabbah and Mohamed Saadan (Rabat: Instituto de Estudos Hispano-Lusófonos, 2018), 47-57.
Translated to Arabic by Fatiha Benlabbah, Rachida El Alj, Mohamed Saadan, Rajaa Dakir, Othmane Mansouri, Abdelmoughite Sabyh
“Why Asia and Latin America?” Verge: Studies in Global Asias, 3:2 (Fall 2017), special issue “Between Asia and Latin America: New Transpacific Perspectives,” 1-16.
“The Hispanic World/Latin America” (with Raanan Rein), The Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume 8, The Modern World, 1815–2000, eds. Mitchell B. Hart and Tony Michels (Cambridge University Press, 2017), 199-220.
“The Social Geography of Zika in Brazil” (with Uriel Kitron), NACLA Report on the Americas, 48:2 (Summer, 2016), 123-129.
Published in Portuguese as “A geografia social do zika no Brasil, ” Estudos Avançados [online]. 2016, 30:88, pp.167-175.
Reprinted in English in Third World Resurgence 312/313 (Aug/Sept 2016), 8-12.
“Asian Religions in Latin America,” The Cambridge History of Religions in Latin America, eds. Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Paul Freston, and Stephen C. Dove. 1st ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 723-728.
“Jews and Judaism in Latin America,” The Cambridge History of Religions in Latin America, eds. Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Paul Freston, and Stephen C. Dove. 1st ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 709-714.
“Tristes histórias de nação e etnicidade,” in Imigração na América Latina: histórias de fracassos, ed. Marcos Witt (São Leopoldo: Editora Unisinos, 2015), 231-241.
“Jewish Latino-American or Latino-American Jews? New Approaches to Research on Ethnicity and Diaspora Concepts,” in Homelands in Exile, ed. Ofer Shiff (Beer Sheva: Ben Gurion Research Institute, 2015), 301-319.
“Motherlands of Choice: Ethnicity, Belonging, and Identities among Jewish Latin Americans” (with Raanan Rein), in Immigration and National Identities in Latin America, eds. Nicola Foote and Michael Goebel, eds. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014), 141-159.
“A Better Brazil” História, Ciências, Saúde – Manguinhos 21:1 (2014), 181-194.
“A Reflection on Foreignness and the Construction of Brazilian National Identities,” Luso-Brazilian Review 50:2 (2013), 53-63.
“When the Local Trumps the Global: The Jewish World of São Paulo, Brazil, 1924–1940,” in 1929: Mapping the Jewish World, eds. Hasia Diner and Gennady Estraikh (New York: NYU Press, 2013), 155-170.
2013 National Jewish Book Award (Anthology)
“Heranças Compartilhadas e Diferenças Culturais,” in Heranças Compartilhadas/Shared Heritage, eds. Matthew Shirts and João Kulcsár (São Paulo: Editora SENAC, 2013), 161-179.
“Sind Afroamerikaner Afrikaner oder Amerikaner? Rassismus und brasilianische Einwanderungspolitik der 1920er Jahre.” in Brasilien in der Welt: Region, Nation und Globalisierung 1870-1945, eds. Georg Fischer, Christina Peters, Stefan Rinke and Frederik Schulze (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2013), 116-138.