Conflicted Attitudes Toward Heritage: Heritage Language Learning of Returnee

Adolescents from Japan at a Nikkei School in Lima, Peru

Author: Yuri Yamasaki


During their more than 100-year-long presence in Peru, Japanese descendants (Nikkei) have been linguistically integrated into Peruvian society. The portion of the population that speaks Japanese in daily life has been decreasing dramatically, and the majority of younger Nikkei typically grow up speaking mainly Spanish, mixed with a specific Japanese lexicon that has been transmitted inter-generationally within families. To prevent the complete loss of ancestral language and cultural traits, private all-day elementary and secondary schools, founded and run by the Nikkei, have been offering additional Japanese language educational programs. Drawing from an ethnographic study at one such Nikkei-sponsored secondary school in Lima, this article portrays the students' inconsistent and ambiguous attitudes toward learning Japanese as their heritage. More specifically, the article focuses on returnee students from Japan, a recently emerged diaspora group of youngsters who have spent time in Japan as emigrants and then returned to resettle in Peru. The article examines the returnees' negotiations with the language teachers regarding what is considered to be "proper" or "standard" Japanese. Classroom observations and interviews with both teachers and students demonstrate how contested the "heritage" of heritage language education is — defined as it is through social, economic, and political positions and interests of participants in the educational process. The study also shows how the institutionalized heritage language education at school sometimes results in encouraging the students to "dis-inherit" what they have learned outside school: this may relate to their family's social status in their ancestral country.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan
Topics: Migration

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© 2005 ILO/Falise T.