Heritage: Owned or Assigned?

The Cultural Politics of Teaching Heritage Language in Osaka, Japan

Author: Yuko Okubo


Teaching heritage language is regarded as an act of social justice, but under what conditions and in what context? This article examines the educational practice of introducing heritage language to Chinese return-migrant children and Japan-born Vietnamese children. The language programs under investigation are conducted in a community education center and in an after-school setting in a public elementary school in a multiethnic neighborhood in Osaka, Japan. This study demonstrates how the local community's practice of heritage language learning dissolves the boundaries among ethnic minorities, bringing together all participants and cutting across ethnic lines. The result is empowering, but with a limited effect. At the same time, the institutionalized practice of heritage language learning at school becomes a marker for ethnic minorities and is used to maintain the boundary between ethnic minorities and Japanese, despite official discourses of minority education for empowerment. Ethnographic data show discrepancies between the views of teachers and communities about what ethnic minorities should be like and what they are hoping to find in Japan. The politics of heritage involves the legitimization of power and distinction, as well as the exclusion of those who do not have access to heritage. Situating each case within the politics of heritage, schooling, and Japan's multicultural initiatives, this article examines what is legitimized and what is excluded through teaching and learning heritage language in both cases and discusses the implications of heritage language teaching for immigrant children in Japan.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan

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