Learning to Be Transnational

Japanese Language Education for Bolivia's Okinawan Diaspora

Author: Taku Suzuki


Scholars and practitioners of heritage language education commonly hold two assumptions about heritage language: first, that heritage language is an official national language of a nation-state from which group originally migrated; and second, that heritage language is a vulnerable language on the verge of getting swept away by the national language of the nation-state of a migrant's current residence. This article questions these two assumptions by examining Japanese language education and speech practices among Okinawan-Bolivians in a rural agricultural community called Colonia Okinawa. Okinawan-Bolivians' heritage language education and speech practices suggest that immigrants who were marginalized in the nation-states of their migratory/ancestral origin, like Okinawans, consciously transform their linguistic heritage from a sub-national one to a national one in order to gain socioeconomic advantages in their migratory destination. Furthermore, when immigrant community leaders deem the international standing of the country of their migratory origin higher than their host country's status, such as Okinawan-Bolivian leaders in Colonia Okinawa, they regard heritage language education as a crucial means to maintain their community members' political, economic, and symbolic powers over other local residents. By ethnographically portraying the ways in which Japanese is taught and spoken in Colonia Okinawa, this article highlights the shifting scales and locations of the immigrant community's "ancestral homeland" and draws attention to the multiple meanings of the language the community designates as its "heritage."

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan
Topics: Migration

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© E.D. Starin