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Peruvian-Japanese wrestle with Fujimori legacy

LIMA – Peruvian artist Jorge Miyagui’s contribution to an exhibit of decorated kimonos was originally censured after he used it to remember the regime of ex-president Alberto Fujimori, now jailed for rights abuses.

The Peruvian-Japanese Cultural Center refused to display the 2003 artwork, a bright orange “Kimono to avoid forgetting,” which includes pictures of Fujimori and his notorious intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, as well as a mirror in place of the head marked “complicit silence.”

Miyagui, a third generation Nikkei, or member of the Japanese diaspora, has now got the kimono out again in a campaign against “the danger represented by a return of Fujimorismo,” as Fujimori’s 36-year-old daughter and political heir Keiko seeks the presidency in elections Sunday.

Miyagui’s brightly-colored paintings include manga-style women with elements of Inca culture as well as pictures of people killed by death squads during Fujimori’s rule.

The surprise 1990 rise and fall, 10 years later, of Fujimori provoked pride, fears of racial persecution and then embarrassment among the Nikkei community after he faxed his resignation from Japan amid a corruption scandal in Peru.

The rise of his daughter is another step in the tumultuous history of the diaspora — the second largest in Latin America — since the first Japanese migrant workers arrived in Peru in 1899 on the Sakura Maru ship.

Most of the immigrants were farm workers contracted for cotton and sugar plantations on the Pacific coast. By 1923, there were some 18,000, who started to move inland and set up small businesses.

But less than 20 years later, during World War II, the pro-US Peruvian government deported hundreds of Nikkei to US internment camps and seized their property.

Most of the 2,000 Latin Americans of Japanese descent sent to US internment camps were from Peru, according to Alejandro Sakuda, a journalist and author of a book on Japanese immigration to Peru.

Many are still seeking equal compensation to that of Japanese-Americans.

Another wave of departures came in the early 1990s when many left Peru for Japan during an economic crisis. More than 55,000 ethnic Japanese from Peru now live in Japan.

In another blow to the community, leftist guerrillas targeted the Japanese ambassador’s residence in a 1996-7 siege, which ended in a controversial rescue during which all the rebels, and one hostage, died.

The diaspora now represents some 50,000-60,000 people, according to the Japanese-Peruvian Association, and is increasingly dispersed in Peru.

Despite their minority status, they have been heavily involved in politics, business and culture, and include athletes, engineers and bullfighters.

Meanwhile a core group still promotes Japanese culture, language and values through educational, sports and cultural centers.

They also promote commerce with Japan, which has picked up in recent years after suffering in the aftermath of Fujimori’s reign. Japan and Peru signed a free trade pact this week.

Fujimori is serving a 25-year jail term for corruption and rights abuses during a crackdown on Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.

But his name is back at the forefront of Peruvian politics.

Keiko Fujimori enjoys the support of around a fifth of the electorate, which remembers her father for reining in hyperinflation and beating terrorism.

She has reassured business leaders that she will maintain an economic stability they believe to be threatened by her rival, leftist Ollanta Humala.

Many of the largely conservative Japanese community will likely back a Fujimori again, according to Sakuda, for both commercial and emotional reasons.

“What they hope is that she can clean her surname,” he said.

Miyagui has meanwhile joined Peruvian artists in painting a “Mural for Dignity” in downtown Lima to remind voters of the close ties between Keiko and her father’s regime, including shared collaborators.

Like many Peruvians, Miyagui fears that, if elected, Keiko will free her father and follow his authoritarian path. She once served as his 19-year-old “first lady” following her parents’ separation.

“Keiko Fujimori represents the worst of Peru,” Miyagui said.


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© 2010 Sophie Nicholson. All rights reserved.