When we address the reality of Japanese Brazilian im/migrants, we cannot envision a homogeneous community. On the one hand, although many individuals are Japanese descendants, the high number of interracial marriages in Brazil adds variety to the racial pool by incorporating spouses from all ethnic backgrounds. Thus, children born to those families already display different hybridity levels, destabilizing the illusion of homogeneity. Furthermore, gender and sexuality, race/ethnicity, culture, and faith complexify the overall situation.
This article analyzes issues concerning sexuality, faith, and intercultural relations among Japanese Brazilian queer migrants based on two independent fieldwork studies conducted in Japan. We explore three interconnected aspects. The first point establishes how culture plays a role in determining how Japanese Brazilian queer migrants (re)construct their identities as «the Other(s)» at the intersection of ethnicity and nationality. The second issue draws upon the relation between bodies and boundaries, especially how these boundaries relate to the different categorizations of Japanese Brazilian queer migrants’ sexuality and gender, especially amid discrimination and exclusion in contexts of intimacy with queer Japanese nationals. The last matter of contention addresses faith and the need for Japanese Brazilian queer migrants to negotiate their particular situation within the corpus of their beliefs, especially when interacting with ethnic Brazilian religious institutions’ often harmful teachings on gender and sexuality. Our analysis shows that Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants debate whether to assimilate to hegemonic discourses or queer them through performativities of resistance.
Data for this article comes from two separate fieldwork studies. Hugo Córdova Quero conducted fieldwork in the Kanto region of Japan between 2009 and 2011. He interviewed fifteen individuals who self-identified as queer: eight were men and seven were women. Their ages ranged from 18 to 42 years old. Christianity—Roman Catholicism and the evangelical tradition—was their religious affiliation.
On the other hand, Nilta Dias conducted fieldwork between 2015 and 2016 in a Brazilian community in the Kanto region. She interviewed nine Brazilian women who self-identified as non-heterosexual, five Brazilians who self-identified as gay, and two representatives of Brazilian religious institutions. Their ages ranged between 20 and 38 years old. Dias chose to observe the participation of queer women in everyday community events and not in specific places and events for the queer public to analyze the prejudice of cis-heterosexual people against sexual diversity. She also interviewed—non-queer—members of different religious institutions such as Umbanda, evangelical churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. That group was composed of five Japanese and fifteen Japanese Brazilians. The purpose of interviewing them was to determine their thoughts about sexual diversity, especially queer women.
Both Córdova Quero and Dias recorded most of the interviews. However, there were exceptions, especially when an interviewee requested that the session not be taped due to the privacy of specific topics. For the transcription and communication of the results, both researchers chose to use pseudonyms to protect the identity and privacy of each individual interviewed.
The migration phenomenon
Migration is a crucial phenomenon for understanding the movement of people and products within the modern world system. Terms referring to migration are familiar in our daily lives. Migration refers to the displacement of people, which can be transitory or permanent, voluntary or forced (Arango, 1985; León, 2005). In the latter case, we speak of exile, for example, taking refuge in another place due to political, ideological, religious, gender, and sexual orientation—also known as sexile (Guzmán, 1997)—reasons. These different types of displacements occur at the national or international level. Daily, these terms confront us with real stories of people who leave their place of origin and state policies that enable, restrict, or deny the possibility of im/migration (Sutcliffe, 1998).
Migration is complex and never easy; it involves a series of multiple and sometimes dissimilar situations. However, the question always remains: Why does someone migrate? Although contrary to popular belief, there are several explanations. Migration is not the result of a personal decision. On the contrary, they also include social, historical, geographical, cultural, and legal factors that are ideologically constructed and depend on political will and economic fluctuations that transcend the power of the individuals im/migrating.
Migration and gender
When we think of im/migration, we generally consider not only the legal issues but also we tend to believe that im/migrants are «male» since men are the most visible laborers in construction and landscaping jobs and restoration and cleanup work. However, the struggles of im/migrant women—most often related to sustaining their homes in the country of origin—are not visible. The jobs they access in the host country sometimes involve sexual connotations, for example, sexual harassment of foreign domestic workers by national employers. Indeed, im/migrant women are disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts.
In other words, gender helps to bring these categories together to analyze the daily reality of im/migrants. The issue of gender is not a minor one. It immediately arises when we ask about labor market insertion mechanisms or wage distribution. It also points to the differences between women and men in their context, between national women and im/migrant women, and between national men and im/migrant men. In addition, it influences different sectors of labor markets, differential systems of incorporation, constructions of racial and ethnic hierarchies, and social expectations arising from the sexual division(s) of labor, among others. The intersections of these issues, when analyzed from the perspective of gender studies—both concerning migration theories and ethnic studies—become a complex but necessary terrain for exploration.
The cultural socialization of the im/migrants’ place of origin constitutes the basis for constructing faith and gender identities. Without this cultural framework, it is impossible to live one’s religion or perform gender identity. Faith practices are deeply rooted in cultural environments (Hirschman, 2004). It directly relates to the adaptation of im/migrants to the new society. The role of faith communities has been remarkable in offering support, facilitating various integrative forms of belonging, and establishing networks to protect the rights of im/migrants. That is an experience shared by almost all im/migrants in the contemporary world. It is also evidence of the social networks necessary for the survival of im/migrants in the new society, whose cohesion entails the intersection of culture, language, ethnicity, and gender (Herskovitz, 1948). Culture travels with the im/migrants and is neither forgotten nor interchangeable (Tanner, 1997). In our case, we specifically allude to the interventions within the intricate territorial meanings of Japanese society.
Sociocultural adaptation plays a prominent role among Japanese Brazilian im/migrants because it directly or indirectly influences other aspects of their daily lives (Yamawaki, 2007; Córdova Quero and others, 2008). Although most Brazilian im/migrants are of Japanese descent, few are fluent in the Japanese language, and many suffer from cultural differences. In that sense, sociocultural adaptation represents a significant challenge. In the case of the generations of Japanese Brazilian descendants born in Japan, this difficulty entails adapting to the Japanese educational system (Dias, 2014, 2018a, 2018b). Furthermore, some parents intend to return to Brazil and therefore send their children to study at Brazilian schools in Japan. That also deepens the gap between im/migrants and nationals. Amidst that situation, the issues concerning gender and sexuality become invisibilized. If that is true for cis-heterosexual im/migrants, Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants endure further hardships. For example, they face another boundary, namely, that of their ethnic/cultural belonging. In other words, they constantly navigate the treacherous waters of national, ethnic, cultural, gender, and linguistic expectations of fellow cis-heterosexual im/migrants. Thus, their supposed «deviancy» from cis-heteropatriarchal expectations of gender and sexuality molded within Brazilian society reproduces dynamics of power and exclusion even amid the subaltern migratory context in Japan.
Faith and sexuality
Im/migrants need to survive in the receiving country, and faith communities and social networks help amidst the process. They contribute to the survival of im/migrants in the new society, whose cohesion occurs through cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and gender interaction. Nevertheless, the same faith communities as the host society are deeply rooted in the cis-heteropatriarchal ideology, reiterating the vicious cycle of violence—discursive, psychological, verbal—that queer im/migrants face among fellow ex-pats or in broader Japanese society. Therefore, the idea that we develop in our approach is that mechanisms of cis-heteropatriarchalism and racial/ethnic divides seek to obliterate the power of queer im/migrants. They tear the expected stable identities placed upon the shoulders of queer im/migrants by the fellow migrant community and the host society. In other words, the alterity of queer im/migrants who display a non-cis-heteronormalized gender identification disrupts and threatens the need of the host society for controlling, policing, and (re)defining the im/migrants’ lives. Queer im/migrants stand on the edges or margins of multiple cultures and identities—inter/national and gender/sexual—and become a metaphor for identity destabilization. Thus, it explains their constitution as a target for knowledge and practices of biopolitical control and intervention to which States subject all im/migrants.
The correlation between international migration, gender, and queer individuals is not surprising. As Michel Foucault (1990) argues, the moment that «sexuality» became a concern of the state in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it became an area of «danger.» In other words, the regulation and control of sexual behavior became a tool of power for the state, and individuals who were seen as deviating from cis-heteronormative standards were subject to scrutiny and punishment. This dynamic has undoubtedly played a role in shaping the experiences of queer individuals, both within their countries of origin and in their migrations to other countries. Therefore, it is essential to recognize the ways in which migration intersects with gender and sexuality and to take into account the unique challenges faced by queer individuals in the context of international migration.
According to Foucault (1990), the regulation of sexuality in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was not only a response to the medicalization of dissidence but also a societal demand for normality. The control and surveillance of sexual behavior served as a means of maintaining social order, with those who deviated from heteronormative standards deemed as a threat to the reproduction of the population. Giorgio Agamben (1998) defines «biopolitics» as the «growing implication of man’s natural life in the mechanisms and calculations of power» (p. 119). The term «biopolitics» was coined by Rudolf Kjellén in 1920 along with the concept of «geopolitics,» both of which are essential to understanding the power dynamics of the modern state (Esposito, 2008).
Through the control of sexuality, the state could regulate and monitor individuals’ bodies, shaping their experiences and behavior. This regulation extended to the control of movement and migration, with individuals who deviated from heteronormative standards often subject to heightened scrutiny and suspicion when crossing international borders. This biopolitical framework is crucial for understanding the unique challenges faced by queer individuals in the context of international migration. By recognizing the ways in which migration intersects with gender and sexuality, policymakers can take steps to ensure that the rights and needs of queer migrants are adequately addressed.
In contemporary political discourse, discussions surrounding migration have become intricately linked to healthcare policies, thereby influencing the prospects of migrants settling within host societies. This correlation has gained prominence as an essential factor shaping migration debates. An illustrative case can be found in the analysis of migration discussions in France by Didier Fassin (2001), where a discernible pattern emerges. Fassin emphasizes the interplay between migration and healthcare policies, revealing their significant impact on the reception and integration of migrants. This interconnection underscores the complex nature of political debates surrounding migration, emphasizing the multifaceted considerations that inform policies and shape the experiences of migrants in their host countries.
Therefore, like sexuality, migration is also a clear and influential field of biopolitical intervention. Based on its «sovereign power,» the State decides who and how many individuals should enter its territory and circulate through it. That also implies determining what educational, occupational/economic, and legal requirements must be met to adjust to these convenience criteria. Furthermore, the State regulates when to expel a migrant person and where im/migrants can settle or how long they can reside.
Those are biopolitical mechanisms with a long history of legal grounding that have become naturalized to us. Biopolitics implies life or death for many im/migrants, significantly when their health cannot be restored without access to the necessary medical care. During the major migration movements from the nineteenth century onwards, the influence of biopolitics extended into the lives of im/migrants, marking a significant intersection. Contemporary studies are now addressing this connection and drawing insights from historical moments, such as the research conducted by Bastos (2008), who examines the ways in which displaced bodies are subjected to power and control in the context of international migration. Our article contributes to this body of knowledge by examining the experiences of Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants. Biopolitics serves as a mechanism through which stigmatization is imposed upon migrants, burdening them with societal prejudices and biases. By exploring the complexities of this phenomenon, we aim to shed light on the challenges faced by im/migrants within a biopolitical framework. Therefore, their possibilities for bettering their lives are considerable—if not wholly—diminished. That has terrible consequences for the daily life of queer individuals, especially their bodies, sexualities, and relationships.
However, the peculiarity of the association between queer individuals and international migration lies in the fact that this link becomes a knot of irradiation of discourses and practices that render them under the limits of control or unable to circumvent entry when considered as the «undesirable Other(s).» The stereotypes that regulate those perceptions emerge as a defense mechanism for the State and its nationals vis-à-vis the im/migrants as Other(s) capable of questioning monolithic identities based on gender, race/ethnicity, and national discourses. Thus, the displacement of human beings reveals the often complex ways of relating to Other(s), primarily when their negative construction labels them as «criminal,» «terrorist,» «illegal,» or «inferior.» That often leads to legitimizing exploitation (Mora and Montenegro, 2009).
A brief history of Japanese Brazilian migration to Japan
Japanese migration occurred through contingents of migrants who arrived in Brazil from 1908 to approximately 1970. Therefore, the generational gap with the first ancestor who migrated to Brazil varies from individual to individual. The result is that while some are the second generation, others are the fifth or sixth generation. It also determines the degree of socialization in Brazilian society. On the other hand, although most Japanese Brazilians are middle or upper-middle-class, their backgrounds are very different in professions and business types. That is also true for their social location concerning the place of origin, whether a big metropolis such as São Paulo or a small town developed from the settlement of former plantation workers’ colonies.
However, one situation faced by all Japanese Brazilians was the financial crisis that affected every country in Latin America during the 1980s. In Brazil, that time was labeled as «the lost decade.» After a period of great success, the Brazilian economic crisis—characterized by the inflow of foreign capital in the late 1960s—and associated factors gave rise to the so-called milagre econômico [economic miracle]. However, this milagre econômico—directly related to foreign capital—caused the Brazilian foreign debt to grow uncontrollably (Vicentino and Dorigo, 1997: 426). In Brazil, «the lost decade» affected society beyond the 1980s. The problems worsened in the 1990s for different reasons, including the devaluation of the national currency. That situation culminated in implementing the «Plan Collor,» which contributed to a deep economic recession that led to a sizable migratory flow of Brazilians to other countries. Some Japanese Brazilians migrated to Japan searching for a «promised land» to alleviate their economic and social instability (Córdova Quero, 2009).
Concurrently, in this period, Japan still enjoyed the advantages of the economic bubble and experienced significant economic growth (Tsuda, 2003) and thus represented great hope for the descendants of the Japanese that migrated to Brazil at the beginning of the twentieth century. Thus, the economic crisis in Brazil and the success of the Japanese economy, which generated a great need for labor in Japan, were important push–pull factors for developing and strengthening the Brazil–Japan migratory movement known as Fenômeno dekassegui (Córdova Quero, 2007). Dekassegui is a Portuguese version of the Japanese word dekasegi, which means «to work temporarily in another region» or «seasonal worker.» Its use also designates the migration to another country to save money and return to the place of origin. Angelo Ishi (2010) points out that, at the beginning of the Brazil–Japan migratory flow, the term dekassegui became a stigma for pioneers who decided to leave Brazil to work in Japan. According to the author:
The pioneers of the 80s had to leave for Japan under the pressure of two stigmas: “I leave the country, so I don’t love it” (they went against the ideology of “Brazil, love it or leave it”) and the “failed minority of the Nikkei community” (they went against the image of success and integration of the Nikkei in Brazil). (p. 15)
However, from the 1990s onwards, there was a «destigmatization» of this word. The word is now part of the Portuguese language and spelled as decasségui, which also gives name to the linguistic variation in Japan that Dias (2015) has labeled as dekasseguês.
According to Maria Edileuza Fontenele Reis (2001: 66–68), the Japanese Parliament voted for the reform of the Immigration Control Law of Japan on December 15, 1989, which came into effect on June 1, 1990. Among other resolutions, the reform established the category of «long-term residents» [eijū-sha] for Japanese descendants. Their visa rights also extend to spouses, even if the spouses are not of Japanese descent. Thus, the immigration law reform turned 1990 into a historic milestone for the Brazil–Japan migratory movement due to the almost immediate growth of the Japanese Brazilian population in Japanese territory (Linger, 2001; Roth, 2002). According to data from the Ministry of Justice of Japan, at the end of the 1980s, the number of Japanese Brazilian im/migrants in the country was only 14,528. However, in 1991 that number grew to 119,333 people (Higuchi and Tanno, 2003: 34). In 2007, the number of Japanese Brazilians reached 316,967 (Ministry of Justice of Japan, 2007). At that time, Japanese Brazilians represented the third largest foreign community in Japanese territory.
However, there was a decrease in the Japanese Brazilian population in Japan. That was the result of two close events. On the one hand, due to the economic crisis of 2008, many im/migrants lost their jobs. Thus, they resolved to return to Brazil (Córdova Quero, 2016a). Even the Japanese Government destined monies to help them leave the country.
On the other hand, the earthquake followed by the tsunami in 2011 worsened the situation. Many wrecked areas needed large sums of investments destined for their rebuild. Hence, still suffering the effects of the economic crisis, the Japanese market could not continue supporting many im/migrants to remain in the country (Dias, 2017).
By 2015, the number of Japanese Brazilians had dropped to 175,000 (Ministry of Justice of Japan, 2015). However, it slowly rose again, and in December 2019, the number of officially registered Japanese Brazilians was 214,643 people, of which approximately 42,464 were under 18 years old (Ministry of Justice of Japan, 2019). According to the Ministry of Justice of Japan (2021), there are 206,646 Japanese Brazilians residing in Japan.
The economic crisis of 2008 and the earthquake followed by the tsunami in 2011 marked the lives of Japanese Brazilians in Japan, contributing to a decision-making process regarding their future. Many families were pushed to return to Brazil because the unemployment generated by the economic crisis directly affected Japanese Brazilian workers. Notably, a large part of the Brazilian labor force works in manufacturing industries, a sector negatively impacted by the economic crisis. Regarding the earthquake followed by the tsunami, many Japanese Brazilians decided to leave for Brazil because they were already weakened by the financial crisis or by the fear of radiation contamination resulting from the damage caused to the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
However, many decided to stay and face adversity. In 2020, the Japanese Brazilian community celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the migration flow to Japan. Angelo Ishi (2022), in the book 30 anos de brasileiros no Japão [30 years of Brazilians in Japan], refers to the decade of 2010. In that work, he states, «in the realm of daily life, most Brazilians have consolidated a transnational and multicultural lifestyle, which blends local habits with those of their country of origin» (pp. 93–94). In that same study, Ishi also highlights significant milestones in the lives of Japanese Brazilians in Japan. For example, he mentions the «Declaração de Yokohama» [Yokohama Declaration], drafted by the Conselho de Cidadãos de Tóquio [Tokyo Citizens’ Council] in 2015, which states, «We have stopped being Decasséguis (…). We choose to stay in Japan» (Ishi, 2022: 95). That organization is a group formed by representatives of the Brazilian community in Japan. After drafting the «Yokohama Declaration,» the Council forwarded the document to the governments of Brazil and Japan (Ohphata, 2015).
In the same book, Dias (2022) presents the preliminary results of a survey regarding the aging population of the Japanese Brazilian community. According to her:
[I]n 2020 there were about 43,000 Brazilians aged between 50 and 64 years old (20.3% of the population). Suppose these people assume the condition of immigrants and decide to settle permanently in Japan. In that case, the aging process of the Brazilian community will occur in an accelerated manner starting in the following years. (Dias, 2022: 114)
The aging population of Japanese Brazilians will accelerate in Japan, reaffirming that many have decided to settle in the country. By doing so, they show strength and persistence to keep facing changes. The words of the Brazilian Consul-General in Tokyo, João de Mendonça Lima Neto, aptly describe that situation:
The pandemic, its terrible impacts, the financial crisis of 2008–2009, and the great Tohoku earthquake of 2011 will be seen as another milestone of the resilience of the Brazilian community in Japan. (2022: 49)
The pandemic of COVID-19 directly impacted everyone’s lives. There is also anguish for many Japanese Brazilians living in Japan—besides the daily difficulties common to all citizens regardless of nationality—that ground on two factors: being far from Brazil and feeling pressured by different measures related to border laws. Furthermore, many lost relatives in Brazil and could not be with them in their last moments. That anguish entails the new routine of restrictions and constant uncertainty and insecurity. However, it is essential to consider that many Japanese Brazilians have taken advantage of the lower airfares to visit family in Brazil or even spend some time waiting for new and better job opportunities to return to Japan.
After the 2008 economic crisis and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese Brazilian population began a slow growth. By 2015, there were 175,315 im/migrants (Ministry of Justice of Japan, 2015). However, it slowly rose again, and in December 2019, the number of officially registered Japanese Brazilians was 214,643 people, of which approximately 42,464 were under 18 years old (Ministry of Justice of Japan, 2019). In June 2020, there were 211,495 Brazilians (Ministry of Justice of Japan, 2020a); in December of the same year, this number fell to 208,798 (Ministry of Justice of Japan, 2020a). According to the Ministry of Justice of Japan (2021), there are 206,646 Japanese Brazilians currently residing in Japan. Beyond the fluctuations in the statistics of registered im/migrants, the story of the Japanese Brazilian migration to Japan is still unfolding.
Our analysis reveals how the processes of constitution of knowledge–power strategies around migration «problems» should necessarily relate to daily life elements such as faith, gender, and sexuality. As Abdelmalek Sayad (1998) states, «the true and appropriate problem in this area [immigration] should begin with the first problem, as a previous problem, the fact that it is an object that creates a problem» (p. 15). It is possible to read the link between migration in general and queer im/migrants from this key: the construction of individuals and communities who are not part of the fluctuations in the modern capitalist world system as «a problem.» That is the real «problem.» In other words, when im/migrants are dehumanized and become mere statistics or negative factors impacting the host society, we face a genuine conundrum.
It is noteworthy that our analysis does not intend to question the methodological soundness of some statistics that would support the association between queer individuals and migration. Concurrently, it neither ignores the need to implement public policies for im/migrants—labor rights, health rights, and the like—nor the good intentions that surely underpin both the research and the actions carried out by organizations of a diverse nature that intervene in that regard. That is not the axis of the discussion. On the contrary, we focus on the fact that the apparent «data of reality» does not stop being arbitrary. We understand arbitrariness as the relationship between elements not supported by necessity, like a historical relationship. That arbitrariness shows a knowledge built upon practices deployed amid the lives of im/migrants, instituting relationships and expectations beyond them. Dismantling their intentional gestures of «inclusion» brings to the fore the racial and sexual ethnocentrism that sustains them. Significantly, the latter supports what Beatriz Suárez Briones (1997) states as «the belief that sexual desire is a natural force that exists before social, eternal, immutable and transhistorical life» (p. 260).
Acknowledging the arbitrariness of statistics and the construction of im/migrants in general as «a problem» allows us to move towards exploring their lives, experiences, and contributions to the host society. However, that acknowledgment also implies recognizing that im/migrants—especially queer im/migrants—remain within the binaries and boundaries that foster double alterity. On the one hand, they are «the Other(s)» because of their national status. On the other hand, they are «the Other(s)» because of their non-heteronormative gender and sexual orientation.
The double alterity of queer im/migrants as social actors calls into question the socially produced binarisms—homosexual/heterosexual, woman/man, foreigner/national—at the service of oppression. It deconstructs and exposes the «intentional moment» of controlling the fluid and unstable experiences of the self (Gamson, 2002). Still, the question that this deconstructive turn raises is how to articulate a political strategy based on this instability, a question that Joshua Gamson (2002) formulates with succinct clarity: «Queer practices highlight a dilemma shared by many other identity movements (racial, ethnic, and gender, for example): fixed identity categories are both the basis for oppression and political power» (p. 143).
Within that context, sexual orientation is a factor that has barred im/migrants from the possibility of inserting into another society. Although changes have been undertaken in legal policies, Eithne Luibhéid (2008) states that the situation is still far from being resolved:
Although most nation-states may no longer bar LGBTQ migrants, their presence nonetheless challenges and disrupts practices that remain normed around racialized heterosexuality. National heteronormativity is thus a regime of power that all migrants must negotiate, making them differentially vulnerable to exclusion at the border or deportation after entry while also racializing, (re)gendering, (de)nationalizing, and unequally positioning them within the symbolic economy, the public sphere, and the labor market. These outcomes, in turn, connect to the ongoing reproduction of particular forms of nationhood and national citizenship—which have ramifications for local, regional, national, transnational, and imperial power arrangements. (p. 174)
It is difficult to reconcile the supposed demand for binding fixed identities as the basis of political power with the queer proposal of the first person that blurs the identification exercise (Sutherland, 2009). In other words, with the idea that «in many important senses, queer can only denote when it is associated with the first person» (Sedgwick, 2002: 39). Our analysis proposes a queer approach, which understands that pure collective categories constitute an obstacle to resistance and change (Gamson, 2002). Furthermore, As philosopher Paul-Beatriz Preciado (2013 ) states, «Gender must be torn from the macro discourse and diluted with a good dose of micropolitical hedonist psychedelics» (p. 397) from where to articulate a political strategy. The way out—according to specific analyzes—would not be to dissipate tensions.
On the contrary, it aims to maintain them actively and productively, resolving them tactically according to each context of articulation while activating and enhancing connections, affinities, oppositions, rejections, and negotiations through provisional, contingent linkages. That process is always localized (Richard, 2008), developing a sense of alliance within the framework of a new conflictive encounter. It generates a more expansive and dynamic political impulse (Butler, 2000). In short, abandoning a political action focused on the individual to stand from a policy focused on the event and the collective. It could be a possibility, but we must not lose sight of the still great distance between these pol queer im/migrants live. Making possible alliances visible and interconnected potentialities and the daily experience of border situations—such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity/race, faith, and migration—seems to be the first step to generating some change. Within this intricate network of possibilities and diffuse performativities, Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants carve niches of negotiations with their community of peers and the host society (Córdova Quero, 2008a). Their situations are just one representation in the worldwide experiences of displacement of queer im/migrants exemplifying what queer Muslim scholar Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé (2000) called «Queer-in-intersection» or the intermingling of different categories in the constitution, (in)formation, and (de)construction of bodies and identities.
Queer im/migrant issues
Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants reside at the intersection of multiple situations. However, two contexts beg for their attention and reify their stress: (a) the Japanese society and (b) the Japanese Brazilian im/migrant community.
On the one hand, harmony is one of the most marked characteristics attributed to Japanese culture and society. This characteristic results from an education that makes individuals do their best to avoid conflict situations. Thus, knowing that the privacy of others must be respected and avoiding controversies regarding people’s private lives are rules learned from childhood. However, it is necessary to reflect on the meaning of «privacy» in a society where the group’s valuation seems to nullify its members’ existence (Dias, 2018a). Matthews Masayuki Hamabata (1990: 134) explains that a cultural expectation in Japanese society is the balance between tatemae and honor. While tatemae refers to displaying the public persona and social obligations, honne entails expressing inner feelings. The careful balance between both aspects produces harmony in society, thus privileging the well-being of the entire group over the particular needs of individuals.
Nevertheless, that apparent respect disappears when the person who exhibits a different behavior wants or needs to be part of a group whose members have other preferences or opinions. Nobody cares if a man is gay, as he is respected. However, depending on the workplace, he will hardly be promoted or be responsible for important functions because cis-heterosexual marriage is a prerequisite to occupying certain positions. It is as if marriage attributes men a status, a certification of responsibility, maturity, and reliability. Within that context, Japanese Brazilians seem to behave differently. They act according to the expectations of Brazilian culture, where a separation between the public persona, social obligations, and inner feelings would hinder a society deeply marked by personal relations and display of affection and emotions (Novinger, 2003: 89). Like many South Americans in contemporary modern society, Japanese Brazilians do not inhibit themselves in publicly displaying their feelings to spouses, relatives, or friends. For example, one can observe couples—mainly cis-heterosexuals—walking hand-in-hand on the street, which is uncommon in Japan (Córdova Quero, 2010).
Furthermore, Japanese society is still very cis-heteropatriarchal; although women have achieved equal rights before the law, many still suffer due to social and, mainly, professional inequalities (Tachibanaki, 2010). The ability to coexist harmoniously with tradition and modernity contributes to the fact that ancient customs and traditions still strongly influence current lifestyles. In many situations, these customs and practices continue to dictate norms of behavior that impact the lives of women and men, whether national or im/migrants.
On the other hand, the Japanese Brazilian community may relate to queer im/migrants from a national, cultural, or linguistic empathy. However, we cannot say the same concerning gender and sexuality. Carolyn Poljski (2011) mentions two common beliefs present in the situations of queer im/migrants: «Two commonly-held beliefs in immigrant and refugee communities include: same-sex attracted people do not exist in ethnic communities, and sexual diversity is specific only to Western societies» (2011: 12). That demonstrates that queer im/ migrants endure the effects of biopolitics from the host society and within the migrant communities. Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants are no exception to that situation.
Drawing from her fieldwork, Nilta Dias (2018b: 121–122) identifies three types of discourses that masked the subtle and underlying stereotypes and discriminations of cis-heterosexual Japanese Brazilian im/migrants towards their queer counterparts.
The first example recalls the case of Murilo, one of the interviewees, who stated: «I have nothing against the sapatão [lesbians] or the boiola [effeminate men]; I just do not want them to try to outdo my girlfriend or me.» We perceive that this interviewee claims to respect queer people but clarifies that those people should stay away from him and his girlfriend. That is an example of the preconceived and stereotypical tendency to associate queer people with promiscuity.
In the second example, Margarida’s comment during the interview marks another standpoint: «Wow! Is she sapatão [lesbian]? But she is such a good person and so intelligent!» In that case, the expression of fright and the use of the adverse conjunction «but» raises the interpretation that she—as well as other Japanese Brazilian cis-heterosexual im/migrants—see queer individuals as different. That causes them to be a fright of being «whole» and «intelligent.» Their astonishment also suggests that it is not common for a queer person to possess such qualities in many people’s conception.
The third example entails Hortencia’s comment: «Poor thing! Do not talk like that. It is not her fault that she was born with this problem» (the emphasis is ours). In that comment, we perceive a pious acceptance that indirectly suggests that the person who is not «normal» is not «healthy.» It is a pejorative statement, debasing queer people as if they were «sick,» thus camouflaging the comment a positive when, in fact, is a negative view.
These comments—made by straight people in places some queer people also go—are challenging to digest. In these comments, we find that many people—consciously or unconsciously—have many prejudices but end up camouflaged under a «social courtesy» or «indifference.»
In the following subsections, we analyze three aspects that reveal the various situations that Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants face while in Japan.
Race/ethnicity and identity
Race and ethnicity play an essential role in the lives of all individuals. Every aspect of our lives is connected to how race and ethnicity interplay and mold our interactions with others in society. Both race and ethnicity constitute invisible boundaries often built on perceptions of otherness. Skin color, cultural background, and linguistic barriers constitute part of those perceptions bound together into the «us/them» divide. Therefore, im/migrants are usually perceived as outsiders to the ethnonational demarcations of group inclusion.
Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1986) developed the notion of «racial formation» that explains the way that societies construct the ideology of race:
Our theory of racial formation emphasizes the social nature of race, the absence of any essential racial characteristics, the historical flexibility of racial meanings and categories, the conflictual character of race at both the “micro-” and “macro-social” levels, and the irreducible political aspect of racial dynamics. (p. 14)
Connected to the displacement of people, even if individuals successfully arrive at the destination country, they still need to face racial constructions in the host society. That also influences gender role expectations, sexual division of labor, and forming partnerships and families. Of course, there are overlapping experiences with cis-heterosexual im/migrants who face the effects of the dicta of the host society. Thus, determining their interactions in society would allow or deny them possibilities for the concretion of intimate encounters or partnerships they would face as queer im/migrants.
Regarding Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants, the racial categories are crucial to their possibilities for intimacy and relationships, mediated by conceptions of bodies closely tied to ethnic/racial categories. Jane H. Yamashiro (2008) explains that Japanese society calls Japanese Brazilians Nikkeijin in opposition to nationals who call themselves Nihonjin. While the former means «Japanese descendant,» the latter means «Japanese person.» That places Japanese Brazilians within a binary racial formation and stratification that separates Japanese Brazilians and Japanese nationals in either/or patterns or categories, constructing and reinforcing them socially (Córdova Quero, 2008b). Furthermore, Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants face one extra layer of otherness: the legal aspects. While cis-heterosexual im/migrants could benefit from legal provisions for partnership and family formations, legal aspects exclude queer im/migrants from these situations.
Drawing from his fieldwork, Córdova Quero (2014) states that legal and ethnoracial dynamics heavily impact the daily lived experiences of Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants. Vinicius, a 30-year-old Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrant, states:
I find the perception some people have in Brazil a bit weird that we are Japanese (japonês). They look at our appearance and conclude: “aw, you are Japanese.” They do not know if you are Japanese, have an ancestry, or are part Italian or German, but they have that idea of the Asian identity […]. However, when Japanese descendants come to Japan, they are considered foreigners; the ancestry does not matter anymore but only language and blood ties.
That situation also implies another dilemma. Japan grants citizenship only through jus sanguinis [law of blood] and not through jus solis [the law of the land]; children born to non-Japanese citizen parents will either retain their parents’ nationality or become stateless, as is the case for refugees and undocumented migrants. As early as 2002, The Japan Times published an article about a 7-year-old child born to Thai parents in Japan—at the time, one of the 1,070 stateless children below the age of 14 in Japan (Hongo, 2008). Until 2020, there were still 213 children under the age of 5 without nationality ( The Asahi Shimbun, 2021). For almost twenty years, the situation has continued to be a solid concern to scholars and human rights activists.
Blood ties sincerely mark the lives of people. Some of Cordova Quero’s interviewees affirm that the status of Japanese Brazilians as «lesser Japanese» creates a barrier for many Japanese men to relate intimately with them. Although some of his informants can «pass» as Japanese due to their ancestry, the lack of Japanese language skills soon renders them «foreigners,» often resulting in lost opportunities for sexual encounters or relationships. In this case, borders erected by ethnonational and racial perceptions of otherness do matter in enabling or denying relationalities (Córdova Quero, 2014). Kelmo—a 39-year-old Japanese Brazilian queer migrant who lives and works in a factory in the Tokai area—stated:
At the time of relationships, I do not stress too much the appearance issue as I am visibly a foreigner in Japan. In terms of first encounters, or first impressions, I have the experience that when an individual realizes I am a foreigner, in that very exact moment, every possibility for relationality stops, and the situation takes another route. It has happened to me more than once when the person concludes that I am not necessarily Japanese but a foreigner not equal to him, then he would stop any possibility of a relationship.
The experience of Kelmo is shared by other Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants interviewed, who also struggle to find meaningful encounters or relationships given the demands of racial, ethnic, and cultural negotiations. This is not to say that Japanese queer individuals are free from social pressure concerning the gender role expectations and cis-heterosexual division of labor in Japanese society, such as marrying someone from the opposite gender ( The Asahi Shimbun, 2020; Kyodo News, 2021). On the contrary, queer nationals are also inscribed in intricate networks of social negotiations and reiterations that often render their lives at odds with societal expectations (Takahashi, 2021).
Bodies and boundaries
Demarcations of queer individuals’ bodies are done through different societal constructions in every society, which is valid for nationals and im/migrants. Those demarcations shape the daily lives of nationals. However, in the case of queer im/migrants, the demarcation process is more complex. Queer im/migrants move from established societal definitions of gender role expectations and sexual division of labor in their home country to host societies with new definitions (Córdova Quero, 2016b). Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants are no exception to the phenomenon. The result is that while nationals have to deal with one set of definitions—the one from their society—queer im/migrants reside at the intersection of competing definitions. Queerness, if anything, exacerbates this tension. While we acknowledge that constructions of queerness vary according to different social and cultural contexts, Northern European and (North) American constructions of queerness tend to get universalized and, therefore, colonize local, autochthonous negotiations in different contexts around the world (Córdova Quero, 2014). Therefore, nationals and queer im/migrants outside those geographical areas and cultural settings are influenced by—or forced to incarnate—those universalized constructions of queerness. The situation becomes intricately complex. On this, Carmen Romero Bachiller (2003) states thus:
Certain bodies are recognized as “marked” in a logic that tends to homogenize images of a nation with a particular definition of an “unmarked” and “natural” body. However, the “national” body far from being “unmarked” or “natural,” is deeply marked. It requires […] the complex articulation of sophisticated devices: a broad linguistic competence, an accent recognized as not having an accent—that is, as being an accent “proper” to the nation, a religious ascription, a particular skin pigmentation, eyes, and hair color, specific clothing.
Talking about bodies always refers to gender and sexuality, sometimes invisible issues. Bodies that do not conform to a pre-established dichotomy must be corrected, behaviorally or surgically. Im/migrants living their lives through-and-with their bodies challenge the dicta of gender-role expectations and the cis-heterosexual division of labor, thus revealing some of those notions’ flaws (Córdova Quero, 2016b).
As Brazil is a developing country while Japan is a developed country, it is logical to assume that the situation of queer im/migrants would change for the better. However, this is not always the case. Martin F. Manalansan IV (2003: 13) has pointed out that queer im/migrants do not always leave a situation of «repression» to one of «liberation,» but sometimes quite the opposite. Many of my interviewees who were out in Brazil found themselves in the closet while in Japan. In some cases, this happens as a way to secure for themselves the necessary elements of survival through social networks. Failing to do this would isolate them, barred from social networks related to family and close friends, nonprofit organizations—from now on cited as «NPOs»—and religious organizations. For some, the «return to the closet» to remain integrated into critical social networks may be conflict-ridden. The materiality of labels and positionalities within the complex familial, social, economic, and religious relationalities shape the daily lived experiences of queer im/migrants (Córdova Quero, 2014). Thiago—a 35-year-old gay man—comments about this:
This is very common among Japanese males seeking an encounter, but they seem to consider it dangerous to get some disease. Then they decide not to continue with the encounter because I am gaijin. They are there with me, but they do not go further. I feel that they have the idea that diseases are not something you can get in Japan but something brought to Japan by foreigners and that they could get if they have sex with them [the emphasis is ours].
Many queer Japanese Brazilian migrant bodies are perceived as threatening by Japanese nationals. This is associated with the myth that HIV and sexually transmitted diseases were «a Western problem» brought into Japan by foreigners (Talmadge, 1996). The fear of HIV is one of the most challenging obstacles to intimacy and sexuality in queer communities. It is often used in public policies and migration laws to discriminate against queer im/migrants (Córdova Quero y Stang, 2015). For example, Floriano, a 22-year-old queer im/migrant, narrated to Córdova Quero in an interview that several of his straight Japanese friends even believed that just because they have «Japanese blood,» they were immune to HIV and did not need to use condoms. He referred to his Japanese friends as affirming that «because we are Japanese, the Goddess Amaterasu protects us, and we do not need to care about HIV when intimate with Japanese girls.»
Beyond the «urban legend» of the statement, what concerns Floriano is that Japanese nationals may ask many Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants for unprotected sex because of this belief, especially when their status as foreigners is not evident. As Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants are aware of HIV issues through multiple prevention campaigns in Brazil, many of them generally refuse to have unprotected sex and decide to end such sexual encounters.
Queerness and faith
The intersection between Japanese Brazilian migration, religion, and sexuality has not been thoroughly studied. There is a perceived need for the continuity and expansion of studies related to this topic, especially by focusing on the Japanese Brazilian queer individuals’ experiences in Japan (Dias, 2018b).
One of the critical networks for Japanese Brazilian migrants is religious organizations—the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant churches, Afro-Brazilian religions, or New Japanese religions—that spread in Brazil through Japanese migrants and also «returned» to Japan with their descendants (Córdova Quero and Shoji, 2014a, 2014b).
Within religious organizations, the label queer—or any other label for identity politics—changes the perception and, consequently, the actions towards Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants. Thiago comments about this process concerning participation in religious organizations:
From a political point of view, I do see it as a bit dangerous that gays are involved in religious organizations that are openly anti-gay. This [is said] because, in theory, gays should be fighting against them, against the hegemony that they [the churches] had conquered, and, mainly, gays should be vigorously fighting for the separation between State and religion since religious organizations are more politically engaged in withholding the advance of the reproductive rights as well as those of the sexual minorities in countries such as Brazil and the United States. In this sense, I see a conflict of interest for the designated gay Christians, especially among those engaged in organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church or the traditional Protestant churches. In a way, could those gay individuals be trying to change the Church from the inside? Yes, maybe. [However] I do not know to which extent they produce an effect.
Currently, there are many Roman Catholic churches in different Japanese cities; some try to adapt to meet the needs of the faithful from Latin America and other nationalities who celebrate masses in Portuguese, Spanish, and other languages. However, these celebrations only happen occasionally. For example, masses in Portuguese occur once or twice a month, depending on the region, causing an inconsistency in religious activities that are not in Portuguese (Córdova Quero, 2007). Consequently, some people look to other institutions where they do not have to face a language barrier. Many people who are not fluent in Japanese find it difficult to communicate effectively with other worshipers (Córdova Quero and Shoji, 2014a). The communication gets even more removed when the emphasis of discourses and symbols points to hegemonic cis-heteropatriarchy, like Milton—a 25-year-old gay man—who comments:
When the people at [the Roman Catholic] Church talk about “family,” they forget that we are also “family” […]. It is like the minute someone suspects that one is not to embrace their heterosexual values, we are faced with de-familiarization […]. I am also “family,” I may not be straight, but I am also part of a family!
This reality causes a feeling of not belonging to the group and motivates migration to other religious institutions or contributes to complete spiritual isolation, being restricted to individual prayers or often not even that. Their frustration emerges, especially when religious organizations invoke «tradition» to demark boundaries of belonging. Roberto—a 28-year-old gay man—concluded on this:
I am tired of the obsession with the “traditional family.” The [Roman Catholic] Church repeats and repeats the idea of having a heterosexual family, and that hurts because my relationship with my partner is also a “family.” […] We may not produce children, but he is my “family.” I dream that my relationship will be recognized, but it seems like a hopeless dream.
Informants who previously participated in the Roman Catholic Church did not elaborate on why they chose to leave that church but stated that they never suffered discrimination. However, some disclose their standpoint when confronted with their religious feelings or practice. Johanna—a 34-year-old Japanese Brazilian lesbian—summed her feelings between faith and institutionalized Christianity in the following way:
Sometimes I feel [like] abandoning my faith once and for all […]. The [Roman Catholic] Church does not make it easy for me to be there. I am invisible, and my life is invisible; I am a nobody because I am not hetero[sexual]. Will this ever change? I would like to have a community that would be both [Roman] Catholic and accepting. Is it too much to ask?
Very few decide to challenge the cis-heteronormative, such as in the case of Absalon—a 22-year-old man—who declared:
Maybe this is just an illusion, or maybe it will be a reality in the future, but I think it is time for us to reclaim our membership in the [Roman Catholic] Church. We are in the twenty-first century, and it is time they [the hierarchy] understand that this is not the Middle Ages […]. I am proudly [Roman] Catholic and bicha [gay].
However, Roman Catholicism is not the only expression of Christianity that the im/migrants profess. Some Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants explained that they came to attend an evangelical church simply because of the language and receptivity. Over time, they liked the celebrations and teachings and decided to convert. Nevertheless, some were still torn between faith and sexuality, as stated by Cinthia, a 40-year-old lesbian im/migrant:
Christian churches have long declared that they do not accept LGBT people. However, I am also a Christian person. How to reconcile my faith and my sexuality? If God is sending me to “hell” for loving someone and [will send] to “heaven” straight people who hate us so much, Isn’t it a bit awkward? I believe God accepts us all, regardless of our sexual orientation, and will judge us only if we love. After all, God is love.
Unlike Roman Catholic parishes, most evangelical churches, founded by Brazilians in Japan, are frequented by Brazilians and other Latin Americans. In these churches, issues related to language and cultural differences do not pose difficulties or barriers, as is often the case in local Roman Catholic parishes. Thus, these churches constitute a place where many feel welcome; However, for those who want to, the evangelical churches related to the Brazilian im/migrant community are also not places where they feel welcome. They can profess their faith regardless of sexual orientation without disclosing their personal life. Given that reality, Ronaldo—a 40-year-old queer im/migrant—has decided not to «ask permission,» as he stated:
My boyfriend and I go to church together. We try not to be too visible as we do not want to be questioned. At the time of communion, we both take it. It is “better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Notwithstanding, the reality is that many evangelical churches only accept queer believers who are out to fight their sexual orientation and are willing to «change their lives» (Dias, 2018b). Commenting on the conduct adopted in the church where he congregates, Revd Pedro—a pastor of an evangelical church in the Brazilian community—explains in an interview with Dias:
Homosexuals are going to be welcomed here, but through the Word of God, they are going to convert, […] it is no use being in a church thinking that “I am saved” and continuing with the same practices […] people have to understand that Satan wants to close their vision so that they do not receive salvation, because of what is happening everything that is happening in the world today, the perversity of the heart of man […] because all kinds come out of the heart, evil thinking, perversity, prostitution, lust […], all that comes from the heart of man and contaminates him. The Word of God says that a man’s heart, from his childhood, is terrible. […] We are in the church not to point the finger, not to judge, but to pray for those who are fallen, to pray for those who are contaminated, to pray for those who are losing themselves in the addiction of drugs, in prostitution, in all kinds of misfortune that is in the world today. The function of the church is to pray, intercede and ask for God’s mercy so that God can save these people. Amen?
This statement shows that the church accepts queer people but does not accept homo-affectivity. To profess faith within that church, queer people need to obey the prerequisite of abandoning homo-affective practices. That being the case, queer people must choose between professing their faith within that institution or assuming their sexual orientation. Being queer and a person of faith at the same time is not always easy, as sexuality and gender are deeply entrenched in religious teachings, sacred text interpretations, ritual practices, and pastoral concerns. While interviewed by Córdova Quero, Thiago thus reflected on this situation:
In my opinion, I find that the only reason to attend a church, either being heterosexual or being queer, is simply faith. I do not want to confine the function of religious organizations, but socialization is possible in other spaces. The church is only one of them. From this point of view, gays attend church—although they are treated as “abnormal” or “sinners” by the great majority of denominations and Christian branches—because they have faith. More contradictory is the fact of [a queer person] having faith in a God who is praised within an organization that does not consider their way of life as worthy and sufficient for them to be part of it.
Thiago also did not deny the role of faith in the life of queer individuals but strongly questioned the problem of religious organizations that have welcoming discourses while keeping exclusionary practices, forcing many migrants to remain «in the closet» to survive.
In interviews, both Córdova Quero and Rafael Shoji (2014b) and Dias (2018b) find that Spiritism was the religion most cited as a spiritual refuge for queer people. A representative of the Spiritist Doctrine in Japan reported in an interview with Dias that many queer people seek that faith, trying to find explanations for their doubts, in this case, to understand homo-affectivity. In the group he coordinates in Japan, no queer people are studying or participating directly in the institution’s activities. However, many call to talk or clarify doubts or even sometimes participate in activities via the Internet (Dias, 2018b). That aligns with what Cordova Quero and Shoji (2014b) reported while interviewing Mr. Sumi Tomoh.
Regarding this, Camelia—another Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrant interviewed by Dias—states:
In Spiritism, they say that our spirit does not have sex, and I believe that I am like that because, in this life, God wanted me to go through trials and difficulties to be a better and better person. I am like that because God made me like that; if he wanted me to be different, he would not have made me like that […]. The Bible says that no leaf falls without God’s permission […].
The same is true for other non-Christian religions, such as Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion. For example, commenting on her family’s religious tradition, Rosa explained in an interview with Dias:
I am baptized and confirmed in the [Roman] Catholic Church, but now I am a student of the Spiritist Doctrine. My mother is evangelical, but my grandfather was from the Umbanda [religion], so I have already experienced different religions […]. My father taught us to pray […], he taught us to have faith, he taught us what it was to believe, and he said that the important thing is to believe in God. My parents did not force us to choose a religion or follow theirs […]. In Japan, I naturally distanced myself from those religious things, but I am not without faith […]. I was never discriminated against because of my way of being, neither in the church nor in Umbanda.
Throughout their fieldwork—especially in the interviews—Dias and Córdova Quero ascertain that most Japanese Brazilian queer informants are concerned about their sexuality and spirituality. A major contributing factor to that concern is the context in which they live. Although they live primarily within the confines of the Brazilian im/migrant community—through ethnic supermarkets, schools, clothing stores, beauty salons, restaurants, or clubs—the majority context is Japanese. They experience that context within the labor market—factories, cleaning service companies, and the like—that characterizes for being an environment in which—as aforementioned—most people seek to respect the privacy of others. Despite ethnoracial dynamics, many Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants feel safe and, in some cases, free; they assume their sexual orientation and nature coexist in cis-heterosexual settings. When it comes to spirituality, Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants interviewed revealed that they believe in God or a higher force but claimed not to attend any religious institution. The justification was the lack of time or opportunity. Still, it is possible to perceive that among many interviewees, some seem not to attend any religious institution directly so as not to be exposed to embarrassing situations resulting from their sexual orientation.
Throughout this article, we aimed to bring the voices of the people who constitute our studies’ subjects. The struggles and search for the meaning of Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants are as important as understanding their place and possibilities within Japanese society. As individuals live between their self-identification—the chosen display of their self—and the construction of otherness made by the surrounding society, Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants’ experiences point to the intersection of different experiences and notions. Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants highly stress the connection of gender and sexuality with economies that alienate them, with political structures that deny their dignity, and with cultures that closet them into limiting expectations. Even their lives intersect with faith experiences that trap them into ready-made recipes that fail to liberate the multiple possibilities of love and creativity. However, their agency marks the boundaries in which their real life unfolds.
The question of identity may also lead us to consider that Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants may not define their lives according to the dicta or even in response to cultural or social expectations. Strictly speaking, the expectations of Japanese society and religious organizations certainly impact their self-understanding. Nonetheless, this constitutes only half of the situation; the other half resides in the possibilities for the agency they can exercise.
Religion, gender, and sexuality are essential lenses to develop increasingly nuanced migration studies. As we have analyzed in this article, Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants embody and live out their gender, sexuality, and religious experiences in different and meaningful ways. Their religious experiences do not constitute «extra baggage» in the migration process for many of them. On the contrary, spiritual experiences often give meaning, sustain, and condition their lives in Japanese society. Every religion adds abounding aspects that further diversify the composite of migration experiences worldwide, and many of our interviewees have instrumentally carved niches for living out their faith.
The «melting pot» image is the central metaphor for assimilationism. This process expects immigrants to renounce their own culture and adopt the cultural norms of the receiving society (Ray, 2006). That is impossible in real life because people’s identities root constitutively on their culture(s) of origin. Ultimately, our analysis shows that Japanese Brazilian queer im/migrants debate whether to assimilate to hegemonic discourses or queer them through performativities of resistance. In this sense, their lives are not mere figures in statistics or models of economic displacement. They serve as the geography where their agency establishes, negotiates, and challenges social, cultural, and national boundaries.