An exhibition of photos of Japanese immigrants. An exhibition of photos of Japanese immigrants.

Japanese immigrants celebrated in Chiapas

Since the initial arrival over 100 years ago of a group of 35, they have left their mark

An initial contingent of 35 people set sail from Japan over 100 years ago, their destination Chiapas and their intention to pursue their dreams in a new land.

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Today, their 10,000 descendants throughout Mexico honor and remember their bravery, and celebrate the people who received them and made them part of their community.

María Argelia Kokumi is one of those 10,000 nikkei — a Japanese term that describes an emigrant or a descendant thereof who is not a citizen of Japan. She explained to the newspaper Milenio that her forebears travelled to Mexico 120 years ago hoping to work in the profitable coffee industry of the region.

Once settled, they began growing other crops as well and teaching the indigenous people of the Chiapas municipalities of Acacoyagua, Escuintla and Tapachula to read and write.

Kokumi’s ancestors also helped bring piped water to the most marginalized communities and aided in the fight against yellow fever in the region.

Years later, recalled Kokumi, they founded the school La Aurora for the descendants of Japanese immigrants.

“It is a very good thing that the first 35 immigrants found in the lands of Chiapas a place to live and develop in the fields of agriculture and commerce. For that reason it’s worth celebrating the occasion and remembering the education and the way of thinking left by our grandparents,” said Kokumi.

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And the people of Chiapas are indeed remembering: 120 years after the first Japanese immigrants first set foot in the state, the Mexico-Japanese Association, the Embassy of Japan in Mexico and the government of Chiapas have organized cultural and artistic activities in the border town of Tapachula in an effort to highlight the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

Several venues in Tapachula, including the municipal headquarters, the planetarium, the Bicentennial Park and the neighboring towns of Puerto Madero and Acacoyagua, are hosting photographic and cinema exhibits, along with theater and musical shows beginning today and concluding Monday.

One of the photographic exhibits will showcase the work of José Taro Zorrilla Takeda, who attempts to capture the values and teachings of the Japanese community through portraits of the immigrants’ descendants.

“The migration from Japan to Mexico was not intentional; they were people pursuing a dream, looking to improve their lives and broaden their horizons. Those migrants knew nothing of Mexico, but found wisdom in the people that received them,” said the photographer.

“For that reason, it is important to conserve our ancestors’ knowledge, and to celebrate the Mexican people with acts of love and bravery.”

The four days of festivities will be attended by the Japanese ambassador, Akira Yamada, and state authorities.

The embassy’s cultural attaché, Tomoyuki Yamagata, observed that one of the benefits of the friendship between the two nations has been the development of the industrial sector.

“We have 1,111 Japanese firms installed in Mexico . . . but there are also cultural and academic exchanges happening. We’re thus enjoying a booming interest in Japan on the part of our Mexican friends,” he said.

Yamada added that his country’s investment in Mexico has grown rapidly, especially in the automotive manufacturing sector.

“Even if [investments] are currently focusing in the auto sector, we’re sure that they’ll diversify, that’s what makes the relationship between Mexico and Japan strong and solid, because we’re after a long-range relationship that will generate benefits for both countries,” said the ambassador.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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