Just the Facts

Institution
City College of New York / CUNY

Year
2005

Project
Documenting the Asian presence in Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia through photographic images and essays based on interviews and individual stories

Ayame Mizutome

There is no doubt that the Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Traveling Fellowship played a significant and very positive role in changing the direction of my professional development and my life. The experience was unimaginable and will last for the rest of my life. I learned so much about myself and the world beyond me. It literally opened my horizons.

Soon after my return, I published some images, but that was only the beginning. I am currently pursuing graduate studies in history at The City College of New York, and I am looking forward to writing a book on the Asian Diaspora in Latin America. Contacts that I established in Peru and Bolivia have promised support and help in publishing my work in the near future. Other professionals in various fields shared similar visions and helped me shape my perspective. Through them I learned to apply my own work, not only as art images or historical research, but also as broader educational material that could be used in such venues as schools in Japan and Latin America, periodicals and other information sources.

After returning from a yearlong trip, which advanced the project much further, I realized that my commitment to photography had to be accompanied by a more serious level of historical research. Thus, I decided to continue with my education at the graduate level. I view my studies as a continuation of my Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Traveling Fellowship project.

During the Fellowship year I also realized that I needed to focus my project more. The Asian Diaspora in the Andes called for a vast geographical area to be covered. It became apparent that exploring the fates of Japanese descendants in the Amazon was already a big project for a year. Although the outcome of my Fellowship year was quite different from what I originally planned, my intention and enthusiasm remained the same throughout the year.

For six months I traveled in the Amazonian rain forest, visiting villages, communes and deserted areas where Japanese descendants live. I stayed in their homes; I cooked with them, talked with them and followed their daily routines. By doing so, I was tracing their current lives, recording their oral histories and collecting anecdotes. Once I returned to New York, I started the historical research to find out the social conditions and the background story of the peasants, who participated in the failed Japanese immigration to Latin America. In Peru it caused an illegal flow of escaping immigrants, who went over the Andes on foot and down the Amazonian streams and rivers on primitive rafts in search of a better economy. What desperate situation caused them to emigrate from the peasant society of Meiji Japan to Peru and then continue undocumented to Bolivia’s Amazonian rain forest? What were the social changes and conditions enforced by the imperial Japanese government during the Meiji Restoration and its drastic modernization? How did the prewar emigration fail in such large numbers and no one was held responsible, while the other half of the emigration flow to Manchuria, Korea, Taiwan and other parts of Asia was quite successful? Where and how in the larger picture of Japanese history of colonization and imperialism does this emigration fit? Answers to these questions and many more are what I am seeking now. Empowered by the experience of the Fellowship year, I am ready to embark on new artistic and intellectual adventures.

Prospective Fellowship applicants should remember that part of the excitement of the experience are the surprises that happen along the way. Other countries are not obligated to provide you with the service to which you may be accustomed. Your ways are not always and everywhere the norm. Be open to learn and understand the “other,” respecting different cultures, religions, customs and traditions. Perhaps most importantly, do not assume.

I thank Brandeis University and the Hays family for granting me this truly amazing opportunity.