Generalissimo Rafael L. Trujillo, the infamous dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic for more than 3 decades, invited Spanish, Hungarian, Lebanese, Jewish and Japanese nationals to the Dominican Republic in the hope they would boast the nations economic development and to bring “lighter-skinned genes” to his country's bloodline. more...
Generalissimo Rafael L. Trujillo, the infamous dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic for more than 3 decades, invited Spanish, Hungarian, Lebanese, Jewish and Japanese nationals to the Dominican Republic in the hope they would boast the nations economic development and to bring “lighter-skinned genes” to his country's bloodline. Many of these immigrants soon moved on to South American Countries like Brazil and Argentina but a relatively large number of Japanese immigrants decided to stay. While passing by the Colonia Japonese (Japanese Colony) nearby Constanza I could not resist to find one of the original Japanese immigrants and find out how a Japanese family ended up in the Dominican Republic and what occurred when two entirely different cultures met.
Yoko Nisho Japanese but 100% Dominican
Yoko Nishio Fukushima, is working in her garden and does not expect a visitor to ask her about her personal history. Following a couple of minutes “through the gate” conversation, I am invited to enter her house and to a refreshing beverage. “Tell me that you want to know”, says Yoko Nishio while she sits down on the sofa in her slightly dark but cozy living room.
Yoko Nishio was born in the Chinese province of Manchuria near Mongolia where her father was stationed during the Japanese occupation. After the war the four-year-old girl and her parents moved back to Japan that was greatly damaged by the war, overpopulated and suffering an economic crisis. Ten years later, the situation had hardly improved causing Yoko Nishio’s parents to accept the offer of Trujillo, backed by the Japanese government, to move to the Dominican Republic and work the land. The family was promised a house, a large piece of land and access to plenty of water.
The family left Japan and travelled by boat via Los Angeles and the Panama Canal to the Dominican Republic. During this one-month journey they learned some Spanish. Yoko Nishio and her family ended up in the town Dajabón nearby the Haitian border only to find out that the land was not very fertile and lacked sufficient water that was needed for growing rice. The mosquitoes where another nuisance and caused many cases of malaria. The family had to survive of 18 pesos per person, per month, which was guaranteed by the government. The majority of Japanese immigrants encountered a similar situation and felt deceived. The government of Japan offered assistance to those who wanted to return to Japan or move elsewhere.
In the 1961 it was arranged that Yoko Nishio would marry a Japanese man in Constanza, the most popular and prosperous Colonia Japones with an abundance of water and fertile soil. Yoko Nishio’s parents stayed behind Dajabón but would move to Brazil two years later, along with a large part of her family.
The integration of the Japanese in Dominican society thankfully went a lot smoother than anticipated, since the Dominicans did not demonstrate any large resentment towards the new immigrants who were given land for free by the Dominican government. Yoko Nishio tells me that she knows of only a few situations where the lack of water became an issue but this was always resolved peacefully. The local population learned how to develop and execute large-scale agricultural programs and was introduced to a variety of new vegetables, flowers and fruit trees.
While most of the immigrants soon left the Dominican Republic, about 25% of the Japanese settlers stayed. Yoko Nishio and her husband worked hard, raised family, endured droughts, lost an entire garlic crop and their land but started over and never thought of leaving permanently. The family of Yoko Nishio was part of the group Japanese immigrants that did not find the conditions they were promised. The spectacular agricultural development resulting from their hard work far exceeded anyone’s expectation and can’t be missed while travelling through the region.
Yoko Nishio considers the Dominican Republic her homeland; she enjoys her life with her children and grandchildren. Only a few of them will follow in the footsteps of their (grand) parents as they study and look for work in other economic sectors of society. While many Japanese descendents, like Yoko Nishio grandson, appear to be 100% Japanese I am ensured that they feel 100% Dominican.
Near every turn in the road and every Dominican village you can find someone of something that inspires you. Somewhere between El Covento and Constanza I thank and say farewell to this wonderful lady, Yoko Nishio Fukushima, who allowed me to be respectfully curious. I can’t help thinking that this is where traveling is all about!