Thursday, April 2, 2015

Inclusive Diversity: Understanding Hidden Migrant Populations

Diversity in human mobility includes those migrants who are marginalized by legal, cultural or personal stigma -- either manifest or perceived, or both.  Overstayers, entertainers, migrants’ offspring  (those disenfranchised or mal-integrated in varying degrees) become “hidden” populations as they (choose to) remain anonymous to lessen stigma and/or they are misunderstood given that their issues are incoherently verbalized.  While their hiddenness does not equate with invisibility, local communities – either as ethnic pockets in host states or ancestral villages in source states – struggle to leverage a fully inclusive cultural diversity as they work toward local goals. Indeed a selective diversity is a contradiction.

The recent media coverage of the 2015 Miss Universe Japan not being "Japanese enough" makes us, yet again, pause and reflect on "Japaneseness."  This word has come to embody, on the one hand, Japan’s reluctant, internal-looking globalization (“it’s because we are Japanese”) or, on the other hand, Japan’s outward-yet-localized globalization (“Japaneseness is what we contribute to the world”).  Japaneseness is brought to the fore when the external influences the internal – uchinaru kokusaika or “internationalization within” (Ryhuhei 1985 cited in Morris-Suzuki 2010: 194; Chung 2010) – or when local and global influences seamlessly bear down on Japanese identity – or a “multiculturalism within” (Morris-Suzuki 2010:197-198).

But another equally important aspect to Japaneseness has received less attention – how can there be better understanding between the Japanese public and foreigner residents?  Thus it is important to find new pathways to understanding foreign residents – most specifically those segments of the foreigner community in Japan who may be viewed as “hidden migrant populations.”

These “hidden migrant populations” are difficult to study because consensus on a research framework is elusive.

By "hidden migrant populations" I refer specifically to three Filipino migrant groups as examples of these difficult-to-study populations:

1) "Bilogs" or irregular migrants (or those legally classified as outside formal society);

2) "Japayuki" or entertainers (or those within formal society but ascribed lower prestige);

3)  Japanese-Filipino children (JFCs, either disenfranchised or mal-integrated in varying degrees or both).

To illustrate my point, while sexual exploitation is a common theme about Filipina entertainers in Japan, some of the perspectives applied by researchers expound on this common theme as 1) inescapably reinforced and propagated by media representations (Suzuki 2011); 2) brought upon themselves by their informed choices (Sellek 2001); or 3) as both a limited choice between two evils and a staging point for subsequent employment in other sectors (Ballescas 1992, 2009).  These expositions and arguments point to social ontologies (what is real, what exists) based on holism (structures determine all else/i.e. Suzuki), individualism (active choices define structures/i.e. Sellek) or some middle point between holism and individualism (structures and individuals acting together define each other/i.e. Ballescas).

To be sure, a diversity of perspectives promotes a fuller engagement of a research topic.  However, if ontological (and thus methodological) assumptions of researchers remain incomplete or non-inclusive – or at worst remain implicit – their findings become debatable, encouraging opposing proponents to fixate on divergences rather than building upon convergent results.

Further complicating this fractured research approach is the social stigma latching onto members of these groups as they fulfill their multiple social identities (as breadwinners, as family heads, as community role models, etc.), making them reluctant respondents.

It is for these two reasons that I argue that bilogs, entertainers and JFCs are hidden migrant populations.

They are “hidden” not in the literal sense – as they in fact freely mingle and their issues and concerns actually make the public acutely aware of their presence – but in the sense that their (perceived) discordant formal or social status keeps them on the periphery of de facto "mainstream" research themes on migrant groups in Japan often involving those within formal structures (legal migrants and legitimized descendants) or those with ascribed high prestige (skilled migrants).

One course of action is to forge an inclusive research framework on hidden migrant populations that will allow proponents of various perspectives to collaborate and achieve synergy in their findings.  This is only the first step in “seeing” the hiddenness of bilogs, entertainers and JFCs – opening pathways to understanding their issues and concerns.  These opened pathways are realized not by forcing compliance to an externally-imposed research agenda, stunting the creative conceptualization of research questions by investigators trained in a multiplicity of perspectives.  The pathways are found at a more foundational level, that is, social ontologies and epistemologies and their ensuing methodologies (henceforth SOEM) that are open for constructive engagement by peers.  Engagement is enabled because first SOEM is now made explicit – making discussion points across various proponents now clearer – and second because research variables operationalized differently can now be systematically tackled by researchers with opposing perspectives.  In the end, this inclusive research framework (of all existing perspectives now with their respective SOEM declared) will allow a multi-disciplinary, multi-perspective and therefore a comprehensive and exhaustive understanding of hidden populations to emerge.

I experienced first-hand this dual disability during my own research on bilogs in Japan over a six year span (from 2009-2015).  My philosophical school of choice was (and still is) critical realism and I could not effectively configure my research to interface with the work of other researchers (wanting to focus my limited resources on still unresolved issues) because 1) SOEM assumptions of other related literature were not explicit and thus 2) variables I measured could not adequately dialogue with similar variables operationalized differently by other authors.  For example, my research developed an integrated framework explaining how migrant illegality is sustained over time and across both host and source states.  I could not fully test if the SOEM assumptions of my framework would remain valid when applied to a different hidden population (entertainers or JFCs) or if my framework is able to coherently accommodate new variables that may have been formulated with different, though implicit, SOEM assumptions of other authors.  Achieving “interoperability” or “external validity” of my research findings in both depth (increasing number of variables) and breadth (increasing number of hidden groups) is the logical next step, thus this current project.

continuing essay.....