As mixed persons, we have been created in a river of global mixings. Everywhere, people of different hues and values and systems met each other and caressed and/or collided. We, as mixed persons, were created in a world fixated on static and stationary notions that deny mixing, deny motion, deny difference and impermanence. In such a world that I have translated on this essay page, I want to point to certain historical continuities that we are a part of as “Mixed-Japanese.” Because I am mostly familiar with American-Japanese and to some extent, some European-mixed Japanese histories, my view points are from this position. Please keep in mind that this is a study of general patterns and not a study of every possibility and fact of history. As usual, I look mainly at relations of power related to social change and justice.
To begin, empires such as the Mongol and Ottoman Empires, showed people that the creating of diverse peoples into larger bodies of military and resource-control, who negotiated, manipulated, or ordered via enslavement and conquering, were the most likely victors that brought freedom from servitude and being degraded. European colonization is an extension of empire-building. Colonization establishes more mechanisms for internal controls, becoming the first strong influence on life as we know it today because of colonization and nation-making running parallel. The entire global map is the product of centuries of boundaries—literal and physical, including lines establishing such “things” as “ethnicities were drawn by the larger colonial-imperial powers.
Beginning largely by the 14th century, when British, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese travelers and traders entered the South Seas and the Pacific, many babies were made. Some infants and children were left in the local when fathers returned to their original homes, while others were taken back to the father’s lands in Europe or Australia or the Americas. Since we know the world to be endlessly diverse during these times, as capitalism had not fully begun control over larger populations yet, we can safely assume that many mixed-Asians were treated as anomalies, and/or treated as exotic curiosity pieces, welcomed as new members of families and communities, and/or abused, teased, or excluded as lower forms of life. Of course, forms of upward mobility and the need for bodies for labor to increase wealth, created increasing opportunities for the “use” of mixed-children for an increasing number of ways to get rich. Gaining wealth became a necessity in the fight for more personal and communal freedoms in a world of empires. Enslavement and being trafficked, then, became the result for many of those children. This, of course, is ongoing today.
What made socially uneven relations—social hierarchies, within and between nations, were mostly two reasons: the reality or threat of being conquered by a stronger military force or being threatened with poverty through resource-control including their movement over larger and larger geographical areas. Military power and market controls became more intense during European colonization. The use of the exotic and the impure, could be seen as a way to control but also to present and reinforce the social hierarchies.
Parallel to the increase in mixed-children being used for some type of gain, is the increase in how mixed-ness “fit” into the social value structures of a community or nation. In some cases, families or communities might shield the mixed-race children from the larger communities when the larger community disdained mixed-ness. In other cases, families and communities invented labels for the mixed, to place themselves psychologically higher in the constructed hierarchy. Being called mongrel, was globally the most common form of labelling in order to degrade.
The height of label-making began more intensely during European colonial expansion, where larger geo-political spaces were travelled and when more and more different people came into contact with each other and saw, remembered and borrowed the language of power, to use the hierarchy in service to their own needs for not becoming slaves, poor, or at least lower in status in the eyes of their communities. In this dynamic, because the enslavement of darker-skinned peoples in the South Seas, the Americas, the so-called Middle Eastern and Central Asian lands and Africa were at their height, the term nigger was quite commonly used to describe all of these peoples by “white” slave owners and business people throughout.
I use the term “white” in the description above, for owners of slaves in the dominant social categories who were increasingly thought of as lighter-skinned. Even the difference between Brits and Scots or Irish, were exploited in this manner. But skin-color as a factor in determining social position in a community or nation was mixed with such things as language-acquisition, facial features, hair texture and color, as well as caste and social-class position (education, etc.). Because blacker bodies which came the most intensely in numbers from the African continent during the 16th to 19th centuries via the Atlantic Slave industry, any mixture with Black bodies in the social-scapes became the most easily recognizable and therefore easily labelled, therefore giving more immediate feedback as to what to do with them.
So what becomes “reality,” then, are the most common ways to position mixed-children along physical type, facial features, skin-color, hair texture, social caste level and other factors: pure/impure dynamic; and the white/black dynamic. In a world rapidly changing due to increasing travel, motion, and changes brought by colonial contact, the need for stabilizing identity became more intense. Purity became a selling-point in order to secure the signifier for national belonging. Because Europeans were the dominant colonial power due mainly to enforcing a global system through military force combined with local laws made global, the black-as-closer-to-slave became a centerpiece in the North-Central European educational racial superiority project. In some cases, this created a curious mixture of enslavement and empowerment for many mixed-race people. For espionage and double-dealing, mixed-race peoples were often sought to translate in order to deceive for gain. For national and personal negotiations, mixed-race people have been sought to become interpreters and translators if they spoke more than one language.
Beginning with this general frame I will, in the next part to this essay, focus more on the historical patterns related to Asian and mixed-Japanese.