Participating Scholars
Jeffrey Lesser

Project Description


Institutional Participants



Staff and Advisors

English Japanese
Spanish Portuguese

Japanese American
National Museum

Jeffrey Lesser, Associate Professor of History at Connecticut College, is a specialist on ethnicity, immigration and national identity in Brazil. His current research focuses on the Japanese and Nikkei experiences in that country. His scholarship has been published in numerous languages including English, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, German, and Japanese. His most recent book, Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (Duke University Press, 1999), focuses on the ways in which Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants and their descendants negotiated their identities as Brazilians in the first half of the twentieth century. His Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question (University of California Press, 1994), published in Brazil as O Brasil e a Questão Judaica: Imigração, Diplomacia e Preconceito (Imago Editora, 1995) and Israel as Brazil Ve-Hashela Ha-Yehudit: Hagira, Diplomatia Ve-Deot Kdumot (Tel Aviv University/University Publishing Projects, 1997), was winner of the New England Council on Latin American Studies Best Book Prize.


Research Proposal Abstract
In Search of the Hyphen: Nikkei and the Struggle over Brazilian National Identity, 1920 to Present

While most of the scholarship on Brazilian Nikkei focuses on immigration and first generation community building, none has examined the connection between national identity and Japanese-Brazilian ethnicity. This paper analyzes the relationship between ethnicity, prejudice and social integration by focusing on competing strategies used by Nikkei in their attempts to gain political and social power in Brazil: hyphenation, ultra-nationalism, and "brasilidade" (Brazilianness). It suggests that these three approaches began to merge in the post - World War II era to create a double and contradictory notion of Brazilian nikkei-ness. In recent decades nikkei have struggled against a majority discourse that defines them as "japonês," and thus non-Brazilian, while insisting that it is exactly this "Japanese-ness" that makes them particularly "good" Brazilian citizens.