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Ceremony honors Okinawa emigrants to South America

Date Posted: 2006-02-04

Lunar New Year was very special for more than 700 Okinawans in Lima, Peru.

Ceremonies Sunday commemorated the 100th anniversary of Okinawan migration to Peru.

Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine led the delegation for the event. Also attending were Naha City Mayor Takeshi Onaga, former Governor and House of Councilors member Junishiro Nishime, and other municipal mayors, assemblymen and councilors.

Okinawans began emigrating to Peru in 1906, when the first 36 people ventured across the ocean in a small steamship, the Genshima Maru. By 1911, the group had formed the Okinawa Youth Association. World War II forced Okinawans to break contact with their homeland, but the ties were restored immediately after the conflict ended.

Today, more than 65,000 people are second and third generation Okinawa descendants. About 70% of those claiming Okinawa ties are of mixed heritage. Governor Inamine praised Okinawa’s commitment in his address, noting “The new life in Peru fo rthe first 36 emigrants was very harsh, as everything was different from our homeland. The work in fields was hard, but in spite of hardships they were determined to make it, and I have the highest respect for them and their achievements.”

Inamine, who lead the 47-person Okinawa delegation, also commended the younger Okinawan-Peruvian generation, calling on them to “keep the Okinawan culture and traditions alive.” They are, he said, “the ones who make the core friendships between Okinawa and Peru.”

Enrico Maeshiro, Okinawan Emigrant Association Chairman, also praised the first emigrants. “Those 36 were very brave, as they knew everything would be difficult for them,” he said. “But they were still determined to start a new life. They faced a new language and customers, and there were diseases they were unfamiliar with and didn’t know how to treat.” Still, Maeshiro said, “they were able to overcome it all.”

The Association says there are still 150 first generation emigrants alive in Peru today, with the youngest 89 and the oldest 104. Roughly 70% of those with Japanese ancestry in Peru trace their roots to Okinawa.

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