What does family mean to people who migrate and cross national borders?
“Trends in recent marriage immigration have changed in recent years, diversifying more than ever before. In this essay, I would like to explore the question of what family means to these people who migrate and cross borders in a way we have not seen in the past.”
Professor Chen Tien Shi. Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University
Professor Chen Tien Shi received her doctorate at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. After graduation, Professor Chen worked as a researcher for the Harvard Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Harvard Law School. After leaving the U.S, she became a researcher at the University of Tokyo under the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science program and then later an associate professor at the National Museum of Ethnology, before becoming a professor at Waseda University. She has written and published books related to identity, nationality and statelessness.
From south to north: Trends in marriage immigration
There are two main characteristics of marriage immigration. The first characteristic is that women are usually the one who would move or immigrate to the country where their spouse lives in. The second is the tendency in which women from the south would often move northwards to marry a man from the north, usually due to socio-economic reasons. In other words, it is a phenomenon in which women from poorer countries tend to marry men from wealthier countries. For example, it is common for women from the Southeast Asian countries to marry Japanese men, like how Japanese women would marry Western men in an international marriage. In the case of Japan, it is particularly evident in the yearly demographic survey conducted by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare that many Filipino women have moved to Japan after marrying Japanese men.
Diversifying trends in recent marriage immigration
Despite the trends in marriage immigration mentioned earlier, things have started to change in recent years. The phenomenon in which Japanese men marrying women from countries such as China, Taiwan, Philippines and Thailand and then migrating to these countries is becoming more common than before. Konkyuhoujin, a Japanese term referring to Japanese men who got married to a Filipino woman, followed her to the Philippines but ended up using all of his money and got abandoned by his Filipino wife and family, has also caught recent attention. These Konkyuhoujin often have no other options but to seek assistance from the Japan Embassy in the Philippines, something we have not seen in the past.
Professor Masako Kudo from Kyoto Women’s University who studies the trends of Japanese women marrying Pakistani men reveals in her observation that many of these women would convert their religion to Islam. In addition, these women would often immigrate to Islamic countries such as Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates due to reasons related to religion and their children’s education. In this aspect, women from the north are actually moving towards the south in contrary to the past trend in which is the direct opposite. In addition, while such couples would often move to Islamic countries after marriage, many would later move to western countries for their children to receive higher education. Interestingly, these Japanese wives would also return to Japan from time to time to take care of their parents in Japan. From these studies, we can tell that people who immigrate to another country after marriage often do not stay in a single country, but move from country to country, diversifying marriage immigration trends.
It is commonly accepted that members of a family would live together under one roof. However, as mentioned previously, diasporic families in which family members live apart from one another in different countries are not rare. In my research that focuses mainly on Chinese descendants, I see a similar pattern too. In fact, parachute kids (i.e. children who live and study abroad away from their parents while receiving financial aids from them) are quite common among the Chinese. In some cases, one parent (usually the mother) would live abroad with their children away from the other parent to take care of children. We call such parents who accompany their children overseas helicopter parents. In addition, we also have a term called astronaut families to describe families that live apart from one another but travel by plane to meet each other frequently.
As technology advances, family members can now contact each other on the internet through social media. As such, social media became a shared space where such families can feel connected. In this way, such families have rewritten the characteristic of a family from “under one roof” to “under one social network.”
Thinking about the future of marriage immigration
International marriage and marriage immigration would affect the nationality or citizenship of children. They are also often the cause of dual citizenship and statelessness. While dual citizenship has been a heated topic in recent years in Japan, I do not think we should define someone based on citizenship. It is extremely cruel for a child to have to choose a citizenship between two citizenship, each held by his or her parents. Growing up in a family in which the father and mother are of different nationalities and backgrounds, the children would grow up speaking more than one language and instill more than one culture and ways of thinking into themselves. As such, law and countries such as Japan that do not allow dual citizenship are threatening the identity of such children. In addition, considering how diasporic families are becoming more and more common, such law is nothing but obsolete in today’s society.
Individuals will continue to migrate and move around the globe, and international marriage and marriage immigration will become increasingly common. Family diversity is as disparate as the number of families out there in the world. For individuals who migrate to various countries frequently, the ones that acknowledge and display understanding towards them are not his or her nation, but rather their family members. I believe such spiritual support from the family will continue to grow in the future.
*This is a translated version of a Japanese article originally written in 2017. As such, all information in this article is accurate as of when it was originally written.