Vol. 7, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Ibrahima Amadou DIA

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Contents>> Vol. 7, No. 2

Marriage Migration in Asia: Emerging Minorities at the Frontiers of Nation-States
Sari K. Ishii, ed.
Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto University Press, 2016.

Marriage Migration in Asia: Emerging Minorities at the Frontiers of Nation-States, edited by Sari K. Ishii, strives to deepen understanding of the complex trajectories of marriage migration in Asia. Going beyond the narrow vision of marriage migration as solely a South-to-North axis, this book underlines the complexity of the patterns of international marriage migration and its various axes. Drawing on sociological, cultural anthropology, sociolinguistics, social anthropology, area and cultural studies, and legal perspectives, this book considers marriage migrants as an integral part of the global diaspora or “transnational diaspora” (p. 2).

The book is organized into three parts. Part 1, titled “Migration Flows beyond the Marriage-Scapes,” delves into the complexity of the migratory trajectories of marriage migrants. In Chapter 1 Masako Kudo shows the complexity of the migratory trajectories of Pakistani husbands and Japanese wives involved in transnational households. Their migratory trajectories relate to different motives, including the search for a favorable space for the socialization of their children according to Islamic principles. Some of the Japanese women who face difficulties adjusting to living conditions in Pakistan opt to return to Japan or re-emigrate to other countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates. Kudo analyzes the duplicated or circular migrations of these Japanese women and the formation of transnational households to meet the needs of their families and adjust to “shifting socio-economic conditions” (p. 39). Another significant aspect analyzed in this chapter is how the “concept of what it meant to be Muslim was negotiated between husbands and wives” (p. 40).

Chapter 2 by Chie Sakai investigates the case of marriage migrants from Japan to Shanghai. Most of the Japanese women interviewed moved to Shanghai for study or work reasons or “complied with their Chinese husbands’ decisions.” Some of them are willing to settle permanently in China, while others are considering returning to Japan. Their move to China has several implications on their lives, employment status, and career prospects as well as the status of their children. Constraints related to obtaining a work permit along with difficulties in adjusting to the host country’s language and culture have impeded the career of these women. While some interviewees opt to prioritize family life over professional career, others are frustrated over their situation. The chapter highlights the many sacrifices made by Japanese women to ease tensions that may arise in the context of transnational marriage migration or to circumvent challenges such as downward professional mobility.

In Chapter 3 Linda A. Lumayag examines the situation of highly qualified Filipino women facing difficulty in pursuing their professional career in Malaysia due to their precarious status as marriage migrants. Constraints related to illegal stays accentuate their social and economic marginalization, especially in the case of those who move to Malaysia as domestic workers and later turn into undocumented domestic workers. However, some of these Filipino women hold a social pass that confers them social prestige among their friends and social networks, as it signals the possibility of obtaining Malaysian citizenship. Lumayag shows how restrictive migration policies constrain the access of highly educated Filipinas to “employment, the division of property, and the rights to children in cases of separation or divorce” (p. 98), visas, and permanent residence status, resulting in continuing precarity and downward professional mobility.

Part 2, “Reversed Geographies of Power,” shows that despite possessing citizenship of a developed country, marriage migrants may feel a sense of marginalization and vulnerability if their status in the host country does not allow them to improve their living conditions and achieve their aspirations. Ikuya Tokoro in Chapter 4 analyzes cross-border marriages between Filipino women and Japanese men in the context of the global anti-trafficking campaign and the rise of konkyu houjin (impoverished Japanese marriage-migration men; pp. 106, 112–115). This chapter explores the transnational marriage of Filipino women with Japanese men as a strategy to access employment to support the livelihoods of families left behind. Tokoro argues that due to the constraints in obtaining an entertainer’s visa, many Filipinas resort to illegal coping mechanisms such as fake marriages to move to Japan, which often makes them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by illegal brokers. The rise of fake marriages makes it challenging to obtain marriage visas and Certificates of Eligibility to legally remain in Japan even for “Filipinas who marry Japanese men whom they truly love” (p. 116).

Another critical issue analyzed by Tokoro is the case of konkyu houjin, or reverse marriage migration from Japan to the Philippines: “rich” Japanese men moving to the Philippines to follow their Filipino wives or girlfriends. According to Tokoro, these “reverse migrant flows” underline a paradigm shift regarding the “economic geographies of power.” Because these Japanese migrants have severed ties with their families and friends back in Japan, they lack the social support to escape poor living conditions and social isolation if they are rejected by their wives or girlfriends in the Philippines. Most face difficulties returning to Japan.

In Chapter 5 Sari K. Ishii investigates the situation of Japanese-Thai children who migrate to the rural communities where their Thai mothers settle after divorcing their Japanese partners. Any improvement in the financial situation of these children, as well as their mothers, depends mainly on the remittances sent by their foreign fathers. However, in “numerous cases, the expectation of receiving remittances became an illusion when the intimacy ended, which tended to occur even before marriage migrants’ return home to Thailand.” Most of these children face stigmas in their rural communities in Thailand as they “. . . could not enjoy economic advantages as ‘rich Japanese children’” (p. 131). These children often face administrative bottlenecks from the Thai immigration office owing to their Japanese citizenship. Ishii’s chapter illustrates the reversal in geographies of power underlying marriage migration.

Caesar Dealwis in Chapter 6 analyzes the assimilation of Eurasian Muslims into the larger Malay group identity in order to gain from the political, economic, and social benefits of Malaysian citizenship. According to Dealwis, Eurasian Muslims increasingly refer to their Malaysian rather than Eurasian identity because being a Malaysian citizen carries more benefits for them politically, economically, and socially. Thus, there is an assimilation of the descendants of Caucasian Muslims into the mainstream Malaysian culture, similar to other minority communities in Sarawak. Dealwis examines how Eurasian Muslims in Sarawak are departing from their Eurasian identity, which is regarded as “unstable, multiple, fluctuating and fragmented, whereas being Malay is much more stable as national discourses heavily influence their daily experiences” (p. 147).

Part 3, “Marriage Migrants as Multi-Marginalized Diaspora,” dwells on the multiple forms of marginalization confronting marriage migrants and migrant children. In Chapter 7 Caroline Grillot analyzes the situation of Vietnamese women involved in transnational marriage migration and the ensuing vulnerability, marginalization, and precarity due to their illegal stay in China. Due to the inability to register their marriages, they become “partners, mistresses, mothers or domestic workers” (p. 170). They are often subject to violation of their human rights and have limited or no access to legal and social protection. According to Grillot, while cross-border marriages represent a coping mechanism to reduce vulnerability, they can also lead to “uneven and exposed pathways that cause individuals to sink further into non-existent positions on the fringes of society” (p. 171).

Hien Anh Le in Chapter 8 explores the precarious present and uncertain future of returning migrant children in the borderlands of Vietnam and Korea. The fact that their mothers are reluctant to abandon their children’s Korean nationality means that they are barred from access to the civil rights granted to Vietnamese nationals. These returning migrant children “. . . suffer from de facto statelessness, caught between the advanced country that they reach only in their imagination and the real country where they reside” (p. 185).

In Chapter 9 Lara Chen Tien-shi examines the way stateless individuals in transnational marriages and their children are legally barred from access to the social security and welfare given to individuals possessing the required citizenship. Using cases, Chen shows the difficulties that stateless adults face “to gain citizenship in their spouse’s country based on the spouse’s citizenship” (p. 199).

Chapter 10 by Chatchai Chetsumon analyzes the legal obstacles arising from marriages between irregular workers from Myanmar and Thai nationals in Thailand. Thai state laws determine whether irregular workers can “normalize their situations through legal means” (p. 209). These irregular migrant workers do not have their births officially registered in Myanmar, owing to their minority situation, which results in rejection or cancellation of most official marriage registrations. Most irregular migrant workers from Myanmar do not officially register their marriage for fear of being expelled from Thailand because of their illegal stay or the fear of having their application rejected. Chetsumon stresses the need to protect the dignity and rights of these irregular migrant workers, including their rights to marry and set up a family “under natural laws” (p. 209).

This book provides a solid understanding of marriage migration in Asia drawing on a transnational diasporic standpoint and rich empirical evidence based mainly on qualitative research. The focus of the book is on the causes and consequences of transnational Asian marriage migration; the challenges confronting Asian marriage migrants and their dependents, and their coping mechanisms, identity negotiations, and shifts; criticism of the dominant vision of marriage migration as South-to-North migration; and case studies of reversed geographies of power in the Asian context. Further studies are needed to explore the similarities and differences between transnational marriage migration in Asia and other regions. There is also a need to enhance understanding of the societal implications of remittances in the context of transnational marriage migration. In all, Marriage Migration in Asia is an excellent contribution to understanding the complex patterns and dynamics of transnational marriage migration in Asia in the twenty-first century.

Ibrahima Amadou Dia
International Development Consultant

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