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Japanese Colonists and Constanza—A Success Story

In the foreground of a black-and-white photo of the first ship carrying Japanese colonists to their new home in the Dominican Republic in 1956, a father, Hitoshi Waki, holds his tiny son (Teruki, age one) while his little daughter (Yumiko, age two) plays next to them. The picture is in the book Más Relatos Sobre Constanza by Constancio Cassá, his second book on the subject.

Generalissimo Rafael L. Trujillo embarked on a program to bring in new immigrants to the Dominican Republic in the 1950s. His invitation was extended to Japanese, Spanish, Hungarian, and Lebanese colonists; in the 1940s he had invited Jewish refugees from Europe to settle in Sosúa. Japan, which was suffering from overpopulation and an economic and social crisis following World War II, sent a total of 1,282 colonists, who entered the Dominican Republic between 1956 and 1959.

Trujillo's government scattered the settlers in different regions of the country, but 201 individuals from 30 Japanese families put down their roots in Constanza. Their mission was to make it a premier agricultural area, which it still is today. They were sold fertile land dirt-cheap. It's said, also, that while Trujillo wanted more "white blood" in his country, he later approved of the Japanese immigrants, as they proved themselves industrious yet docile.

As is common in Japanese culture, several generations of the Waki family live under the same roof, including Teruki's teenage daughter and son. The home itself is one of the largest and most attractive on the periphery of the original Colonia Japonese (Japanese Colony). Today it's the poorer Dominicans who live in the converted barracks originally constructed for the Colonia Japonese.

In Spanish, Choko Waki (wife of the late Hitoshi) explains that in order to be accepted into the country initially, a family had to have four adults capable of working, and they had to sign a work contract. Neither she nor her daughter Yumiko remembers any prejudice being shown against them. Yet their culture was so different from that of the local Dominicans. Initially, the Japanese married only among themselves and with others they met at the island-wide reunions every year in the capital. There were also family-arranged marriages and "mail order" brides from the fatherland. However, as time passed, children were baptized in the Catholic Church and intermarriage with Dominicans began.

The Waki family lived in the colony housing for 12 long years; Hitoshi eventually owned a florist shop in Santo Domingo and commuted. This large, durable home was constructed in the late 1960s, and looks out to fields planted with vegetables and strawberries and to a greenhouse. Teruki, assisted by his sister, makes their primary living by growing the greenery used by florists. During the spring cherry blossom festival they do the artistic floral displays. Japanese food is also sold.

Surprisingly, there are no Japanese restaurants in Constanza, despite the long history. Yumiko interjects: "A relative and I have been thinking about opening a takeout place. What do you think?"

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