Historians rarely compare the mostly working-class and poor Korean population in Japan and African Americans seeking economic justice in the United States. Japanese scholar Kazuyo Tsuchiya of Kanagawa University takes on that task in her new book, Reinventing Citizenship: Black Los Angeles, Korean Kawasaki, and Community Participation. Here she explores the efforts of Koreans in Kawasaki City, Japan and their African American counterparts in South Central Los Angeles in refashioning the boundaries of citizenship in their respective nations. Her description of that book and its objectives appears below.
In 1975, African American theologian and political activist James H. Cone accepted an invitation to deliver a lecture on the U.S. civil rights movement and black theology at the Kawasaki Korean Christian Church. The Kawasaki church had long been the hub of zainichi activism in Japan. The zainichi are ethnic Koreans who came to Japan before or during World War II and have lived there ever since. The term also refers to their offspring who regard Japan as their permanent place of residence. They had long suffered ethnic discrimination from their Japanese neighbors and not surprisingly they turned to the U.S. civil rights struggles in the 1960s for inspiration.
Some zainichi leaders had become familiar with Cone’s book, A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), where he argued that blackness in the United States had come to symbolize both oppression and the struggle for liberty. He also maintained that blackness stood for all victims of oppression.
For zainichi Koreans struggling in Kawasaki City, Japan, a major industrial hub 11 miles south of Tokyo, Cone’s work offered both inspiration and a framework through which they could contest discriminatory practices. Long before Cone arrived to lecture, local activists at the Kawasaki Korean Christian Church not only read Cone’s books on black theology, they also immersed themselves in the works of other influential African American church leaders such as Dr. Martin