When people hear that my research topic is international marriages, a spark lights up their eyes, quickly followed by the comment, ‘Oh, living with a foreigner must be difficult...’ When I ask, ‘Why do you think so?’, people quickly answer with ‘cultural differences’, but pushing further, language differences is also mentioned as one of the biggest issues that concern people. So, what is it about language and culture that make it difficult for people to understand each other? Don’t we all have different cultures? Will knowing a spouse’s language help? Is there anything else that makes it difficult for people to connect and understand each other?
Having those and many other questions in mind, I conducted my research on marriages of Russian-speaking women from former Soviet Union countries, who live in Japan and are married to Japanese men. I did not intentionally ask participants to talk about differences in customs or ways of living, but no matter what we discussed, the conversation would eventually reveal how spouses experienced and compared each other’s languages and cultures.
My Identities article, ‘International marriage in Japan: reconstructing cultural toolkits in marriages between Japanese men and women from the former Soviet Union’, introduces the voices of Russian-speaking wives and Japanese husbands, and explores their thoughts about marriages and culture. I analyse some of my participants’ remarks about their communication with spouses, such as Lyubov, who described the way she talked with her husband:
In 2014, at his house located in central Okinawa, Kiyoshi Takamiyagi reminisced about his childhood in Saipan, the former mandate territory of Imperial Japan, today the main island of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a US unincorporated territory. Takamiyagi was born and raised in Saipan as a son of a colonial migrant worker on a sugarcane plantation. He spoke about the social hierarchy in the colony, where the Japanese government officials and corporate executives were regarded as first-class citizens (ittō kokumin), Okinawans and Koreans as second-class citizens (nitō kokumin) and the indigenous islanders as third-class citizens (santō kokumin). He then tearfully recalled his family’s suffering during the Battles of the Marianas in 1944, in which some 44,000 Japanese soldiers, 10,000 Japanese civilians (more than half of whom were Okinawans) and an estimated 1,000 Koreans and indigenous islanders were killed. During the battle, Takamiyagi, then a young boy, witnessed the brutal firebombing deaths of his father, younger brother and two younger sisters. The 82-year-old man then caught me by surprise: 'I loved Saipan. I miss Saipan. In fact, I have visited there four times, most recently three years ago' (Takamiyagi 2013, interview).
In 2013, I visited the home of Marta Diaz Muna-Mendiola, an indigenous islander in her late 80s, in Saipan. She shared her childhood memories during the Japanese mandate era, which the locals call ‘Japan time’. She went to Japanese government-run public schools for indigenous islanders, where she learned the Japanese language, sewing, abacus, farming and vocational skills. Muna-Mendiola sprinkled her responses in English and the indigenous Chamorro language with clearly enunciated Japanese words – rattling off the names of Japanese-owned stores she frequented as a child and her Japanese homeroom teacher’s name – and broke into singing Japanese children’s songs. Every time I asked her about her childhood under Japanese rule, she insisted, in Japanese: 'It was great [yokatta desuyo] … We experienced no hardship [Kurou shinakatta desuyo]' (Muna-Mendiola 2013, interview).
It may be a truth not so universally acknowledged that editing a special issue of a journal can often be a nerve-wracking affair. Guest editing a special issue for Identities titled 'Archives of Coloniality and Solidarity: Kashmir and Palestine, in medias res', goes beyond this experience. The razored concertina wires, the militarised checkpoints, the open brutality, the violence against the living and the dead, and the permanent warfare against entire populations that characterise the experiences of Palestinians and Kashmiris permeate this special issue. These experiences may not be exceptional to those editors and authors working on state violence and occupations. However, the experience itself must be acknowledged.
Author emails in the summer of 2019 demonstrate the porous ways in which the occupations of Palestine and Kashmir have pervaded this guest editing process.
Boxing fans and pundits might be familiar with the term 'undisputed' champion. Reserved mainly for boxers, the 'undisputed' champion is seen as the unquestioned champion of (mainly his) weight division. To achieve this status, he must become champion of the various worldwide boxing organisations. Of course, the boxer must constantly defend this status over and over again in order to maintain his place atop the boxing hierarchy. In other words, being an undisputed champion is fleeting, unpredictable, and always in flux.
In my Identities article, ‘Undisputed’ racialised masculinities: boxing fandom, identity, and the cultural politics of masculinity', the term 'undisputed' is repurposed to theorise and allegorise how it is fraught with contradictions. My findings highlight how the undisputed status of racialised masculinity is constantly struggled over, negotiated and contested by male boxing fans of colour. Based on fieldwork observations during a Manny 'Pac-Man' Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez boxing match in 2011, interviews conducted with 1.5 and 2nd generation Filipina/o Americans, and close analysis of 'Gayweather,' it analyses how male fans of colour seek an undisputed masculinity in complex and problematic ways.