Lara Interview - Session 2

Sunday, November 22 2009 @ 11:24 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

In the previous session of the interview with Lara, Chen Tien-shi (photo), which was devoted to precisely defining the word "stateless," I found out that both of us are only technically Japanese and that the two stateless citizens are pursuing basically the same end.

But this time around, it was revealed that there are two fundamental differences between us, as well.

On some important points we are diagonally different. Yet I'm inclined to say we are 360-degrees different, so to speak.
One of the differences lies with the fact that she is a dedicated person of deeds whereas I am an intransigent man of words. The farthest things from us two, therefore, are those unprincipled, surface-scratching pundits on the one hand and half-committed, hypocritical activists on the other. As is the case with Shihoko Fujiwara, another doer I admire, Lara also knows she should often compromise on the principle she upholds as a first-rate researcher for the cause of giving a helping hand to needy people.

Normally I shut my mouth before these activists because every word I utter there rings hollow. But this time I dared to go straight ahead with my questions without deference to her dedication to the grassroots activism. I thought only by doing so we would be able to benefit from our conversation.

The other point where we are divided is that she values family bonds over anything else whereas I am an avowed loner. I wish I could look like one who values blood relationship and affinity, but I can't, simply because my family has long fallen apart as is true with other Japanese families. I might as well have written a voluminous book to explain how that happened.

The following excerpts are a reproduction of our conversation that took place on Friday evening on a to-that-effect basis:

Yamamoto: My question No. 2 goes like this: "Tell me exactly what end you have been pursuing with respect to the issues with statelessness. In other words, do you think the bigger the stateless population, the better the situation, or the smaller, the better?" I knew this question sounds stupid, but I wanted you to answer it anyhow because I got an impression that the author of Mukokuseki - Stateless stresses the positive side of statelessness.
Lara: As I told you last week, statelessness is a multifaceted issue. When I deal with a social outcast, as I do practically every day, it does not make sense to stress the positive side of the issue by saying, "Be proud of your statelessness." That is why I am actually doing what the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948,) the U.N. Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961,) etc. call for.
Y: Don't you think these declarations and conventions have remained empty promises most of the time just like our own Constitution has? I am opinionated that the international organization which was founded when Chiang Kai-shek was still governing mainland China has long been dead. That is why it always takes it for granted that there is nothing to be proud of about being stateless.
L: I agree that the U.N. hasn't lived up to our expectations. Otherwise, these people wouldn't need us.

Postscript: We didn't discuss the raison d'etre of the United Nations more in detail, but actually I think it has created more problems than it has solved them. By comparison. the European Union has by far outperformed the U.N.

Y: The next question was: "Do you think your solution to the problem can be institutionalized in one way or the other?" I ask this question because I don't think it's the right thing to institutionalize mutual support among individual citizens. As we have seen in the U.S. in recent years, that is the surest way to kill people's innate spontaneity.
L: I agree. The most important reason I can't institutionalize my activity is because the actual situation facing stateless people largely varies from an individual to another. As a matter of fact, I have launched a website named Mukokuseki Nettowaaku (Stateless Network) where people of various backgrounds share their experiences and views. Aside from the website, we sometimes organize a forum to the same end. The first forum was held in Tokyo on November 23, 2008. These are as far as I could institutionalize myself. Without financial constraints I am under, I might be doing a little more.

Y: Let's go on to the next question. Could you tell me how you view the promise of the Internet in relation to the "social exclusion" inflicted on millions of stateless people? I opine that we will see a borderless world emerging on the horizon of the cyberspace only when we can put in place something to be called E-democracy by leveraging the most modern web-based technologies.
L: Last year I met a "Gypsy" who holds triple nationality. He was talking about the same dream. But in reality, most of these people we are dealing with don't have the Internet access.
Y: Obviously digital divide is a formidable problem facing us. But not a few people are exerting utmost effort to overcome it. I know an American entrepreneur who has been working on commercializing a $100 computer primarily meant for schoolchildren in underdeveloped countries. He seems to believe that where there is a will, there is a way.
L: It's heartening to hear that.

Y: Now let's quickly talk about the relationship between individual citizens and the nation-state supposedly representing them. I believe that without individual citizens, there are no nation-states, whereas you can still imagine individual citizens without any nation to belong to. Would you agree to my statement?
L: No doubt about it. But once again, a stateless world is our long-term goal which won't materialize overnight. These people suffering from their statelessness today can't readily relate to that idea.

Postscript: Although I refrained from further elaborating on the reason for asking this question, I am deeply concerned about people's tendency toward ignoring the plain fact that the statehood and the citizenry living there are two separate entities. As I observe, the Americans are particularly ignorant in that respect. It is for that reason that I think Lara's memoir is worth translating into English for publication in the U.S.

Y: My last two questions refer to your religious faith and familial relations. To stress the positive side of statelessness, like you did in your book, you must be exceptionally strong. I think you are a Catholic. Do you feel your faith has helped you withstand the ordeal about your national identity?
L: Not really. I'm not that pious, and I'm not that strong in the first place.
Y (Producing Ben Hills' book titled, Princess Masako - Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne): Have you read this book? This was virtually banned here.
L: I don't think I have.
Y: Hills writes here: "[Most Japanese] happily embrace a trilogy of faiths. They see no contradiction in being taken to the local Shinto shrine to be recorded at birth, marrying in Christian ceremonies, and having their bones buried in Buddhist family tombs." How do you compare yourself to these people?
L (With a wry grin): Of course, I'm quite different from them. I go to church every Sunday morning. I sometimes pray there: "God grant me the strength to overcome difficulty facing me."

Y (Looking to the other end of the place where all the family members had already started their dinner at a big roundtable): Now your mother is urging you to wrap up our meeting and join in the weekend family party. Before we wrap up, let me ask the same question about your family ties.
L: Yes, I owe what little strength I have to my parents, siblings, husband and son. Without them, I couldn't have done what I have done.
Y: Are all ethnic Chinese like this?
L: No, I don't think so. My parents fled mainland China and they were practically penniless when they landed here. All these things have cemented our family ties.
Y: Thank you so much for taking your precious time.

Lara was telling me the truth when she attributed her tendency toward accentuating the positive to her family. But at the same time, I suspected that the opposite must be equally true; she could also have attributed the family bonds to her own positive attitudes toward life.

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