Japanese-Brazilian Anderson Hyuma Gushi remembers his troubled youth, when he was bullied by classmates at an elementary school as a “foreigner with a Japanese face.”
He eventually dropped out of his evening high school classes and became the leader of a group of hot-rodders, encountering violence, discrimination and jail time.
But Gushi now draws on his difficult past to mentor Japanese-Brazilian children who are experiencing the same problems he did 10 years ago, hoping to guide them toward a brighter future even though the economic downturn is hitting Japanese-Brazilian communities hard.
Gushi, now 30, speaks about his experiences at junior high and high schools nationwide. The sessions, some 200 a year, keep him busy.
“I have told every trouble to Anderson,” said Carlos Ota, a former student of Gushi’s who always felt ostracized at his elementary school in Mie Prefecture.
In 1990, when guest workers of Japanese ancestry attained legal status, Gushi came to Japan with his mother and three brothers to live with his father, a Japanese-Brazilian who came to Japan a year earlier to work at a glass plant in Tsu, Mie Prefecture.
There were very few Japanese-Brazilians in Japan at that time. As of 2007, however, they totaled about 320,000, with most in the Kanto and Tokai regions working for manufacturers.
Gushi was the only foreigner in his elementary school and soon became isolated because he couldn’t speak Japanese.
He dropped out of high school and cruised around town, getting into fights. Wielding Okinawan karate skills he polished in Sao Paulo as a weapon, he became the boss of a group of hot-rodders.
He felt like he belonged because they never called him a foreigner. “For the first time in my life, I found fulfillment.”
But the time he was 21 he already had two children from a marriage to a fellow gang member. That was when he decided to take life seriously. Through his father, he got a sales job at a company selling natural foods, but his foreign name affected his performance.
The president of the company advised him to change his given name to Hyuma, after a popular baseball cartoon character. His sales grew.
But after his father passed away, Gushi despaired and resorted to violence again. He was arrested after damaging some vehicles in a parking lot. In October 2001 he received a one-year prison sentence, suspended for two years.
While he was in the detention house, his wife and 2-year-old daughter came to see him. “Why is Papa behind the glass windows?” he recalls his daughter murmuring.
He saw hope in his daughter and made a decision to change and to use his experience to help children.
Gushi began visiting boards of education in Mie Prefecture, hoping to help foreign children. He was laughed at everywhere because he was only a junior high school graduate with a criminal record.
Two months later, however, he was offered a job by the city of Matsusaka and asked to visit schools because the city was struggling to cope with an influx of Brazilian-Japanese kids.
He found the situation hadn’t changed much in 10 years. When trouble occurred, teachers believed the accounts of the Japanese children over those of the foreigners. Gushi tried to work out the problems by listening carefully to both sides.
Toshikazu Yaeshima, 51, an official in charge of human rights education at the Mie prefectural board of education, said Gushi has had a positive effect on students.
Since 2006, Gushi has been heading the nonprofit group NPO World People, which aims to promote mutual coexistence and world peace.
“Korean residents of Japan, villages being discriminated against, the disabled. . . . It is not merely foreigners of Japanese ancestry who are in trouble. What can I do for them?” Gushi asked.