Learning to assemble the hidden bodies: Embodied
and emplaced mathematical literacy in transnational
Miwa Aoki Takeuchi
and Virgie Aquino Ishihara
University of Calgary;
Filipino Migrants Centre
Background: We situate the mobilization of mathe-
matical literacy as a tool to see and redress social and
historical dilemmas (Engeström, 2014; Gutiérrez,
2016) rooted in the geo-economic politics of race,
gender, and class.
Methods: Using collaborative ethnography, we
describe how mathematical literacy was mobilized
by an activist collective that intervened against vio-
lence toward migrant women. Our research considers
a long period of development to examine how the
activism impacted bodily politics, community, and
Findings: Our ndings illustrate how the collective of
activists led by a migrant woman of color countered
the ocial data that did not reveal marginalized voices.
Critical synthesis of embodiment and emplacement
allowed us to examine how the mobilization of math-
ematical literacy became consequential (Jurow et al.,
2016) in two interrelated aspects: 1) embodiment, the
process through which the historically hidden bodies
of migrant women came to be visible and assembled
and 2) emplacement, the transformation of a place
toward gathering disparate bodies.
Contribution: Our work contributes to expanding the
geo-political terrain of scholarship in the learning
sciences by bringing forth the history of activism led
by Filipina migrants in Japan, which in turn shines
a light on traditionally masked epistemology key to
mobilizing mathematical literacy for solidarity.
Received 31 August 2019
Revised 27 August 2020
Accepted 28 August 2020
We live in an era with increased nationalism, where prejudice and hatred
against migrants are explicitly and publicly voiced. Taking this context into
CONTACT Miwa Aoki Takeuchi email@example.com Werklund School of Education,
University of Calgary, Calgary, AB T2N1N4, Canada.
JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES
© 2020 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
account, there is a greater need for analysis and theorization of learning that
can challenge dehumanization and oppression (Philip et al., 2018; The
Politics of Learning Writing Collective, 2017). In our study, we focused on
how a group of activists collectively mobilized mathematical literacy as a tool
to make the unseen violence and hidden bodies of migrant women visible
and to address social and historical dilemmas (Engeström, 2014; Gutiérrez,
2008, 2016; Gutiérrez et al., 2019) arising at the intersectional histories of
race, gender and sexuality, and the geo-economic politics (Crenshaw, 1990;
Lorde, 1984). In the context of our study situated in an urban entertainment
district, we use the term hiddenness to account for the fact that the migrant
women were working during the night, these women were stigmatized by the
imposed stereotype that they were “entertainers who are from a Third World
country” (Suzuki, 2007), and also violence against these women used to be
Based on cultural-historical activity theory, learning in and through social
activism can be conceptualized as an activity that disrupts and alters the
contexts that are creating social and historical dilemmas (Engeström, 2014;
Gutiérrez, 2008, 2016; Gutiérrez et al., 2019). Drawing from Bateson’s (1972)
double bind theory, Engeström (2014) maintains that learning expands
“from individual actions to the public or collective mode of activity” (p.
126), and collective learning is deﬁned as the movement toward resolving
a social and historical dilemma. In repositioning seemingly personal pro-
blems as a social and historical dilemma, learners “begin to historicize their
lives and to see themselves and their futures as historical actors” (Gutiérrez,
2008, p. 155). Learners who embody a historical epistemology repurpose a set
of available tools to redress such dilemmas (Gutiérrez et al., 2019). In
redressing dilemmas, learning can become “consequential” (Hall & Jurow,
2015, p. 186) when changes in the temporal, spatial and social scale of
participation and practices are created in ways that learners desire and
value (Hall & Jurow, 2015; Jurow et al., 2016). Further, Jurow et al. (2016)
maintain equitable and consequential learning involves making previously
invisible practices visible and of value to a diverse range of people and across
multiple contexts. To trace the interwoven relationship between temporal,
spatial and social expansion led by the hopes and designs of activists, our
research considers a long period of development (spanning over 19 years) to
examine whether and how the mobilization of mathematical literacy by
a group of activists impacted bodily politics, community, and relevant
Social activism has been studied as a site for multi-layered learning wherein
learners’ identities, epistemological development, aﬀect, and social relations
are intertwined with macro-level social changes (Curnow et al., 2018; Jurow
et al., 2016; Kirshner, 2008; Vea, 2020). On making visible the invisible
through social activism, Jurow et al. (2016) and Teeters and Jurow (2018)
2TAKEUCHI AND AQUINO ISHIHARA
surfaced the invisible work by migrant activists and a relational tool employed
in the food justice movement. As yet, the role of mathematics in the process of
activism is still an under-examined terrain. Focusing on members of an
activist network that fought against their city’s austerity policies, Esmonde
et al. (2014) demonstrated how their activism was inseparable from the
grassroots mobilization of mathematics for social justice, to defeat the city’s
budget cuts and preserve key social services. Emphasized in Esmonde et al.
(2014) is mobilization of mathematical literacy, in other words, the empower-
ing ways activists used mathematics for social causes (that is distinctively
diﬀerent from mathematics learning focused on mastery of mathematics
deﬁned by school curriculum). In this article, we further the discussion on
mobilization of mathematical literacy by highlighting the role of embodiment
and emplacement, which is inseparable from the activity of redressing socio-
historical dilemmas through activism. Our study also brings forth the context
of activism led by a historically oppressed group, Filipina migrant women who
have been at the margins of intersectional politics of gender, race, and class in
Japan. Focusing on this context will allow us to bring forth historically
colonized and masked epistemology (Banerjee & Connell, 2018), with
a focus on the mobilization of mathematical literacy for social justice.
Reading and generating data can become a powerful tool as activists
manifest their understandings of societal issues to evoke changes in the general
public’s perceptions on issues of concern (D’Ambrosio, 2007; Frankenstein,
1990). As we will demonstrate in our ﬁndings section, activists used their data
literacy to counter the oﬃcial governmental data that did not surface the voices
of migrant women of color—which is in contrast to “colorblind” data literacy
that is problematized by Philip et al. (2016). We build on previous scholarships
on critical data literacy that has collectively disrupted such colorblindness by
proposing the necessity to foster racial data literacy in/through data visualiza-
tion (Philip et al., 2016), by unsilencing critical conversations on racial segre-
gation using computational models and data visualization (Hostetler et al.,
2018), and by promoting visual political literacy with spatial data and mapping
(Tate & Hogrebe, 2011). In this study, we further inquire into how a collective
of activists led by a migrant woman of color generated, interpreted and
mobilized relevant data to move their agenda forward. Our ﬁndings are
anchored in mobilization of mathematical literacy toward two aspects of social
causes and consequentiality in and through learning (Jurow et al., 2016)—
embodiment and emplacement, which we discuss in the following section.
Embodied and emplaced mathematical literacy toward the critical
In the ﬁeld of the learning sciences, learner bodies came to light in relation to
gesture production, bodily coordination and mobility that involve complex
JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES 3
mathematical thinking (Abrahamson & Sánchez-García, 2016; Alibali &
Nathan, 2012; Hall & Nemirovsky, 2012; Hwang & Roth, 2011; Lee, 2015;
Ma, 2017; Nemirovsky et al., 1998). These studies on learner bodies and
mathematics learning draw from various epistemologies and ontologies; for
instance, ecological dynamics (as seen in Abrahamson & Sánchez-García,
2016), material phenomenology (as seen in Hwang & Roth, 2011), and
distributed cognition (as seen in Ma, 2017). Bodily movement was brought
to the fore in the design of technology to promote idiosyncratic mathematics
learning (e.g., Lee, 2015; Nemirovsky et al., 1998). De Freitas and Sinclair
(2013) drew from new materialism to emphasize assemblages of diverse
materialities and learner bodies. This body of scholarship on embodied
mathematics learning altogether has demonstrated the process of mathe-
matics learning that is inseparable from learner bodies.
Thus far, the scholarship on embodied mathematics learning has made
limited connections with the critical conceptualization of body or embodi-
ment. Yet, critical conceptualization of embodiment is crucial in seeing the
history, power and politics behind mathematization of bodies (Takeuchi, 2018;
Takeuchi & Dadkhahfard, 2019). Our conceptualization of body is guided by
queer theory (Ahmed, 2006; Butler, 1993, 2015) that sheds light on the tangled
relationships among body, place and power. Othered bodies or unintelligible
bodies that deviate from the norm can be tacitly excluded from materialization
(Butler, 1993), and hence be masked and hidden. Such othered and unintelli-
gible bodies can become less extended and less mobile in social space and when
such bodies are constrained in their mobility, they turn to “the body that is ‘out
of place’” (Ahmed, 2006, p. 140). Resistance to this exclusion can be actualized
as the assembly of bodies in a place as a performative act, as proposed by Butler
(2015): “bodies in their plurality lay claim to the public, ﬁnd and produce the
public through seizing and reconﬁguring the matter of material environments”
(p. 71). Based on such critical conceptualization, in this article, we use the term,
embodiment to refer to the processes that othered bodies come to be visible and
that (hidden) bodies come to gather to lay claim in public spaces. What is
implied in Butler’s (2015) conceptualization of the assembly of bodies in
a place for activism and resistance is the inextricable relationship between
embodiment and emplacement.
In the learning sciences literature, emplacement has been conceptualized
as dynamic and constantly in the making. A place like a park could gather
people with diﬀerent levels of expertise and experiences for a common
interest (Ma & Munter, 2014). Stemming from Lefebvre’s (1996) proposition
for the civic right to partake in the production of urban space and Soja’s
(2010) call for spatial justice to imagine equitable geographical conﬁgura-
tions, Taylor and Hall (2013) designed the practice for counter-mapping that
capitalized and facilitated youth’s spatial literacy to imagine new mobility in
the city. The call for spatial justice (Soja, 2010) and the right to the city
4TAKEUCHI AND AQUINO ISHIHARA
(Lefebvre, 1996) are also taken up by Rubel et al.’s (2017) study that demon-
strated how historically marginalized youth using spatial technology under-
stood their neighborhood in depth and collectively reconstructed the
In the recent learning sciences scholarship, emplacement and embodiment
have been synthetically analyzed to fully attend to “bodies-in-place” (Taylor,
2017, p. 538) (Kelton et al., 2018; Marin & Bang, 2018; Taylor, 2017).
Grounded in decolonial coupling of being and knowing, Marin and Bang
(2018) demonstrated an assemblage of micro practices of a family toward
embodied and emplaced sense making of physical and biological worlds of an
urban forest preserve. We further the discussion on the inextricable relation-
ship between embodiment and emplacement from critical and queer phenom-
enological lenses. For us, the integral relationship between embodiment and
emplacement is key for understanding the role a place can play in queering or
disturbing the order (Ahmed, 2006) of dichotomous and ﬁxed relationships
among people. From a phenomenological stance, Casey (1996) maintains that
a place can exercise a power of gathering, holding together things and people
that are “radically disparate and quite conﬂictual” (p. 25). Further, a place
holds in, retaining its boundaries but also holds out “beckoning to its inhabi-
tants and, assembling them, making them manifest” (Casey, 1996, p. 25). In
this process of gathering, a place can emplace othered bodies that were
previously “out of place” (Ahmed, 2006, p. 140). By incorporating this notion
of emplacement to our conceptualization of embodiment, we focus on the
interanimated relationship between the living body and a place through
which disparate and conﬂictual people come to be held together and othered
bodies are emplaced by queering and troubling the norms.
Contexts and settings
This study focuses on the development of a collective of activists, the Filipino
Migrants Center (FMC), that was founded as a nonproﬁt organization in 2000 in
Nagoya, Japan. FMC has been operating for 20 years, relying on both Filipino
and Japanese volunteer activists and donations. One of the main functions of
FMC is to provide support, information, and advocacy for Filipina migrant
women who are suﬀering from domestic and dating violence, while also addres-
sing issues pertaining to health, labor, and education for migrants.
The data for this study were collected within a large entertainment district
within Nagoya, one of the largest cities of Japan, where the FMC oﬃce was
located. Currently, entertainment districts are spread across Japan, with
larger districts concentrated in major cities. The entertainment district is
often called “yoru no machi (a night town)” which carries a discriminatory
JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES 5
tone. During the time of this study, these districts housed nighttime enter-
tainment industries including “host and hostess clubs,” where customers
were entertained for drinks, conversations, dance, and other sexual and non-
sexual services. The district also had what is called “Filipino pubs” staﬀed by
Filipina hostesses who oﬀered the services of drinks and conversation, sing-
ing, dancing and shows. At one time, the workers of these Filipino pubs were
holders of “entertainer visas” that were issued for those who worked in the
entertainment industry. In response to international concerns about the
human traﬃcking associated with these entertainer visas, their issuance
peaked in 2004 (139,485) and dropped about 65% over two years (Ministry
of Foreign Aﬀairs, n.d.). After this government intervention to control
entertainer visas, cases of sham marriages in which young Filipina women
were lured to Japan by a broker who arranged contrived marriages with
Japanese husbands, were witnessed (as reported by FMC members). As
a result, even though the number of entertainer visas has decreased, during
the time of this study, a signiﬁcant number of Filipina women were still
working in the entertainment industry and the problem of violence against
these women was still ongoing.
Our methodology is aligned with what Erickson (2006) maintains on
collaborative action ethnography as “studying side by side” (p. 239) in
the sense that a leader of the activist group and a researcher formulated
the research problems together. The methodological framework of
a collaborative ethnography aims to challenge the power diﬀerence that
exists between a researcher and the researched, in terms of “who has the
right to represent whom and for what purposes and whose discourse will be
privileged in the ethnographic text” (Lassiter, 2005, p. 102). For our study,
we reframed what is typically considered to be an interview as a dialogue,
drawing from what Lassiter (2005) proposed as collaborative ethnography.
In order to achieve a dialogue methodologically, we de-anonymized
a migrant activist leader (Virgie Aquino Ishihara) and centralized the
collectively written text by the group of activists as a central voice in this
article. Researching and documenting the needs and strengths of migrant
workers and the impact of their activity on a broader society has been our
Walking can simultaneously be methodology, pedagogy and learning
that unfold in place as Marin and Bang (2018) discussed. Emplacing our
dialogs, we engaged in a shared walk proposed by Lee and Ingold (2006):
The idea here is that walkers have a particular way of being together that is
more than just co-presence, because it has sociability as the basis for bodily
6TAKEUCHI AND AQUINO ISHIHARA
movement. Manifested as a shared rhythm of footsteps and bodily aspect, there
is a distinctive sociality in which the togetherness of the walkers has meaning
for themselves and for people around them (p. 83)
Through this shared walk, we came to understand the history and geography
of the urban entertainment district wherein FMC and the aforementioned
park were located.
Reﬂecting on our lived transnational experiences, our dialogs demonstrated
the practice of “translanguaging” (García & Wei, 2013, p. 23), in that our talk
draws from ﬂuid linguistic practices transcending across English, Tagalog, and
Japanese. When providing quotes from our dialogs in our Findings section, we
therefore decided to keep this demonstration of translanguaging because it
reﬂects our language repertoires and our ways of knowing that are richer than
an English translation.
Data, research questions, and analysis
The data analyzed for this article include 1) four video/audio-recorded dialogs
occurring during 2012 to 2019 between Author 1 (learning sciences researcher)
and Author 2 (leader and representative of FMC) (each of these four dialogs
lasted 120 to 180 minutes: total 649 minutes), 2) ethnographic ﬁeld notes taken
on activities at FMC, 3) ethnographic ﬁeld notes and photos taken during the
shared walks and dialogs within the entertainment district wherein FMC was
located, 4) on-site ethnographic interviews with two other members of FMC
(total 175 minutes), 5) policy documents regarding immigration and domestic
violence between 2000 and 2019, and 6) collectively written reports issued by
FMC members between 2000 and 2019. For 6), in the ﬁndings section, we will
focus on one of the reports written by eight FMC members including Virgie; ﬁve
were Filipino/a migrants (Understanding Domestic Violence published in 2008,
hereafter referred to as “the FMC report”). The FMC report included voices of 13
current and former entertainers who were going through domestic violence.
While these eight FMC members brought in diﬀerent areas of expertise such as
sociological, educational and legal analysis, they all had ﬁrst-hand experiences of
working with Filipino/a migrants. Members who were involved in the writing of
this report worked together for a period of time between 2007 and 2008 when
they proposed social and legal measures that could mitigate violence against
migrant women. The report was written in English, both a common second
language for all the members involved and a means of making the transnational
issue more accessible to international audiences. For these reasons, we consid-
ered this report to be one of the meaningful accounts for the collective learning
experienced in FMC. In acknowledging the ethical considerations surrounding
the research site wherein battered women congregated, we decided not to resort
JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES 7
to video data to capture the micro-level mathematization that emerged
In analyzing social causes led by FMC’s activism including collective
mobilization of mathematical literacy, our analysis was guided by two afore-
mentioned conceptual frames: 1) embodiment—how did the historically
hidden bodies of migrant women become visible and assembled, over
time? 2) emplacement—how did a locally signiﬁcant place come to gather
and inhabit those who were previously dispersed, over time? We turned these
conceptual frames into analytical research questions: 1) embodiment—how
was the problem of violence against migrant women’s bodies taken up and
advocated to call for collective actions over time by FMC’s activism? and 2)
emplacement—How was a locally signiﬁcant place transformed by FMC’s
activism over time in terms of who and what congregated there?
In our analysis, we treated all the data as narratives as deﬁned in the
tension “between the desire to construct an over-arching storyline that ties
events together in a seamless explanatory framework and the desire to
capture the complexities of the events experienced” (Ochs & Capps, 2001,
p. 4). From the functional perspective that maintains “narratives do political
work” (Riessman, 2008, p. 8) by mobilizing others through stories and
fostering a sense of community, we examined how discrete events were
woven together toward problem solving and collective actions. We restruc-
tured pieces of data (that were not necessarily presented chronologically)
into a chronological order and focused on narrated sequences of events that
indicate problems, actions, and consequences of actions (Riessman, 2008).
Within this chronological analysis of narratives, we examined consequences
of mobilizing mathematical literacy focusing on enumeration of migration
and gender politics as well as selection, collection, and interpretation of data
regarding dating and domestic violence experienced by migrant women.
However, the coherent storyline emerging from such analysis can “ﬂatten
human experiences” (Ochs & Capps, 2001, p. 4) and does not necessarily account
for narrative activity—“ordinary social exchanges in which interlocutors build
accounts of life events” (Ochs & Capps, 2001, p. 2). To understand such narrative
activity and the “heteroglossia” (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 263) characterized by multi-
plicity and interconnectedness of various social voices, we also examined the
structure of utterances. For example, as we unpacked our dialogs, we paid
attention to how others’ voices were directly and indirectly quoted in the process
of narrating. We also analyzed how we as interlocutors came to jointly render
meanings to a particular place. We inductively identiﬁed a locally signiﬁcant
place (i.e., a park in the entertainment district) that was brought up frequently in
the dialogs and shared walks, in other words, marked by “thick lines” (Lee &
Ingold, 2006, p. 77) because of repetition. By attending to spatial deixis (Hanks,
2009) used during our dialogs and shared walks, we examined how this particular
place was made salient in the context of activism. To construct a coherent
8TAKEUCHI AND AQUINO ISHIHARA
narrative around emplacement, we identiﬁed chronological changes in networks
as deﬁned by connections around the park among key actors who were inﬂuen-
tial in the activism led by FMC.
This section is organized chronologically, focusing on the development of
activism and the changes that were made through activism in relevant
policies and networks of people around the park. We start by illustrating
the unintelligibility of migrant women’s bodies and the state of the park,
prior to FMC’s activism. We then focus on the period when the collective of
FMC was formed and the activism was maturing. We describe how the
collective of activists interpreted and used data to intervene against violence
on migrant women’s bodies. Subsequently, we depict how the park came to
gather disparate and conﬂictual people as a consequence of the activism.
Activism rooted in the park: Toward making visible the invisible
The outset of FMC’s activism was rooted in personal and individual experi-
ences situated in the park within the entertainment district (as demonstrated
in the spatial deixis used occasionally in our dialogs).
In this excerpt, Virgie explained that there were no words to describe domestic
violence when she started to meet these battered migrant women in the enter-
tainment district. In other words, during the 90s, before the collective of activists
was formed, these women’s bodies were unintelligible (Butler, 1993). FMC’s
activism is rooted in Virgie’s witnessing these unintelligible bruises on migrant
women’s bodies and their voices as indicated by a direct quote in the following
Miwa: Can you describe more about how you started FMC?
Virgie: So, in this area [pointing at the entertainment district where we were], I had
to go around and pick up dresses to be repaired. So while measuring
their . . . 幅はどのくらい (how much the size is), I saw . . . その昔は (well,
in the past) domestic violence wasn’t a popular word, you know. But
I saw あの, あざが見えたらどうしたの？とか, それで . . . (I saw
bruise and asked “what happened?” and then . . .)
Virgie: They are trying to . . . 泣いている方もいます, 旦那さんと喧嘩し
てとかいろいろ (some women were crying and said “I got into ﬁght with
my husband.”) So 家に帰ったら本当に残っているでしょう°
えたあざとか聞いたこととか (The bruise I saw and what I heard stayed
with me, even after I went home). So, then that pushed me to
concentrate in organizing this group.
JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES 9
During our shared walks, we discussed the presence of a police box
) in the park. This koban was built during the late 90s to address
reported safety concerns in this neighborhood. Virgie explained that the park
used to be “not a very beautiful place . . . covered with lots of weeds.”
Beginning in 1997, the city, in collaboration with local residents, put eﬀorts
into improving the park. As Virgie recalled, the park started to change, so she
started to meet fellow migrant women there.
In making visible these previously neglected problems experienced by migrant
women she witnessed in the park, Virgie came to be connected with more and
more local groups and people: organizations including a local nonproﬁt women’s
shelter, medical professional volunteers, and pro bono lawyers. The development
of this network was spontaneous and driven by Virgie’s physical movement
around the city with victims of domestic violence, as she started to meet and be
connected with relevant sectors as seen in the following excerpt.
These networks, created as Virgie navigated the city with victims of domestic
violence, became a precursor to the FMC collective that was established in 2000.
In other words, the activist leader’s physical movement around the city with
victims of domestic violence led to the gradual expansion of the collective.
Maturing activism: Toward making visible the invisible problems
Mobilizing mathematical literacy to see historical and socio-political
During our shared walks, the FMC oﬃce’s proximity to the park came to stand
out. The FMC oﬃce was located within 300 meters to the park. FMC members
were going back and forth between the oﬃce and the park. Given these
observations, we can see the park served as a foundational point for the
Koban is a small police station seen in various neighborhoods in Japan. This idiosyncratic system was
established in 1874. Typically, a few (usually one or two) police oﬃcers address various activities
including dealing with stolen and lost objects, going around the neighborhood with a bike for
patrolling, and giving directions, often outside of interventions to major crimes.
The city consisted of 16 wards and the ward oﬃce refers to a smaller division of City Hall, which was in
charge of the particular ward wherein FMC was located.
Virgie: The park gradually became clean and then benches were set up, so
I started to consult with women there.
Virgie: When we have one victim of domestic violence, together we went to
the ward oﬃce.
Then, ah, there is a welfare oﬃce inside the ward oﬃce . . .
we did not know that. There was an oﬃcer there, they interviewed her and
she was placed in a shelter . . ..I didn’t realize that I am establishing
network with other, with diﬀerent groups. Consequence
10 TAKEUCHI AND AQUINO ISHIHARA
collective of activists to develop. As FMC matured as a collective led by Virgie,
other Filipino/a migrants, and Japanese volunteers who have expertise in the
law, education, and domestic violence came to gather. For the maturity of the
collective, mathematical literacy was one of the underpinnings that shifted the
individual problems to historical and socio-political dilemmas (Engeström,
2014; Gutiérrez et al., 2019), as seen in the following quotes from FMC
members. They saw the macro contexts behind migration in relation to the
governmental policies focusing on the economic impact on remittance from
migrants. Such macro-level understanding of the impact on migration and
global economy led them to see historical and macro-economic dilemmas
surrounding seemingly personal problems. As follows, one of the FMC mem-
bers, who is a migrant from the Philippines, explains the social consciousness
that underlies FMC’s activism.
This social consciousness was backed up by macro-economic analyses of
migrant situations, as demonstrated in the following excerpt from Virgie,
who is also a Filipina migrant and a leading voice for FMC.
Indeed, the FMC report problematizes the gendered nature of Filipino
migration in Japan as seen in the following excerpt: “Filipino migration to
Japan has shifted heavily in favour of women. In fact, women now dominate
the makeup of Filipinos in Japan by 4 to 1.” In this excerpt, the FMC
approximated the secondary data on gender composition of registered
Filipino migrants “Male (41,178): Female (152,310)
” available from the
Ministry of Justice. As seen here, a macro-level understanding of the migrant
The demonstration of a gender binary here is problematic because it masks the experience of gender
queer or non-binary people. This binary comparison is strategic to highlight the characteristics of
Filipino migrant community in Japan. We acknowledge the signiﬁcance of discussion on this data, in
light of the experiences of migrants who are gender queer and non-binary.
Miwa: What do you mean by social consciousness?
FMC member: We are thinking migrant workers are the economic victims.
They did make a decision to migrate, but they were forced as they didn’t
have economic means to live a basic life in the Philippines. So, if a problem
happens to them, we think we have the social responsibility. It’s not just
their faults, the problem was caused by the government and society. So,
that’s why we think we should support them.
Of course, migration is a problem in the Philippines. The government says
that it’s their choice to go out. But then is it a choice or a necessity?
Because, of course, it’s like a commodity, you know, because compared to
bananas and pineapples, it is more proﬁtable for the government to let
Filipinos work overseas because of the remittances . . . Something pushed
you to go out . . . Ten percent of the total population is exported worldwide
as migrant workers in the Philippines, and the majority are women.
JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES 11
women’s circumstances allowed FMC members to see the economic impact
of migration and worker’s remittances. This mathematical literacy aligns
with the analysis carried out by economists on remittances from migrants
and the global economy (e.g., Bayangos & Jansen, 2011) and was critical in
the sense that members of FMC could see the “social responsibility” (as
mentioned in the quote introduced above) undergirding their activism. In
other words, by mobilizing mathematical literacy, the activists were able to
identify the historical and socio-political dilemmas (Engeström, 2014;
Gutiérrez et al., 2019) and came together as a collective to address such
dilemmas associated with migration, gender and global economic disparities.
Mobilizing mathematical literacy to eﬀect policy changes
We now turn to elucidate on how mobilization of data by the activist collective
made historically hidden and unintelligible bodies (Butler, 1993) visible at the
policy level and at the community level. We focus on the collective mobiliza-
tion of data by FMC members (as depicted in Methodology), with their goal of
amending the policy around domestic violence from the perspective of migrant
women. Our document analyses suggested that, in Japan, it was not until 2001
that the ﬁrst law concerning domestic violence was established (the Act on the
Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims). As of 2019, three
amendments to this law have been made. We demonstrate how a group of
FMC members including 13 migrant women who were going through domes-
tic violence back then used primary and secondary data in order to amend the
law, in relation to the other policies and laws (such as the Immigration Control
and Refugee Recognition Act) that were relevant to the bodily politics surround-
ing migrant women observed in the park.
FMC worked with undocumented migrant women and children in the
park and in the entertainment district at large. Walking by the park,
Virgie noticed children playing there during the night in the late 90s:
“they are undocumented, they are just going around the park during
the day and the night. They didn’t even know what school meant.”
Since then, FMC has been supporting undocumented migrants to obtain
visas through the ward oﬃce that was located within 450 meters of the
FMC oﬃce. In this process, as explained by Virgie, FMC inﬂuenced the
ward oﬃce to enumerate and document the number of undocumented
migrants who were eligible for visas: “They can see what we are doing.
We have to ﬁll out the paper for interviews. So, probably there are lots of
these documents left in the oﬃce.” Because of their close interactions with
migrants, in their report, FMC questioned the oﬃcial data on the number
of Filipino migrants reported by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Aﬀairs,
commenting “not included in the ﬁgure are thousands of undocumented
and overstaying Filipinos.” Based on FMC’s activism in the park and
entertainment district, Virgie explains the number of undocumented
12 TAKEUCHI AND AQUINO ISHIHARA
migrants in the mid-2000s: “In Nagoya alone, there were around ﬁve to
six thousand undocumented entertainment workers, plus an unknown
number who overstayed their visas.” What they were highlighting with
this hidden number was the “migrant women who are DV victims that
aren’t covered in the current laws and policies,” as stated by another FMC
member. Through FMC’s activism that involves mobilization of data, such
hiddenness and unintelligibility of bodies (Butler, 1993) were made visible
at the policy level.
Advocating on behalf of the Filipina migrant DV victims to the policy
makers, FMC members highlighted the lack of support for these victims by
combining secondary data (obtained from the Commission of Filipino
Overseas) with their observations in the entertainment district, as seen in
the FMC report: “31,023 or 44.87% of Filipino-Japanese marriages happened
between 1989 and 2002 originated from their interactions in the workplace.”
To further highlight the context behind domestic violence, Table 1 was
created by FMC based on the secondary data to highlight that Filipina
migrant women knew their spouses for a relatively short period of time.
The FMC report particularly paid attention to the fact that quite a number of
couples knew each other for less than a month before their marriage (as seen
in the highlighted section below).
The selection and interpretation of data by the FMC were rooted in the
lived experiences of migrant women in the entertainment district. By bring-
ing her own observations and experiences in the entertainment district,
Virgie interpreted this set of data represented in Table 1 as follows:
Virgie: These marriages were likely contractually based than being
romantically motivated. (. . .) Some said, “my husband paid 1 million yen
(note: about 10,000 USD USD) for the production, and we got married.”
(. . .) Often their husbands were their customers at the night club. The club
required 同伴 (Dohan: the escort customer). 同伴がないとペナルティが
あります (If you cannot bring an escort to the club, you will get
penalties). . . . In a week, how many Dohan you have to meet, and you
have to report that to the gangs? . . . they are scared and she decided to
Table 1. Data mobilized by activist group (Period of acquaintance with
spouses before marriage for Filipina migrant women in Japan).
Period of Acquaintance Number Percentage (%)
More than 2 years 11,633 16.8
More than 1 year to 2 years 10,016 14.5
More than 6 months to 1 year 13,706 19.8
More than 3 months to 6 months 18,130 26.2
More than 1 month to 3 months 6,664 9.6
1 month and less 4,898 7.1
Not reported 4,094 5.9
(Reproduced with permission from the Filipino Migrants Center).
JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES 13
As seen here, what drove the FMC’s activism was not merely data literacy but also
their deep understanding of particularities such as rules and systems governing
the entertainment district around bodies of migrant women. As demonstrated in
both direct and indirect quotes from other migrant women, the FMC leadership’s
voice was “heteroglot” (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 272), interwoven with other historically
unheard voices. Further, the fact that the FMC’s activism was guided by migrant
women themselves provided embodied and emplaced understanding of numbers
as seen in the following quote by Virgie who has been leading the FMC.
Such voice became collective voices as the FMC report included 13 victims
of domestic violence who were Filipina migrants in the entertainment dis-
trict and, where relevant, enumerated some of their stories to appeal social
and legal measures. Table 2 was created by FMC based on the narratives of
those going through domestic violence on how they reacted to it in order to
highlight the reluctance of Filipina migrants to rely on public services
including the police and hospital:
There is a social dimension why Filipina DV victims are reluctant to go to the police. For one,
being non-Japanese, they are afraid that they will not be listened to. Those with visa problems
are more reluctant because having no proper visa, they fear arrest.
Centralizing and being led by Filipina migrant women’s voices, FMC collec-
tively alerted how this macro-system is aﬀecting domestic violence in the
Both Japanese and Filipino elites said to me, “Who is she? She also worked
at night. She was a hostess.” But through that, I’m able to understand
why . . .
Table 2. Data mobilized by activist group (Filipina migrant women’s actions in response
to domestic violence).
Reactions to DV
1 1 1 1
Sought help from
1 1 1 1 1 1
Ran away 1 1 1 1 1
Filed for divorce 1 1 1
Kept silent 1 1 1 1 1
(Reproduced with permission from the Filipino Migrants Center).
14 TAKEUCHI AND AQUINO ISHIHARA
The tightening of immigration controls in Japan caught up those who work as entertainers.
As an option to legalize their status and to prolong their stay in Japan, many Filipina
entertainers eventually took the path of marrying Japanese men for reasons ranging from
economic security, love, and the opportunity to remain in Japan.
Based on these data they collected, one of the FMC’s suggestions included
an amendment of the aforementioned law:
Priority should be on the protection and support to victims and the immigration status of the
victim should not get in the way of this objective. Many victims of domestic violence are
reluctant to report their case to the police or other government agencies for fear of arrest and
As seen here, by utilizing primary and secondary data, FMC proposed
necessary social and legal measures to address domestic violence, centraliz-
ing the voices of Filipina migrants.
FMC’s proposal for amending the Act on the Prevention of Spousal
Violence and the Protection of Victims was originally issued in 2001 and
was taken up partially in 2019. There is now an article explicitly stating that
human rights should be respected and safety should be ensured regardless of
the victims’ nationality (Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Oﬃce, 2016). The
local prefectural government created the action plans to enhance the support
for victims whose ﬁrst languages are not Japanese by providing translation
and interpretation in legal and welfare services through collaboration with
nonproﬁt organizations such as FMC (Aichi Prefectural Government, 2018).
In this sense, the collective mobilization of data by FMC became “conse-
quential” (Hall & Jurow, 2015, p. 186) at the policy level, through the FMC’s
historically grounded design of activism to raise awareness of the previously
hidden bodily politics surrounding Filipina migrant women, which was
embedded in the particular place they inhabited. We further extend this
discussion on consequentiality focusing on emplacement in the following
Gathering of disparate and conﬂictual people: Consequences of the
Along with the activism to inﬂuence the policies around domestic violence,
during the 19-year period, the park was transformed by the FMC collective
and also served to gather people for a collective action, as highlighted in this
section. The following excerpt shows that together, we interpreted the park
as a pivotal place that exercised “a power of gathering” (Casey, 1996, p. 25)—
gathering the Filipino migrant community and the community of long-term
Japanese residents. During our shared walks in the park, Virgie pointed at
where Filipino/a migrants at FMC congregated to join weekly cleaning with
local Japanese residents: “We tried to join cleaning of rakugaki (graﬃti-
covered walls). Also, natsumatsuri (we joined summer festival).” Through
JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES 15
such activities led by FMC, the park came to serve as a site for various
community events where long-time residents and younger and older migrant
residents met and gathered. As a consequence, Virgie shared that, as of
October 2018, the local neighborhood association decided to cover the rent
payment for FMC oﬃce as a form of collaboration.
Through such emplaced gathering initiated by the eﬀorts of the FMC,
relational expansions were observed. The following excerpt from ﬁeldnotes
also depicts the kind of relationship built by 2013 between FMC and local
Japanese residents in the park.
We walked together from FMC oﬃce to the park that is located two blocks away. The streets
were ﬁlled with thin, tall buildings that inhabit entertaining businesses with bright signs.
Once we arrived at the park, I saw about 20 middle-aged people with grey hair, putting up
a tent with black letters printed on a white background, 地域安全推進委員会 (the commit-
tee for promoting community safety) and setting up portable chairs. They were preparing for
an event for lighting decorations for Christmas. Many were wearing formal black dress pants
and winter jackets. Virgie greeted them with a casual form of Japanese and gave high ﬁves
with some people. One of them talked to Virgie, “You look slimmer in those clothes!” Virgie
laughed. Then one person came to show Virgie a brochure for donations for the recent
typhoon damages in the Philippines, saying “Look what I got.” He said, “I’ll make an
announcement about it tonight.” (FN November 15, 2013)
As seen here, local Japanese residents’ interests were not merely about safety;
they also showed concern toward the Philippines by collecting donations for
typhoon damage relief. Similar to what Teeters and Jurow (2018) depicted as
relationships de conﬁanza, that undergirded the food justice movement, this
episode also demonstrates that a support network between FMC and a local
Japanese neighborhood association was growing and that moved the acti-
At one of the community events held at the park in 2019, Virgie recon-
nected with a woman who had once been an undocumented migrant child
she had met in the park in the late 90s. This woman became a student at the
private nonproﬁt school that was run by Virgie between 1998 and 2003, and
with the help of FMC, she received a visa to stay and work in Japan. The
Miwa: You talked a lot about the park
Miwa: The park is a special place for you, I think
Virgie: Yes, yes, yes
Miwa: It’s very much connected, what you observed there and who you
met . . .
Virgie: . . . and integration to the community
Virgie: And they are now supporting me. So again it’s really a positive . . . す
ぐ, じゃなくて (it wasn’t immediate) 時間かかって (it took time) . . . It
took me two decades (hahahaha) to open their minds and hearts, to be
with 外国人 (foreigners), with Filipino
16 TAKEUCHI AND AQUINO ISHIHARA
woman reported to Virgie that she was now working as a manager of
a housekeeping department at a hotel.
FMC’s activism made previously hidden bodies of Filipina migrant
women and their children visible to local residents and relevant oﬃces,
and the park came to hold together disparate and sometimes conﬂictual
people. In the longitudinal eﬀorts of activism, historically othered or unin-
telligible bodies of migrant women came to be embodied, by which we
referred to coming to be visible, and to lay claim to the public by assembling
their hidden bodies (Ahmed, 2006; Butler, 1993, 2015).
In summary, our work shines a light on community-driven mobilization of
mathematical literacy that made visible the historically hidden bodies in the
context of transnational activism to combat violence against migrant women.
Mathematical literacy was one of the underpinnings that shifted the indivi-
dual problems to historical and socio-political dilemmas (Engeström, 2014;
Gutiérrez et al., 2019), and facilitated the collective. The embodied and
emplaced mobilization of mathematical literacy led by a migrant woman of
color and the collective countered the mainstream and oﬃcial data that did
not reveal historically marginalized voices. Such mobilization of mathema-
tical literacy became consequential (Hall & Jurow, 2015; Jurow et al., 2016) as
activists changed relevant politics and networks of people over time.
Violence experienced by migrant women depicted in this article is inextric-
ably tangled with intersectional oppressions of race, gender, sexuality and geo-
economic politics (Crenshaw, 1990; Lorde, 1984). Aligned with the scholarship
on intersectional becoming in/through disciplinary learning (Avraamidou,
2020; Joseph et al., 2019; Leyva, 2017; Nasir, 2004), our work countered the
deﬁcit narratives on migrant women by focusing on the empowering mobiliza-
tion of mathematical literacy in the collective activism armed with epistemic
lenses ampliﬁed due to the lived experiences deviated from the mainstream
norms in intersectional ways. In our work, this intersectional becoming arose
within the idiosyncratic geo-political context of gendered migration from the
Philippines to Japan. This focus on the intersectional context is signiﬁcant as
the geopolitical matrix within the discipline can implicitly and/or explicitly
shape the hegemonic disciplinary discourses and practices (Takeuchi et al.,
2020). Embracing geo-political spatial expansion of scholarship could mean
turning our attention to historically colonized and hidden ways of knowing
and seeing, in light of solidarity-based epistemology from the Global South
(Banerjee & Connell, 2018). Our work contributes to such geo-political expan-
sions of the current ﬁeld by bringing forth the mobilization of mathematical
literacy toward solidarity, centralizing the voice of migrant women of color.
JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES 17
Our work also furthers the current scholarships on embodiment mathe-
matics learning, by bringing forth critical synthesis of embodiment and
emplacement drawing from queer theory and phenomenology (Ahmed,
2006; Butler, 1993, 2015; Casey, 1996). Through critical synthesis of embodi-
ment and emplacement, we render the meaning of mathematical literacy
mobilization in the history in the making, beyond the myopic scope. By
integrating the notion of embodiment with emplacement, we painted how the
local park in the entertainment district was gradually transformed to be
a place wherein disparate and conﬂictual people are held together (Casey,
1996) and bodies that used to be absent came to inhabit there (Ahmed, 2006),
with the longitudinal eﬀorts of activism.
Our critical conceptualization of the intertwinement of embodiment and
emplacement directed our attention to the particular place, a public park
within the entertainment district, marked by “thick lines” (Lee & Ingold,
2006, p. 77). As migrant women repeatedly visited and gathered around the
park, the place became “porous—admitting the passage of various substances
through it” (Casey & Watkins, 2014, p. 15). This park gathered the previously
hidden bodies but also the diverse bodies of people who came together. The
park came to hold together people and conﬂictual fragments of ideologies
(Philip et al., 2018): for example, the community safety committee that used
to criminalize undocumented migrants and the activists who have been
supporting the lives of undocumented migrants. Design of such porous
places can also render new meanings to the mobilization of mathematical
literacy, as we demonstrated in our work. At the ever-changing intersection
of histories of migration, race, class, and gender and sexuality, our work calls
for amplifying the design toward assembly where the historically hidden
bodies can come out and otherwise-dispersed bodies can come together.
We appreciate all the volunteers who supported the activity of the Filipino Migrants
Centre. Thank you, Dr. Joe Curnow and Dr. Susan Jurow, for their leadership on the
Special Issue: Learning in and For Collective Action. We are thankful for the
constructive feedback we received from Dr. Jasmine Ma and anonymous reviewers
on earlier versions of this manuscript. We appreciate the conversations the authors
had with Dr. Indigo Esmonde, Dr. Lesley Dookie, Dr. Kris Gutiérrez, and Dr. Pratim
Sengupta, on conceptualization of this article. We also appreciate Dr. Sachi Takahata
for her work and support.
This work was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
[12J02927]. Any opinions, ﬁndings, and conclusions expressed herein are my own
and do not necessarily reﬂect the views of the funding agency.
18 TAKEUCHI AND AQUINO ISHIHARA
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