9624 - West Indian Migration and Nationalism in the Caribbean and Latin America, 1870-1945.

During the period 1870-1945 hundreds of thousands of men and women from the British West Indies moved around the Latin American territories of the circum-Caribbean. Many of the same people who helped dig the Panama Canal also worked on the banana plantations of Costa Rica and Honduras; the sugar cane fields of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic; and in the oil fields of Venezuela and the rubber plantations of Brazil and Peru. While most of these migrants intended to return home and buy a plot of land to establish themselves as peasant farmers, for many this goal never materialized. By 1930 there were approximately 145,000 first and second generation West Indians in Central America alone. Major English-speaking Caribbean enclaves developed in the Panama Canal Zone, the Costa Rican port town of Limón, and the Nicaraguan city of Bluefields, and smaller numbers of permanent migrants remained in Honduras, Guatemala, Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador, sometimes blending with more established Afro-Latin American communities. Yet this migration has never been examined from a comprehensive, transnational perspective: instead, scholars have typically focused on the experiences of migrants at a nation-state level. As a result the significance of West Indian migration for both Caribbean and Latin American nationalisms has been largely obscured. This paper will seek to address this gap in the literature and build on Aline Helg’s 2006 call for a renewed focus on the transnational distribution of Afro-Caribbean workers in Latin America through an assessment of how Afro-Caribbean migratory currents affected ideas about race (specifically “blackness”) and anti-imperialist sentiment both in the Caribbean islands and in selected Latin American nations. Material will be drawn both from the case-studies typically associated with West Indian migration - notably Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras - as well as the “forgotten diasporas” of South America, including Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil.

Keywords: Nationalism, Race, Migration

Author: Foote , Nicola (Florida Gulf Coast University, Ud States of Am / USA)


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