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From Haiti to Cuba and Back: Haitians' Experiences of Migration, Labor, and Return, 1900-1940

By Matthew Casey


This dissertation is a social history of the approximately 200,000 individuals who migrated seasonally between their homes in rural Haiti and the eastern regions of Cuba during the height of the United States’ military and economic presence in both countries. Existing scholarship explains Haitians’ movements in terms of the United States’ military presence in Haiti (1915-1934), the country’s rural poverty, and the massive growth of U.S.- and Cuban-owned sugar plantations in Cuba. However, the migrants themselves have not been studied. Instead, previous scholarship puts forth an image of Haitian migrants that is heavily influenced by false, long-standing assumptions about Haiti and the anti-immigrant stereotypes of the early 20th-century Cuban press. They are portrayed as a homogenous group of unskilled laborers who remained at the bottom of labor hierarchies, were isolated from other groups in Cuban society and were dominated by Cuban sugar companies and state officials in both countries.\ud Due to their high rates of illiteracy, the life stories of the migrants are difficult to reconstruct using traditional sources such as letters or diaries. Drawing on research conducted in multiple archives and libraries in Cuba, Haiti, and the United States, my dissertation details migrants’ experiences in both Haiti and Cuba. It joins a rapidly growing body of scholarship on labor, migration, and trans-nationalism in Latin America and the Caribbean that seeks a fuller understanding of workers’ lives by emphasizing economic activities and coping strategies that occurred outside of formal wage activities and union mobilization. I show the ways that Haitian men and women navigated the harsh working and living conditions in both Haiti and Cuba by creating and maintaining kinship, commercial, religious, and social networks in sugar plantations, coffee farms, and urban spaces. These links cut across national lines and decisively shaped the conditions under which they moved, labored, and lived in both countries. Reconstructing Haitians’ interactions with other workers outside the gazes of company and state illustrates how those institutions functioned on the ground, questions the extent to which national-level racial ideologies determined local social relationships, and demonstrates how workers’ actions shaped the implementation of migration and trade policies.\u

Year: 2012
OAI identifier:
Provided by: D-Scholarship@Pitt

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