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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Jamaican migration to Cuba, 1912–1940
by Graham, Tracey E., Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2013, 266; 3557406
Abstract (Summary)

This study helps to broaden a growing body of literature by examining the growth of an urban Jamaican community in the southeastern port of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.

Background: When the British colony of Jamaica abolished slavery in 1838, the upper classes attempted to tie free workers to sugar plantations; ex–slaves attempted to move away from the estates as soon as possible. Despite an increase in internal migration after abolition, the majority of the black population remained in rural areas, and dedicated their labor to the land. The Jamaican elite successfully argued for the introduction of contract laborers from Asia as a replacement for the slavery system. It brought the planters some limited economic success as export crops—particularly sugar—had the chance to rebound, but planters used immigrants to drive down wages. Increasing population pressure on the land, a series of natural disasters, few economic opportunities, and ineligibility for political participation prompted Jamaicans to look outside of their homeland for socioeconomic improvement by the late 1800s. Travelers emigrated in significant numbers to Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua with the hope of earning higher wages, sending remittances to family members, and returning home with enough money to live independently. As work on the Panama Canal ended by the 1910s, Jamaicans turned their sights back to the Caribbean. During the second half of the 19th century, Cuba was one of Spain's two remaining Caribbean colonies despite attempting several wars of independence. At the end of the final effort in 1898, the United States intervened against the metropolis; the two powers reached an agreement giving possession of Cuba to the US, who would help to establish political order and assist the islanders in ruling themselves. US investment in Cuban industry, especially in sugar, allowed foreigners to purchase enormous tracts of land and to influence the restructuring of the island's political, social, and economic landscape. The seasonal sugar cane harvest attracted foreign workers from Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean seeking better wages than what they could find at home; between 1912 and 1920, thousands of British West Indians traveled to Cuba to labor in the agricultural industry or to occupy niches in the service industry.

However, Cubans scrutinized and discriminated against them for being black, for being foreign, for driving down wages, or some combination thereof. Though Cubans claimed to live in a color-blind society, racial discrimination persisted and the white elite supported a policy of “whitening” the island through selective immigration from Spain and miscegenation; these racial and cultural prejudices were particularly divisive given that a significant percentage of Cubans were of African descent. Furthermore, the general population was frustrated by the lack of Cuban sovereignty and saw foreign workers as complicit in the US intervention. As a result, calls for nationalism tended to veer into xenophobia and racism during economic downturns in the early 1920s and 1930s.

Methods/Sources: Due to limited access to archival sources in Cuba, the bulk of the data is from the British National Archives: the consular reports summarized political and social upheaval in Cuba, collected publications from the Cuban government, and gave a perspective of the migration from the viewpoint of the British government. Similar information came from the U.S. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. The provincial archive of Santiago de Cuba provided information on migrant activities: marriage and citizenship documents; and social, cultural, and political organizations. It also yielded the Cuban government's responses to West Indian immigration. Correspondence between colonial officials and international organizations came from the Jamaican National Archives; the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona, held interviews of Jamaicans who lived during the period under study. Cuban and Jamaican newspaper reports detailed economic and political conditions in the two islands from journalists' investigations, letters from migrants, and governmental decrees.

Findings: I relate how different groups in Cuba reacted to Jamaican migration: the support for and against it, how this support changed over time, and how it differed by geography. I also attempt to give a fuller description of who these migrants were. I discuss their relationships with other West Indians and Cubans, their marriages, and the paths that they took to Cuban citizenship. How gender influenced and differentiated Jamaicans' experiences when they went abroad—how they were perceived and treated, and how they fared—receives special attention.

The work concludes by examining the reaction of the British officials who represented British West Indians in Cuba. It also puts the migration into a broader context by examining black British subjects who traveled to other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean during this era. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Borges, Dain
Commitee: Kouri, Emilio, Palmie, Stephan
School: The University of Chicago
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 74/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Latin American history, Caribbean Studies, Latin American Studies
Keywords: Cuba, Jamaican, Migration, Nationalism, Race relations, Women
Publication Number: 3557406
ISBN: 978-1-303-00512-1
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