CLAH Presidential Session: Transnational Migrations, Labor Networks, and Flights to Freedom

AHA Session 45
Conference on Latin American History 8
Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Armitage Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Louis A. Perez Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Jeffrey Lesser, Emory University

Session Abstract

In the nineteenth- and twentieth-century nation-states, forced labor remained institutionalized in many different societies and political regimes, ranging from chattel enslavement to peonage to contract labor. Subaltern actors pushed against these forms of bondage through legal strategies and physical mobility. Their stories involve more than individual flights to freedom, they describe networks of information that can be mapped onto itineraries that moved through both temporary and final destinations, crossing national borders, moving from islands to mainlands, and from one continent to another. Transnational migrations complicated ethnic identities and cultures as the imperial realignments and global economies of modernity created new labor demands, bringing both forced and free migrants to the Americas and opening multi-directional routes both to and from Latin America and the Caribbean to Africa, Europe, and Asia. Simultaneous intra-continental migrations of equestrian indigenous tribes and confederations challenged nation-states in South America and in the northern frontier of Mexico and set in motion new ethnic identities and political realignments. The papers presented in this session highlight the major themes of transnational population movements through the Atlantic circularity of African freedmen in their migrations between Bahia and western Africa, exemplified in the complex religious expressions of Candomblé; the comparative histories of Chinese laborers contracted to work in Cuba and Peru; the territorial migrations of equestrian indigenous peoples and the nineteenth century polities they created in the northern Mexican and South American borderlands; and the contradictions of nationalism in the face of institutional policies established for bestowing or denying citizenship to foreign immigrants, exemplified in Mexico. Taken together, the panel participants represent a broad spectrum of scholars who work in different national and institutional settings, thus bringing a diversity of viewpoints to the topic.

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