Haitian Households, Migration Policies, and the Global Transition to Free Migration, 1900–40

Friday, January 4, 2013: 10:50 AM
Cathedral Salon (Hotel Monteleone)
Matthew Casey, University of Pittsburgh
During the first four decades of the twentieth century, approximately 200,000 Haitians migrated seasonally between their rural homes and the agricultural regions of eastern Cuba.  The movement occurred at the height of the United States’ military and economic presence in the Caribbean region, but it was profoundly shaped by the actions of individual migrants.  Haitian households combined migration with a number of other strategies that included joining the military, moving to a city, and attending a rural school.  Wages from Cuba allowed rural families to sustain their rural livelihoods or move to Haitian cities.  Rather than dictating the nature of these movements, I argue that Haitian state policies scrambled to catch up with migrants’ actions.  Between 1918 and 1923, the Haitian government instituted a series of policies that required migrants to carry passports, leave with work contracts in hand, and deposit money for their return voyage.  They also used vagrancy laws to keep rural-born individuals out of cities.  Such shifts occurred at a moment of flux in global migration regulations.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, imperial governments abolished programs of indentured migration in the name of “free” migration.  Indentured migration schemes were replaced by temporary guestworker programs designed to import foreign workers before returning them to their country of origin.  In theory and practice, Haitians’ contracted movements to Cuba shared commonalities with both the waning system of indenture and burgeoning forms of temporary guestworker programs without looking exactly like either.  My paper is part of a growing body of scholarship that seeks to write migrants into processes normally conceptualized strictly as the result of company and state interactions.  In so doing, it offers a case study that demonstrates the complexity of global shifts from indentured to temporary forms of labor migration.