Atlantic to Pacific: New Perspectives on American Global Empire and the African Diaspora

AHA Session 126
Friday, January 6, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 1B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Paul Kramer, Vanderbilt University
Paul Kramer, Vanderbilt University

Session Abstract

Building upon the work of its chair and discussant, Paul Kramer, this panel hopes to not only blur the lines between American metropole and colony but also explore the spaces and interactions between various colonized peoples from all corners of the American empire.  It asks what happens when black people from both America and the Caribbean migrate and interact with other colonized populations from (and in) Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Virgin Islands, and the Philippines?  Historiographically, how does our current picture of American empire change when the African diaspora is unmoored from its artificial shackles in the Atlantic and allowed to travel freely across the Pacific (and vice versa)? 

Violence—above all else—underwrote America’s global empire.  Yet some of this state-sponsored violence was perpetuated by black soldiers who were themselves the recipients of a highly racialized political violence.  Cynthia Marasigan explores this ambivalent position as black soldiers found both new opportunities and new entrapments within a very familiar colonial order.  Focusing on the Philippine-American War, Marasigan details the ever-shifting relationships and allegiances between African Americans, Filipinos, and their respective state authorities.

The disruption that war and American empire brought to the Philippines initiated one of the largest diasporas in modern world history.  J. Tiffany Holland follows this migration of Filipinos, as well as Puerto Ricans, through their inter-colonial travels to the U.S. Virgin Islands after 1917.  As these new populations interacted with black Virgin Islanders (who were themselves often migrating to other parts of the American empire) colonial bureaucrats had an increasingly difficult time enforcing rigid American Jim Crow regulations. As peoples and cultures blurred and blended into one another, this racial uncertainty became a problem for both nation building and colonial administration.

Moving from the Caribbean back to the Philippines, Guy Emerson Mount examines food pathways, jazz music, and Philippine legal culture through the life of Grenadian chef Thomas Pritchard.  Migrating to the Philippines in 1911, Pritchard founded Tom’s Dixie Kitchen in Manila which served as a political and cultural center for American imperialists and Filipino nationalists alike. Pritchard’s eclectic mix of food soon blended with his complex national positionalilty within the American empire.  Consequently, Pritchard would eventually find himself the subject of a landmark 1948 Supreme Court Case in the Philippines that struggled to determine whether or not this black man from the Caribbean was in fact American, British, or Filipino.

In the end, this panel will argue that empire doesn’t just happen to places, it also happens to people—and people whose movements resist static imperial impositions.  These circulations of bodies, goods, and cultures offer an excellent window into questions of scale as individual biographies, family relationships, and other intimate details reveal stark new realities for global empires, imperial states, and aspiring nations.  By going big and going small, this panel ultimately hopes to reimagine the study of American empire and the narrative of black people within it.

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