“A Shiftless, Undesirable Class”: The Sexual Policing of Miami’s Bahamian Migrant Communities in the Early 20th Century

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:50 AM
Washington Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Julio Capó Jr., University of Massachusetts Amherst
Incorporated as a city in 1896, Miami is a relatively “new” city that faced several problems in its nascent years: inadequate infrastructure, a growing population, and an undefined local economy. Seasonal migrants from the nearby British colony of The Bahamas helped solve many of these concerns and responded to the city’s desperate call for labor. This presentation, extracted from Capó’s forthcoming book (UNC Press), offers a transnational analysis of these gendered migrations that found Bahamian men living in “bachelor” societies in Miami’s urban frontier and created many female-dominated, homosocial spaces back in several islands on the archipelago. It traces how these migration patterns broke down traditional family models and permitted Bahamian men to engage in homosexual acts. These processes not only commoditized the migrants’ black bodies, but also centered a white male gaze on the Bahamians’ physicality—which was often described as chiseled and muscular by the nature of their intense physical labor. Although it appears Miami’s borders proved mostly porous for these Bahamian men before 1924, local law enforcement closely policed them once they entered the city. This is manifest in the criminal records, which reveal Miami police arrested Bahamians for numerous crimes in numbers that outweighed their demographics. This included local police’s enforcement of state laws that criminalized same-sex acts between men, namely sodomy and crime against nature charges. Meanwhile, Bahamian women’s bodies and sexualities were policed in many other ways. U.S. immigration officials and medical inspectors often deemed single or unaccompanied Bahamian women as morally suspect and turned them away at the port.