More Than Auxiliary: Caribbean Women and Social Organizations in the Interwar Period

Friday, January 5, 2018: 2:10 PM
Delaware Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Tyesha Maddox, Fordham University
The early twentieth century witnessed the formation of a large number of Caribbean American benevolent associations and mutual aid societies, which served as forums for discussions on Caribbean American affairs, hosted cultural activities, helped its members find employment, and provided charity and welfare assistance, especially in the case of newly-arrived immigrants. This presentation through its examination of female members of social organizations seeks to challenge the historiography of Caribbean immigration that tends to normalize the male experience of immigrants. Illustrated through their participation in immigrant social organizations, is the fact that Caribbean women were active and influential participants in the immigration experience, not just passive bystanders. Women became involved in political activism and served as training grounds for female Caribbean leaders, giving them a platform in which to discuss issues of social and political reform. Secondly, women created a system of formal and informal networks. Female members of social organizations in New York created diasporic networks that helped keep them abreast of Caribbean events and connected to their West Indian identities. Caribbean women, through benevolent and mutual aid associations, created new communities for themselves and their families within the larger American community that celebrated their ethnic identities. Thus, I argue that women served as the vital proponents to Caribbean culture in the United States in the early twentieth century. An examination of Caribbean women is essential in shaping complex and diverse immigrant narratives by placing women in the center of diasporic formation and as indispensable agents in forging diasporic connections.
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