Violence, Labor Discipline, and Racialization: An Exploration of the Brutalization of British Caribbean Migrant Workers in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

Friday, January 4, 2019: 11:10 AM
Salon 2 (Palmer House Hilton)
Nicola Claire Foote, Arizona State University
In recent years historical understanding of the centrality of pre-war migration from the British Caribbean to political and economic developments in the Caribbean, the United States and Latin America has grown exponentially. Yet as Lara Putnam has noted (2013), while there have been a large number of studies on the regional and corporate case-studies that generated certain kinds of records – especially those related to work for the United Fruit Company in Central America and Cuba - other important migrant experiences have been almost entirely neglected. This paper focuses on one such study, exploring how the experiences of British Caribbean migrants to Ecuador and the Galapagos provide insight into the centrality of violence against West Indian workers as both a strategy of labor control and a core part of race formation in Latin American nations.

There was significant migration from the British Caribbean to Ecuador in the first decade of the twentieth century. The experiences of these migrant workers were dominated by violence and brutality, regardless of the type of industry or the region of Ecuador. For example, workers on the Quito-Guayaquil Railway were housed in tents in subzero temperatures and subject to routine corporal punishment. Workers in the Amazonian rubber industry were chained and whipped. In the Galapagos Islands, many Jamaicans found themselves imprisoned in the penal colony on the island of Floreana, while others starved to death while collecting guano. This paper argues that far from being an anomaly, the experiences of workers in Ecuador highlight how important physical violence was as a tool of racialization in Latin American countries that sought to benefit from the availability of migrant Caribbean labor, but were simultaneously developing nationalist ideologies based on the pathologization of blackness and the exclusion of African-descended populations.