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Radical MovesCaribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age$

Lara Putnam

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780807835821

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: July 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807838136_putnam

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Three Alien Everywhere

Three Alien Everywhere

Immigrant Exclusion and Populist Bargains, 1920s–1930s

(p.82) Three Alien Everywhere
Radical Moves

Lara Putnam

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the new laws that restricted the entry and employment of black “aliens” in the United States, Latin America, and British Caribbean. The U.S. Johnson–Reed Act of 1924, in particular, confronted British Caribbeans with an unprecedented and portentous break. This nominally race-neutral rule functioned as a nearly total ban on immigrant visas for British Caribbeans, causing a drop from over 12,000 arrivals in the first six months of 1924 to under 800 in 1925.

Keywords:   black aliens, United States, Johnson–Reed Act, British Caribbeans, immigrant visas

The brownstones on 13 6th Street were elegant but crowded. A full forty-three people lived in four adjacent townhouses in 1920. They hailed from Grenada, St. Vincent, Barbados, St. Kitts, the Turks, Jamaica, and St. Marten, as well as from Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Georgia. Each of them, like every resident up and down the block, was black. No. 225 was home to future journalist Roi Ottley, his parents and brother, and the dozen-plus boarders whose rent helped pay for the house. Roi's parents had been in the United States the longest, having come from Grenada back in 1904; lodgers Minna and Vinetta, Jamaican dressmakers who arrived in 1917 and 1918, were the most recent arrivals.1 The streets of Harlem had become the crossroads of the Caribbean, and islanders kept pouring in. The slacking of the Cuban sugar boom after 1921 and the continued reduction of the canal workforce in Panama came just as the flow of European immigrants to the United States was stanched by new legislation. British Caribbeans, like all others born in the Western Hemisphere, could still enter the United States at will, as long as they could demonstrate literacy, good health, and the support of friends or relatives who would keep them from becoming a public charge. With neighborhoods like 136th Street waiting, this was little barrier.

Then: rupture. The U.S. Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which for all other groups merely tightened prior limits, confronted British Caribbeans with an unprecedented and portentous break. For the first time, those born in “non-self-governing” (read: black-majority) colonies in the New World were placed under numerical limit, dependent on distribution of quota numbers from the annual allocation to Great Britain. As I will discuss in detail below, this nominally race-neutral rule functioned as a nearly total ban on immigrant visas for British Caribbeans. Total black immigration into the United States—counting arrivals from across the Americas and around the world, but comprised in its great majority of British Caribbeans—dropped from over 12,000 arrivals in the first six months of 1924 to under 800 in 1925.2

This chapter will ask how and why this seismic shift occurred and measure its consequences for lives on all sides of the remade borders. It offers a simultaneously comparative and connected history of migration restriction in the (p.83) United States, Latin America, and British Caribbean. For Johnson-Reed was merely the first among a series of new laws that radically restricted the entry and employment of black “aliens” around the region. The United States had long differed from Spanish America in explicitly disenfranchising on the grounds of partial African ancestry—“one drop of blood.” Yet in this case, the United States excluded Afro-Caribbean immigrants without making mention of race, while circum-Caribbean republics explicitly added la raza negra to existing categorical exclusions. Meanwhile, in the British Caribbean, it was Chinese immigrants against whom systematic—although here, too, nominally race-neutral—bans were imposed in these years for the first time. The patterns have much to tell us about the shifting politics of race and belonging in the interwar Americas.

The fundamental trend was common not only to the United States, Latin America, and the British Caribbean but much more broadly. These years saw the rise of mestizo populism in Latin America, völkisch nationalism in Europe, and nativism in the United States—differing labels for a common phenomenon. Organized workers made demands on the state in the name of the nation, and states identified national destiny with the health and virtue of the working classes as never before. In country after country—industrialized North Atlantic and agro-exporting circum-Caribbean alike—the two sides forged an implicit bargain in which more robust social guarantees went along with new forms of exclusion that limited who had access to the new public goods.3

In the Spanish-speaking circum-Caribbean, these populist bargains were hampered by the outsized power of the transnational companies on whom export economies depended. Systematic illegalities riddled enforcement, so that powerful employers retained de facto access to a supranational labor market. Nevertheless, real gains were made by “national” labor in this era. Only in the British Caribbean, with no popular vote and elites who still did not identify the future of the polity with the well-being of the masses, were populist bargains not on offer. There, anti-immigrant politics couched in the language of incipient nationalism—Jamaica for the Jamaicans!—did not accompany but rather substituted for genuine social investment. More substantive state commitment to what British sociologist Τ. H. Marshall would label “social citizenship” remained, for black colonial subjects, undemandable.4

The similarity of restrictionist moves across the region reflects both shared circumstances—sociopolitical, like the rise of organized labor; economic, like the instability of key commodity prices in the 1920s and the export collapse after 1929—and direct connections. Some connections came (p.84) via print circulation. Latin American, U.S., and Caribbean elites read the same expert authors on the relationship between national “stock” and social cohesion. Newspaper articles on Chinese vice were excerpted and reprinted. Other connections came from intentional institution-building, like the First Pan-American Conference of Eugenics and Homiculture, held in Havana in December 1927, at which U.S. eugenicists presented a “model immigration law” to delegates from across Latin America.5

But connections in the realm of quotidian practice were just as important. The emerging mobility-control regime demanded multilateral engagement from the get-go. The system depended on the existence of bureaucrats elsewhere who could generate or demand in one country documents being demanded or generated in another. Functionaries of Venezuela's estado Sucre, sweating in the governors palace in the Caribbean port of Cumaná circa 1917, found themselves besieged with instructions and demands. There was a “Decree of the Spanish government on passports and other requisites for foreigners who travel to that kingdom,”“Formalities that must be fulfilled by persons embarking for the Republic of Cuba,” “Requisites needed to disembark in India,” and “File on the new passports that the North American government is issuing.” In parallel, and not surprisingly, a new “Order from the [Venezuelan] Minister of Interior Relations” forbade “entry into the territory of the State of foreigners who do not carry the necessary documents in conformity with the law.” What self-respecting nation-state would not demand documentary obeisance in such an era?6

Not just politicians but also journalists and labor activists observed the race-based measures put in place by allies and rivals and urged their governments to follow suit. British Caribbeans seeking action against Chinese and Syrians did so with explicit reference to anti-Asian bans elsewhere in the British Empire (Canada and Australia in particular), as well as the antiblack bans in the surrounding republics.

One cannot fully explain the origins or course of interwar restrictionism, then, without placing the United States, the circum-Caribbean republics, and the British islands as part of the same story. And one certainly cannot explain the results of that restrictionism without observing at this regional scale. For the impact of a ban against black entry to Honduras would have been utterly distinct had Honduras been alone in barring its doors. Both in terms of the material suffering occasioned and the ideological shifts inspired, it mattered enormously that British Caribbeans found themselves defined as negros and banned for that reason at port after port after port. As we shall see in chapter 4, faced with this systematic assault, British Caribbeans looked (p.85) to their “own” government for the kind of support that other sending states routinely provided their emigrants. As we shall see in chapter 6, what they got was the opposite. Britannia's expansive commitment to protect the rights of British subjects—whoever they were, wherever they went—turned out to be a thing of the past.

A Hemisphere Not Yet Partitioned: The Northern Frontier of the Migratory Sphere up to June 1924

A pioneer in conceptualizing government as something “of,” “by,” and “for” the pueblo and the New World's largest recipient of immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States was also a pioneer of the movement to revolutionize entry controls. Here, as elsewhere, Asians had been the first target. The U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had started a cascade of anti-Asian laws across the Americas; the 1917 Immigration Act extended Asian exclusion by creating an “Asiatic Barred Zone.” With the 1921 Emergency Quota Act, the federal government moved to cap total entry and select among Europeans on the basis of supposed assimilability, with quotas proportionate to the numbers of each “national origin” reported by the 1910 U.S. Census.7

Like all others from the Western Hemisphere, British Caribbeans were exempt from any such categorical caps. Instead, like all emigrants under the system scholars have dubbed “remote control,” they were prescreened at the point of departure by U.S. consuls, who extended visas based on proof of good character, good health, literacy, and prospects for economic independence (the “LPC,” or “likely to become a public charge” clause).8 By the early 1920s, these criteria had been standardized into a series of documentary requirements: passport, birth certificate, attestations of character from “respectable” figures at place of last residence, police records from same locale, letters of promised support from relatives or friends in the United States, and “show money” (from $20 to $50) in hand to display on arrival.9

The documentary demands themselves could be onerous, given the multisited trajectories from which travels to the United States were launched. As we have seen, it was precisely migrants' prior experience with labor abroad—in Panama and Cuba in particular—that generated the resources and connections necessary to travel northward. U.S. consular files from the early 1920s attest to gymnastics of international paperwork as Jamaicans and Barbadians trying to leave Cuba for the United States sought documents (p.86) and authentications from Cuba, Panama, and British islands at once.10 In this sense, Caribbean lives were a poor fit for the emerging exigencies of remote control. But the gatekeepers did what they could to help, and people managed.

That Caribbean kin practice routinely eschewed state and church sanction created some difficulties: documentary control presupposed state tracking of family ties.11 Vernacular kin practices like long-term concubinage and child borrowing raised eyebrows among consuls but did not spark exclusion. Among those given visas to travel to New York in 1923, but flagged by the Kingston consul for extra questioning on arrival, were “CLEOPATRA E BECKETT: Is unmarried, is supported by a colored doctor by whom she has four children, the oldest of which is 13 years old”; and “MRS. MARY MOILE who is taking the minor to her father, states that she does not know anything about the mother of the child although she has taken care of the child for many years.”12 Faced with the complications of making family practice match U.S. authorities' documentary demands, it was sometimes easier to create documents that fit than go through the hassle of explaining the truth. Ada Alleyne took out a passport in her native Barbados in 1917, intending to return to Panama; the daughter who appeared on it as hers, she later explained, was actually the child of a friend, who had asked her to take the three-year-old to the child's father in Panama and then changed her mind. “I was taking it as my child in order to avoid any trouble,” Alleyne explained.13

The bottom line was that up through 1923, both the letter of U.S. law and its implementation prioritized migrants' economic potential, as evidenced by literacy, health, cash, and networks of support. Jamaicans, Barbadians, and others connected to the circum-Caribbean migratory system had all of these, and consuls knew it. While some relatives sent formal affidavits of support, U.S. consuls readily accepted informal correspondence. A handwritten letter—“To Whom it May Concern: This is to inform you that I have known Jane Smalling for two years and she is very captable in receiving her sister Maud Smalling. Sined Theodora Richards”—could (and in this case did) suffice.14 Indeed, the system worked with a smooth welcomingness that is almost painful in hindsight, given what would replace it. In July 1923 the U.S. consul asked the Jamaican press to publicize yet again the list of documentary requirements and to urge intending passengers to apply for a visa no less than two weeks (emphasis mine) before the intended date of departure to avoid any risk of delay.15 That same month, the same consul reassured the Gleaner that not a single visa application had been refused in Kingston for a year or more: “Refusal” was “practically only made in the case of anarchists (p.87) and persons in opposition to organized Governments, agitators and others who were considered actually dangerous.”16

Thus even as hundreds of thousands of Europeans found themselves blocked by U.S. “emergency quotas” after 1921, British Caribbeans reached U.S. shores by the thousands. Still, the proportion of total immigrants who were of “African Black” race remained less than 2 percent of the total.17 A drop in the bucket on a national level, British Caribbean immigration was so tightly focused that, viewed from certain street corners, it seemed a flood. Bound to island and rimland communities by densely overlapping ties, Harlem's stately, teeming blocks and Brooklyn's Red Hook flats were home to over 36,000 Caribbean immigrants in 1920 and absorbed some 24,000 more in the following three years.18 The Harlem streets where Roi Ottley and friends had played in 1920 now made room for men like Eugene Ebanks, who arrived in 1920 and worked as a chauffeur; Eugene's future wife, Etheline, who followed two years after and found work as a servant; and his older brother Phelix, who came the following year and worked in a restaurant.19

Could hardworking men and women like Eugene and Etheline and Phelix be “actually dangerous” like the anarchists and agitators the Kingston consul kept from U.S. shores? Did New York-born children like Roi and Jerome menace the future of American democracy? Some thought so, and their voices were getting louder. Professional racist Lothrop Stoddard had warned in 1920 of the “momentous consequences that the introduction of colored stocks into white lands would entail,” “far more” dire still than the “momentous changes” that even “near-related and hence relatively assimilable” European arrivals brought.20 The 1921 legislation that limited arrivals from southern and eastern Europe but placed no numerical cap on Mexicans or Jamaicans—even less desirable by eugenicists' yardstick—seemed to some the height of folly.21 The Commonwealth Club of California (CCC) not only commissioned studies of trends in “race stocks” within the U.S. population but also made sure the studies reached those whose decisions mattered. Because he “expected that the subject of Immigration will be brought further under the jurisdiction of the United States Consuls by future legislation,” explained the head of the CCC's Section on Immigration in a letter to the U.S. consul in Kingston in 1923, he was enclosing a copy of the CCC's latest report on the impact of dysgenic immigration. “We believe it will repay a careful perusal and also will influence your action.”22

An exchange that same year between the U.S. consuls in Bridgetown and Port of Spain reveals both the spread of this eugenicist case for race-based (p.88) restriction and the persistence of alternative ways of thinking. The Port of Spain consul had taken the initiative to denounce to Washington the grave damage that the flood of Trinidadian emigrants whose visas he had no legal reason to deny would cause the United States. Asked for comment, the U.S. consul in Barbados disagreed on all points. He did not concur that “the black races in the West Indies are essentially inferior to the black races in the United States. Those from Barbados are rather noted for being industrious and making excellent servants.” What mattered was economic rationality, not race: “If these people meet an industrial and social necessity in the United States I do not see whether it matters whether they are black or whether they are white.” Any attempt to apply to the Caribbean the quota system that 1921 legislation had imposed on European emigrants “would prove most complicating to work out” and might exclude “many desirable people.”23

Yet in thinking that black immigrants might still be “desirable,” the Bridgetown consul was in a shrinking minority. Even moderate restrictionists like Yale sociologist Maurice Davie called the categorical exclusion of “darker-skinned races” the “one issue on which there is more or less of a national agreement…. We cannot assimilate the yellow, brown, and black races…. Their exclusion is indispensable to the welfare of the United States and its range should be extended.”24 The year was 1923.

Stripping Rights without Shedding—or Invoking—One Drop of Blood: Johnson-Reed in the Colonial Caribbean

This was the context in which the Immigration Act of 1924 took shape. Prominent scientists and politicians argued for placing all of the Americas on a quota basis, but in the end, the desire of the Western agricultural lobby to maintain access to easily hired, easily deported Mexican laborers—and State Department concern that limits on Latin American entry would complicate diplomacy and trade—prevailed. National-origins quotas would not be created for the Americas.25 What of steps to bar the “black race,” like the Asiatic, through geographic or biophysical criteria? Davie's claim of “national agreement” on this score depended on a constrained view of whose opinion counted as national. Attempts by the U.S. Senate a decade earlier to declare black foreigners ineligible for immigration or naturalization (in reaction to the numbers of Jamaican former canal workers reaching Gulf ports circa 1913) had collapsed in the face of opposition from congressmen with Afro-American constituencies and vocal lobbying by the NAACP.26

(p.89) No one sought to reopen this can of worms in 1924. Disavowing federal responsibility for U.S. Afro-Americans' de facto second-class citizenship was tricky enough already without entering open debate over whether black race categorically disqualified one from political rights. Thus nothing in the Johnson-Reed Act limited entry by those of “African” or “black” race per se. Yet with a single sentence, it rewrote the parameters of legal mobility for British Caribbeans: “Persons born in the colonies or dependencies of European countries situated in Central America, South America, or the islands adjacent to the American continents (except Newfoundland and islands pertaining to Newfoundland, Labrador, and Canada), will be charged to the quota of the country to which such colony or dependency belongs.”27

Exactly how this new quota status would work was not clear, least of all to the officials charged with administering it. “Emigration of Jamaicans to U.S. Stopped,” read the banner headline in the Daily Gleaner on June 14, 1924. Consuls on the island had ceased visaing passports, stranding masses of “young men and women” with relatives in the United States and passages already booked. “They will not be able to leave again.”28 Yet two weeks later, the New York World was assuring readers that “Labor Department officials pointed out today”—note: incorrectly—“that the British West Indian possessions occupy the same position under the act as does Canada, against whose citizens there is no bar whatever.”29 Meanwhile, the U.S. consul in Kingston offered smooth nonanswers to the public and worked frantically behind the scenes to get clarification about the new system he was supposed to be enforcing.30 The “quota control officer” in the U.S. consulate in London seemed to be the authority in charge of what finally emerged as the key issue: the allocation of the 34,000 British annual quota slots among the dozens of U.S. consulates in the UK and colonies.

“We are having an average of seventy-five to eighty-five callers daily, who desire to go to the United States for permanent residence and from what I can gather from the instructions received, it cannot be determined whether Jamaica comes under the quota,” wrote the Kingston consul to London. If it did, hundreds of quota numbers should be cabled immediately. “For your information, prior to June 30, 1924, this office was issuing in the neighborhood of thirty visas daily, for permanent residence in the United States, and on a rough estimate it is believed that there are at least two thousand people who desire to go to the United States for permanent residence at this present time.”31

The telegraphed reply from London was a model of economy: ten visa numbers allotted to the Kingston consulate for the month of September.32 (p.90) Surely, London had misunderstood? The Kingston consul repeated himself by return mail. At least 2,000 Jamaicans intended to relocate to the United States in this fiscal year. “For your information in nearly every case the applicant has from one to five children,” the consul wrote, “and if I interpret the instructions properly, it will be necessary to issue a quota visa for each one regardless of the children's ages, and all will be counted against the quota…. Can I understand from the allotment made for September of ten numbers that Jamaica will only have one hundred for the entire fiscal year?”33 The frosty reply from London quashed any undiplomatic identification with the newly excluded: “Upon consideration, no doubt, you will appreciate the fact that with a total available quota for Great Britain and Northern Ireland and various British Dependencies of 34,007 many thousands of persons must be disappointed this year.”34

Across the Caribbean in Barbados, a similar drama was under way, as the news sunk in that a total of five (5) British quota numbers per month would be allocated to the consular district covering Barbados and Dominica, and none at all to the Leeward Islands.35 Over 300 Barbadians who had received visas under the old system in the month of June alone now found themselves unable to embark. Merely applying the trickle of new quota numbers to this backlog meant that not a single new immigrant visa would be granted in Bridgetown for another five years.36 The other sites from which British West Indians had routinely emigrated to the United States were similarly constrained: there were four British quota numbers per month for Panama, six for the Canal Zone, and ten for Colon, and these figures were cut by half three years later.37 The outcome was as clear as the mechanism had been murky: in fiscal year 1925, only 462 people born in the British West Indies entered the United States under the British quota—and fewer than half of them were black.38

Through it all, the public position of U.S. officialdom was that race had nothing to do with it.39 (Indeed, this was the private position as well, at least as far as State Department correspondence goes.40) Certainly, barring black entry was not the laws raison d'etre. Johnson-Reed reflected two core commitments for two distinct constituencies. Overall immigration would be further reduced, protecting wage levels for national workers; and the influx of the wrong kind of white person would be stemmed. British Caribbean commentator PROLETARIAT, writing to the Gleaner from New York in August 1924, captured the marriage of convenience between working-class populists and elite eugenicists. “Native-born labor” had gained bargaining power in the wake of the Great War and amid elite fears of “Bolshevists from Russia.” Labor (p.91) support then helped eugenicists get what they wanted: to “check the influx of Polish and Italian Roman Catholics, Russian and other Jews, and people of Slavic blood.” That the new legislation allowed British Caribbeans to be barred was a fortuitous addition, from the perspective of those “believers in the theory of keeping out what is insolently and unscientifically regarded as inferior stock” who had been distressed over “the influx of nearly 10,000 coloured persons yearly.”41

For British Caribbean observers, the plain result was to strip rights from British subjects of color alone, excluding Caribbeans while Canadians moved freely. The United States, as they saw it, had joined South Africa, Canada, and Australia in the ranks of self-proclaimed white man's nations using immigration bans to stay that way.42

And about time, too, according to the New Yorker who wrote to congratulate “The American Consul, Kingston” on July 9, 1924 (at a moment when that authority was still literally running back and forth from steamship-line ticket window to Gleaner office begging news of whether Jamaica was covered by the new law at all43):

Dear Sir:

I have read with much satisfaction that the influx of Negroes from Jamaica has been checked.

The situation here in New York is becoming almost appalling. The white people are being driven from one street to another to find quarters, and so many of the Negroes who come into this country come from the West Indies. When the Negroes take a white apartment house to live in the white tenants are no longer wanted for the reason that Negro tenants pay much larger rents and the landlords do not want the white people to stay. The Negroes come in and keep many lodgers and pay their rent that way in most cases. I do hope they will be kept in the West Indies for years to come. Judging from the inroads they have been making here in New York City it looks as if it were only a matter of a few years before they would have the whole island of Manhattan, unless something is done at once.

May the good work go on.44

If some white neighbors were happy to see entry halted, some black Americans seemed none too sad, either. While in 1914, when “an attempt was made to exclude people of African extraction along with Asiatics, American negroes like Du Bois and the late Booker Washington protested vigorously (p.92) and successfully,” PROLETARIAT noted that this time, the silence from black leaders had been deafening. “While American negroes may have taken no active step to have West Indians barred, it is nevertheless my belief that they are not sorry.”45 (PROLETARIAT suspected that black leaders' animosity toward Marcus Garvey had something to do with it.) Du Bois's tepid disavowal of responsibility in December 1924 did little to counter that impression: “The Nordic champions undoubtedly put one over on us in the recent immigration bill. If our West Indian friends had watched more closely and warned us, we might have been able to take some effective step. As it was, by the simple device of discriminating between self-governing and crown colonies in the British Empire, a device whose significance at the time escaped us, immigration to the United States from the West Indies has practically been barred.”46

This was exclusion achieved through procedural restriction rather than flaunted through explicit bans. Formalities of quota status, preference status, and allocation masked the functioning of power. But the new telegraph codes developed by the State Department for communication about individual cases spoke plainly, REUNION meant the applicant had proven preference status as the spouse or child of a legal resident, FREEDOM meant the applicant was entitled to nonimmigrant status as a temporary tourist or business traveler. IMMOBILE meant the visa application had been denied.47

How did paperwork and perceptions translate into the stark goal of IMMOBILization? Immigration policy had long relied on shipping lines as gatekeepers, both implicitly (first-class passengers deemed exempt from passport requirements) and actively (ships fined for transporting migrants whose documents officials found inadequate upon landing). Johnson-Reed quadrupled the fines, ramping up the caution that constrained mobility significantly beyond the letter of the law.48 Replying to a confident request from a Harlem homeowner in 1926 for a temporary visit by his niece, the Kingston consul noted that although U.S. law technically no longer required even passports for British subjects entering the United States in transit or as tourists, in practice, steamship companies refused to carry anyone they suspected might be rejected at Ellis Island. The niece had best acquire a nonimmigrant visa in advance.49 The demand that consuls, shipping agents, and Ellis Island officials each treat with suspicion claims to temporary-visitor status multiplied the points at which racialized perceptions of need and intent could bar entry.50 Conversely, with the right mix of appearance, wealth, and connections, “FREEDOM” could be yours. From the earliest reports of the immigration ban in June 1924, the Gleaner had been quick to assure that “so far as businessmen who want to leave for the United States the Act will not, of course, apply.”51 (p.93) Amid the swirl of misinformation, this confidence that class privilege would persist proved among the few correct predictions.

What of “REUNION”? Whereas before 1924, patterns of support between British Caribbean siblings and other horizontal kin had corresponded smoothly to U.S. agents' concern for immigrants' economic independence, the new regime's radical privileging of legitimate spouses and children of U.S. citizens—the only kin permitted nonquota status—marked a radical and, for many, insurmountable rupture.52 Chain migration of siblings and the delegation of child rearing to female kin back home had been fundamental to Caribbean migration northward. Even solidly respectable, well-established married couples relied on extended family to spread reproductive labor across multisited households. After 1924, such patterns could continue only outside the law.

Children and legal spouses of noncitizen U.S. residents were entitled to preference status on the waiting list for quota numbers, but under the draconian allocation, this “preference” was in practice a dead letter. Meanwhile, siblings, nieces, and nephews merited no recognition at all. “I am now in the United States five years and often wish I had one of my Brothers over here as a companion,” wrote George Gardner from New York City to the British colonial secretary in Kingston in 1928. “I know that it is a hard job for you to do as I guess there is a lot of applications ahead of him but at the same time anything you do is well done and you alone can grant him a passage for the United States.”53 George was wrong on all counts: the colonial secretary had no say in the matter, and those who did had no interest in brothers. When the U.S. Department of State at its most humanitarian urged consuls to make “the unit of consideration … the family rather than the individual,” they meant by family “father, mother, and unmarried dependent minor children.”54 That sparse unit looked like no family most British West Indians had ever seen and bore no useful resemblance to the rich branching of affection and support along cognatic lines that made their mobility possible in the first place.

One can make visible the gulf between the new U.S. law and British Caribbeans' moral economy of mobility by noting the gap between what people explained in their letters of inquiry and what one would need to know in order to answer them. “My Wife has a daughter in Labyrinth, Gayle, P.O. St. Mary, Jamaica, B.W.I, who is about 13 years of age. Now I would like to know if I could arrange for her to come to this country?” wrote George Laws in June 1929, explaining that he hoped to finalize arrangements before his wife left for Jamaica in July.55 His expectation of quick resolution breaks your heart. Five years earlier, it could have been fulfilled. Not now. Had George (p.94) legally adopted his wife's daughter before January 1, 1924? Had he renounced his British subjecthood and become a U.S. citizen? Unless the answers were yes and yes, none of the other details mattered. Before 1924, the key questions determining British West Indians' ability to enter the United States were: Can you read? Can you work? Will someone help you out? And that was precisely the information people gave when they wrote to officials. Now, although those questions retained nominal relevance, the de facto ban on quota numbers for Britain's black colonies meant that only family reunification actually mattered, and only three ties counted as “family.” Were you the legal spouse of a U.S. citizen, the child of a U.S. citizen mother, or the legitimate or retroactively legitimated child of a U.S. citizen father? If yes, a path strewn with documentary hurdles but ultimate hope lay before you. If not, you were going illegally or not at all.

Even birthright citizenship was lost to some. Nothing in Johnson-Reed changed the race-blind jus soli conferral of U.S. citizenship on all children born on U.S. soil. Yet for this constitutional entitlement to exist as a substantive right, shipping agents and consuls, the executors of the new mobility-control system, had to believe it existed. In the wake of Johnson-Reed, the Kingston agents of one steamer line wrote to the U.S. consul there to inquire “whether a child born in the United States of America of alien parents is, ipso facto, an American citizen, and if there are any conditions governing this, such as length of time the child remains in the United States after birth. We sometimes have cases of this kind cropping up and have been unable to find anything on the subject in the United States Immigration laws in our possession.” The consul replied that he believed (quite incorrectly) that the children came under the nationality of their father “and would require regular visa of their passports if the father is not an American citizen, but I would suggest that you take this matter up with your head office in the United States, and have them to give you the Commissioner of Immigrations decision on same.”56 Given how persistent parents had to be to overcome the steamer lines' presumptive rejection even before Johnson-Reed, how many children found it impossible to reenter the land of their birth as the citizens they were in this new era of viciously effective ambiguity?57

Quite apart from these hurdles in law and in practice, the immigration bureaucracy banned those who could not navigate it even if they might have had a nominal claim to do so. In this sense, all the written sources we have are from people within spitting distance of success—those literate, savvy, and confident enough to try to work through the system. A true tally of what quota-control officers labeled “unmet demand”—and a full picture of the (p.95) range of Caribbean individuals who experienced the exclusionary power of states firsthand in this era and were shaped by that experience—would include not only all the petitioners whom the Barbados consul turned away without even processing their documents for a wait list but also those who wrote to the wrong person, or not at all.58

Barriers rose. Lives got harder. But the world did not stand still. In August 1924 press reports described 200,000 would-be immigrants to the United States stranded in Havana, 40,000 of them British West Indians, caught out by Johnson-Reed's new restrictions.59 Four months later, when asked how many “aliens now in your consular district … would proceed immediately to the United States if the quota restrictions were removed,” the Havana consul estimated only 14,500 in total, 2,000 of them “Jamaican negroes.”60 Three months later, the Bridgetown consul could hope that his visa backlog would soon disappear entirely “in view of the fact that many of these persons have given up all hopes of getting to the United States and have left for Cuba [or] the Panama Canal Zone” or spent the ticket fare on other things.61 People dealt with the new reality, whether that meant trying Panama one more time or sending a son north on an older cousins birth certificate. Through their adaptation, they naturalized the new governmentality, so that it came quickly to seem normal that working-class Caribbeans whose skills were in demand in Harlem must enter illegally or not at all. The radical rupture that was 1924 vis-à-vis the United States, and that was the decade as a whole vis-à-vis the Greater Caribbean, became scarred over, retroactively smoothed, endowed with an aura of inevitability it never had at the time.

Population, Populism, and the Pueblo: The Restrictionist Bargain in the Latin American Republics

As late as 1926, it was possible to gaze, appalled, at the still-novel array of practices through which states sought to control movement across borders and hope that “a gradual return to international sanity” might yet be in the offing.62 “Prejudice against the foreigner” had long been “common enough among the masses,” but its current embrace by “men pretending political leadership or intellectual superiority” was unprecedented. “The alien is now almost a pariah,” subject to “indignities formerly reserved for condemned criminals,” from photographic registry to fingerprinting, and denounced as a Bolshevik for the slightest criticism of the state that abused him. Worst of all, “the effects of this are not confined to our own country” (wrote this U.S. (p.96) citizen, resident in the Canal Zone). “The moral influence of the United States is still powerful in other nations.” When the United States “stood for lib[ert]y and toleration there was a better chance for those ideals the world over.” That day was over.63

Racism, of course, was nothing new, and nothing unique to the Colossus to the North. Across nineteenth-century Latin America, elite ideologies valorized European immigrants for their blood and their culture—both of which, elites insisted, were essential to civilize the new nations. Mixing with locals, Europeans would “dilute” or “whiten” African and indigenous “blood”; maintaining their customs, Europeans would counter the barbarity that colonial lassitude had brought. State-subsidized colonization schemes were routinely reserved for immigrants of “good race, for which should be understood European.” Typical was the Cuban law of 1906—ultimately unimplemented for lack of funds—which had sought to subsidize immigration from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and northern Italy.64 A Venezuelan dissertation penned that same year called for “a good ration of Boer fiber, German muscle, or prolific Italian blood.”65

But these were not the migrants that Venezuela received. Cuba was the world's sixth-largest recipient of European emigrants in the century leading up to 1930, but no other Greater Caribbean receiving society came anywhere close to matching the millions of Europeans who emigrated to Argentina, Canada, Brazil, and Australia, much less the tens of millions who reached the United States.66 Even as statesmen in the Spanish-speaking circum-Caribbean waxed poetic about Boers and Swedes, tens of thousands of black islanders had reached their shores to fell forest, load ships, and generally make themselves useful in the export economies. And as we saw in chapter 1, despite ideologues' antiblack musings, in practice foreign-born blacks' labor conditions and civil protections had not been much different from the native-born workers around them.

What shifted in the 1920s were not ideas about blackness or race per se but the place of the “national” masses in national governance. On the one hand, new developments in biology, demography, and medicine suggested that the health and heritage of the masses determined the nation's future, and could be improved, immediately. On the other hand, new structures of politics gave those masses unprecedented weight in deciding who ruled.67 In rhetoric and in practice, the pueblo now mattered as never before. Would-be leaders sought to interpret the “race-mixing” of the past in terms that somehow offered future promise. The emerging mestizo nationalist formula argued that, eugenicists' claims notwithstanding, in this nation, the fusion of (p.97) races had created (or was on the cusp of creating) a people, unified in blood and spirit—a pueblo, a nación, a patria.

Enthusiasm for the pueblo went hand in hand with concern for the migratory currents shaping it. Thus, ironically, the same years that brought new acknowledgment of and opportunities for fellow citizens of African ancestry in countries like Cuba, Brazil, and Venezuela also saw the rise of race-based antiblack exclusion at the same sites. “Protection for the worker, let us raise industry and commerce from their ruins, give a gigantic stimulus to education, and favor that immigration that can bring to our shores people robust in body and spirit who can raise up this race of ours that is decaying or stagnating,” urged future Venezuelan government minister Alberto Adriani in the 1920s.68 “We must ban yellow and [South Asian] immigration and restrict black as much as possible, even if at the start those preferences may be costly for us,” he reiterated a few years later.69 Identical plaints sounded in Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Panama.70

Like Adriani, they increasingly framed the issue as a trade-off between short-term economic benefits (to employers in particular) and the long-range needs of a democratic populace. In Panama, the nationalist press denounced economic arguments in favor of British and French Caribbean immigration as “in addition to being anti-patriotic … suicidal if not criminal.” The government must turn a deaf ear to claims of “foreign enterprises which are accustomed to contract workers at cheap prices” and instead permit only immigration of “families who will benefit us not only by means of material success but principally by means of morals and race.”71 The Venezuelan minister of interior relations echoed the same logic in 1930, explaining that the nation's latest immigration law placed the state on the side of the people against the powerful. No longer would Venezuela yield to the “demands of those who, on the pretext of the lack of laborers, attempt to inundate our poblaciones … with inadmissible individuals, brought from certain Antilles to increase the difficulties [taras] of our ethnic groupings and complicate the population factor, on which all economic and social processes turn.”72

Those excluded by it recognized that a profoundly new bargain was being shaped, a bargain that included but went beyond immigration restriction per se. The current moment was one of “universal reconstruction,” wrote a British West Indian correspondent from Limón in 1930. “The capitalist is no longer the custodian of the world's economic condition.” Instead, governments intervened actively “to create a spirit of mutual good will” between capital and labor. The United States led the way in egalitarian commitment—“from the shoe-shine to the diamond magnate is given constitutional representation (p.98) at the White House”—and therefore, logically, in official xenophobia as well. America had “found it necessary to legislate and enact laws that would control immigration; of course, this measure came under the fire of criticism from other countries, but here we find the inevitable law of self-preservation, since the slogan that the voice of the people is the voice of the government has become universally accepted.”73

If the voice of the people was now the voice of the government, foreign workers were in for a rough time. The fact that immigration expanded the labor supply to the detriment of local workers' bargaining power had long been recognized, of course. Common sense dictated that where workers had a real voice in politics, demand for labor would lead to rising wages rather than rising labor supply. Recent research has confirmed the positive correlation between participatory democracy and immigration restriction in the twentieth-century Americas—no secret at the time.74 As Jamaican observers noted drily in speculating about Cuban leaders' response to calls for the deportation of Haitians, Jamaicans, and Barbadians, “we admit that the temptation to appeal to the masses must be great when one is asking them for their votes.”75 Given Latin American statesmen's continued Europhilia, they were unlikely to heed protests against European immigration. Protests against black immigrants, however, were another story.

Banana disease and volatile sugar prices made the 1920s a decade of frequent contractions in western Caribbean economies. (The 1930s would be even worse.) As times got hard, both anti-immigrant protests and direct intimidation surged. In Honduras, Cuba, and Costa Rica, British Caribbean communities were the targets of “abuse, malignity and violence,” reported one correspondent, and as each round of attacks went unpunished, “the perpetrators or their descendants have become more daring and less cautious.”76 In 1926 “gangs” of Panamanians cruised West Indian tenement streets after dark, “banging on doors at midnight and shouting ‘afuera chombos!’” and worse.77 From Venezuela came reports of “banditry by the natives” against British West Indians—cars waylaid along the roads to petroleum camps, Grenadians “trussed up and thrown into an oil hole.” Grown men, veteran oil workers, were afraid to walk alone at night. Rumors of riot menaced. “Something is bound to happen there,” warned Joseph Williams, heading back to Grenada after years in Curaçao, Aruba, and Maracaibo. “Every Venezuelan, as soon as you have any altercation with him says, ‘Alright, you are all going to leave here soon,’ which shows that it is a united effort on the part of the people that is forcing the hands of the Government.”78

(p.99) Some receiving-society labor leaders pulled against the tide, preaching race-blind class solidarity instead of scapegoating black immigrants. Anarchists and communists consistently hewed to an antiracist, anticapitalist line.79 A pamphlet distributed in English in Panamas terminal cities by the “Joint Committee of Workers Defense” in 1933 argued: “Race hatred, the worst prejudice that can be imbued into the proletariat, is being instigated by the government in its efforts to divide the working class…. That is a wrong way. There is no difference within the working class. We all, Latin Americans and West Indians, belong to the same and unique class: that of the exploited by our common enemy, the bourgeoisie.”80 Such arguments were doomed. State-led mestizo nationalism, promoting cross-class solidarity against the foreign-born, offered national workers powerful allies and ineffective opponents. In contrast, antiracist radicalism, promoting class antagonism and solidarity with dark-skinned outsiders, provoked powerful enemies and brought nearly powerless friends. In the circum-Caribbean as elsewhere, the racialist-nationalist route looked better and better. The mid-1930s saw thousands of workers thronging Panama's plazas for rallies run by the newly formed “Society for National Defense,” demanding the expulsion of British West Indians and greeting president Harmodio Arias “with the Fascist salute.”81

Thus, observed at international scale, the consolidation of the national state as the focus of working-class demands for labor-market protection seems overdetermined by supranational trends. But if we can resist the teleological pull of our knowledge that mobility control ended up in the hands of receiving-society states, we can see that there were multiple contenders at the time. Some thought that the power to protect jobs against outsiders should be lodged in unions themselves. In 1919 the Panama-based West Indian Labor Union (WILU) asked the governor of Jamaica to recognize them as the representatives of British West Indians in Panama, restrict further emigration to Panama, and require all artisans traveling to Panama to acquire in advance a WILU credential.82 Or, if workers' organizations could not themselves administer mobility control, could they at least have a seat at the table? In 1927 the British West Indian canal employees' union (PCWIEA) announced that they had been lobbying the U.S. secretary of labor to allow British Caribbean Canal Zone residents into the United States as nonquota immigrants. But, PCWIEA's district chairman lamented, due to lack of support from their own rank and file, their plaints had been ignored. If only Negroes from across the hemisphere held annual labor conventions, he suggested, then they could make their demands felt.83

(p.100) It was typical of strivers in Panama's British West Indian press to imagine that sufficient uplift and unity could vanquish racism in all its guises. But this voluntaristic explanation of PCWIEA's failure misses the boat. The emerging international system made states rather than organized labor or civil society the arbiters of mobility control. “Labor Conventions”—or rumors of riot—could indeed bring pressure to bear in this system, as long as the workers involved could use the symbolic leverage of pueblo-as-nation and the institutional leverage of electoral politics. Lacking these levers both abroad and at home, British Caribbean working men and women found themselves with no way in to the new bargain between governments and governed.

Mobility Control at the Peripheries: The Spread of Exclusionary Laws across the Circum-Caribbean Republics

Mobility control had become both a fundamental substantive component of labor and population policy and a symbolic theater of modern state power. Governments crafted their immigration policies for multiple audiences, including national elites, local labor leaders, international experts, and fellow receiving societies. Within this complex array, in the interwar era it was the influence of other restrictionist states that stood out for contemporary observers. “American race prejudice like the virus from a mad dog's bite is infecting the Anglo-Saxon world,” warned the editors of the Barbados Weekly Herald in 1925, pointing to developments in Australia and Canada, especially the latter's de facto bar on “coloured immigrants” from the British Caribbean.84 Others had noticed the same. An editorial in Panamas El Diario in 1926 demanded that legislators ban black French and British Caribbeans as “undesirable races”—after all, “even the very children in the schools know, that the natives of these islands cannot enter in Australia, Canada or other of the British Dominions.”85 The Colombian minister of government fretted in 1922 over his country's lack of explicit legislation “entitling it to reject all those foreign elements,” especially Chinese and blacks, “who because of their ethnic and moral conditions find no home in other civilized countries.” Colombia's “imprevisión” stood in sorry contrast to the “diligent zeal” of other Latin American states in this “most fundamental matter of self defense.”86 Exclusion had become a matter of national pride on a global stage.

An explicit international frame of reference guided individual nations' pursuit of race-based exclusion.87 Actual attempts at interstate coordination (p.101) (like the 1927 Havana Pan-American Eugenics Conference or the international conference on emigration and immigration in that same city a few months later) were the least of it. Circum-Caribbean states of their own initiative surveyed foreign legislation before formulating policy, seeking the “principles put into practice in the matter by the most advanced nations” and evaluating technologies and metrics from consular remote control to quotas.88 More pervasively, people here read what people there wrote. Foreign newspapers laid bare how your nation's emigrants figured in distant debates. By the mid-1920s, controlling frontiers against foreign workers, rather than just foreign armies, and attending to the eugenic inheritance as well as health and education of future generations had become standard elements of a sovereign state's mission. Placate labor leaders, embrace cosmopolitan science, and impress your aspirational peers all at once? Antiblack bans were irresistible as policy and performance alike.

Across the Americas, a first wave of race-based exclusionary laws in the 1890s had banned immigration or entry by Chinese and subsequently others of “yellow” or “Asiatic” race. Specific North African and central Asian groups—and, everywhere, gypsies—were added over the following two decades.89 In contrast, laws barring those of “black” or “African” race did not appear until the second half of the 1920s. In less than a decade, antiblack bans were erected across the Americas: in nations with sizable black immigrant populations and those with none at all. In 1925, El Salvador—located on the Pacific coast, with almost no foreign blacks in its populace—outlawed entry by “members of the coloured races,” including “Negroes” for the first time.90 Way down at the other end of the Pacific coastline, Chile did the same in 1930.91 In such cases, like in the frequent bans on specific southeast European nationalities, the performative element of exclusionary legislation is unmistakable. No one was banning Bulgarians from Central American shores because they constituted a material threat to native employment.

Typically, countries that actually received Afro-Caribbean migrants legislated restriction by steps—first limiting recruitment of black laborers, then demanding differential deposits from black immigrants, and finally banning black entry outright. Thus, Honduras in 1923 barred the “immigration of negroes to work in the banana plantations” and in 1929 added negros to the list of “restricted races” obliged to tender a 500-peso deposit to enter the country unless under contract and whom employers had to repatriate immediately upon completion of labor if under contract. In 1934 entry by negros, like that of “coolies, gypsies, and Chinese,” was outlawed entirely.92 Similarly, (p.102) Guatemala decreed in 1921 that “immigrants of color” must deposit $200 upon entry; in 1931 foreigners of “Negro race” were banned outright “for ethnic reasons.”93

The typical next step after outright bans were threats of deportation on grounds of supposed illegal entry. Mexico banned foreign black entry in 1926 and showily expelled groups of “negro working men” to British Honduras.94 Threats of deportation began in Guatemala in 1931—although United Fruit had no trouble retaining those British West Indian employees it actually wanted, according to a nearby observer.95 In Honduras, where United Fruit operations were shrinking due to declining yield and plant disease, sporadic deportations of dismissed workers proceeded throughout the 1930s.96 Having banned Chinese immigration along with all its neighbors in 1897, Nicaragua then bucked the trend and included only individual criteria (health, morals, criminality) in the immigration law of 1918. Yet in 1930 Nicaragua realigned with regional standards, banning entry by negros alongside Chinese, Turks, Arabs, Syrians, Armenians, Gypsies, and Coolies (those already settled in Nicaragua with “businesses of importance” could reenter if they left).97

These examples highlight the diverse class-or labor-based loopholes written into the laws. On the one hand, laws anticipated overlooking race for those who arrived with enough capital in hand, and in most cases when race-specific deportations threatened, owners of real estate or businesses were explicitly exempted.98 On the other hand, the outsized influence of export-sector multinationals (oil companies in Venezuela, sugar companies in Cuba, United Fruit most everywhere) meant that states generally preserved companies' access to short-term contract labor as long as they could—even though foreign capitalists' “importation” of foreign labor drew the rising populists' showiest denunciations.

The standard solution was to build doublespeak, flexibility, and graft into the system. In Colombia in 1922, rumors that 3,000 Jamaicans would be brought in by U.S. oil companies had triggered state efforts (cited above) to match the “diligent zeal” of other Latin nations. The resultant 1922 law gave the Ministry of Foreign Affairs authority to bar those “whose admittance should be ethnically undesirable by reason of their race being such as would derange the proportion of races forming the Colombian stock.” United Fruit had no trouble securing permission for workers in its employ, but independent entry by black working people became ever more difficult.99 Colombian consuls in Panama in 1924 understood their charge to be to refuse entry permits to all “those of black race and those of yellow race,” although accusations of under-the-table improprieties swirled.100 Three years later, Panama's (p.103) British West Indian press warned that Colombian port officials had begun enforcing “an ordinance,” formerly a “dead letter,” forbidding the entry of “dark-skinned persons … in search of employment as laborers.”101 The timing of exclusion often differed from its paper chronology.

Embracing xenophobic populism while keeping exporters happy meant making “dead letters” and open secrets fundamental components of governance. The Dominican Republic from 1912 onward required employers to obtain permits to bring in “laborers of any race except Caucasian.” A new decree in 1919 further limited independent entry by nonwhite workers while expanding the exemption for contract workers, who became more subordinate than ever to the specific mill that employed them.102 Meanwhile, scores of thousands of Haitians (some seasonal cane cutters, others longtime Dominican residents or border-crossing traders) moved to and through the Dominican-Haitian borderlands to the west.103 A crescendo of antiblack rhetoric under the Trujillo regime culminated in a new law levying a $6 annual tax on foreigners and mandating forced labor for those unable to pay. Pressed by British diplomats in 1933 on how the new laws would impact British West Indians, Dominican officials seemed bemused that any sophisticated observer might think the proclaimed rules would be enforced. Surely it was obvious that this was, in the words of the Dominican minister of foreign affairs, “a law of camouflage”? British Caribbean workers might face “perfunctory arrest” from time to time but no doubt would be released immediately afterward so they could get back to work.104 That same year, the British minister in Panama rushed to consult Minister of Foreign Affairs J. D. Arosemena in response to President Arias's announcement that 5,000 unemployed British West Indians and their families would be deported in short order. Arosemena marveled that British diplomats had actually taken the idea of mass deportations seriously, and “then [he] said, somewhat sadly, that wholesale repatriation would have a detrimental effect on property owners, on tradesmen, and in fact on the country as a whole.”105 The deportation “plan” had been announced to appease the anti-immigrant wing of Arias's party, but it would not be allowed to get in the way of the business of business.

Acting against foreign-born blacks in nations where Afro-descendants formed a large and acknowledged part of the “native” population posed particular challenges. In this, the United States in 1924 was similar to Cuba and Panama and different from Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico. In Cuba—the American republic where racially inclusive citizenship had been most hard fought and proudly acclaimed—Spanish-language requirements worked to create antiblack outcomes without explicit mention of race, just (p.104) as “non-self-governing” colonial status did under Johnson-Reed. The introduction of contract workers (without reference to race) had been forbidden since 1902 yet was allowed by special permit each year up to the 1929–30 harvest—by which time sugar prices had fallen to less than a third of 1924 levels.106 Further closing the door to Afro-Caribbean migrants at that point, a 1931 decree declared that no immigrant “unable to speak Spanish” would be allowed to land without $200 cash in hand.107 Meanwhile, laws mandating deportation of the unemployed made no mention of race but were enforced against Haitian immigrants primarily, Jamaican immigrants secondarily, and the far-more-numerous Spanish immigrants not at all.108 In contrast, in Panama, where the large Spanish-speaking Afro-Panamanian population had nothing like the dense tradition of civic activism of Cubans of color, the criterion of language was used alongside, rather than in substitution for, race. A 1926 law barred all “Negroes whose native language is not Spanish”; a 1928 law limited access to citizenship for those already resident; and in 1941 a new constitution took away the ability of black immigrants' children born after 1928 to claim Panamanian nationality.109

The fact that many of the lawmakers enacting these measures would not themselves have been considered white by the northern eugenicists whose rhetoric they adopted did not go unremarked. Ever “since a majority of colored Panamanians passed a law barring other colored people from entering the national territory as ‘undesirable’ and enacted repressive measures against those already resident in the country,” wrote Jamaica-born Sidney Young in the Panama American in 1927, “I have no delusions about the ‘brotherhood of man’, ‘liberty, fraternity and equality,’ nor in the polite applesauce about ‘all men being created free and equal.’…. This world was made for white folks and colored folks are giving it to them on a silver platter.”110

As always, restriction at one site reverberated elsewhere. New bans set black sojourners in motion along new routes—for instance, to Port Limón, known in the British West Indian press by 1930 as the last remaining “free port for Negroes in these parts.”111 Seeking to ban “coloured persons of any nationality, who might be drifting from one Central American country to another, either by sea or over the land frontiers, in search of a livelihood,” the foreign minister in 1934 instructed all Costa Rican consuls abroad to cease issuing visas “to persons belonging to the Black race, until further notice.” Meanwhile, officials prepared to move from procedural exclusion to explicit racial ban. By executive decree in 1942, Costa Rica—the last Central American republic to do so—explicitly barred entry by “those of black race.”112 (p.105)

Three Alien EverywhereImmigrant Exclusion and Populist Bargains, 1920s–1930s

British Caribbean Migration, 1925–1940

(p.106) Making Second-Class Noncitizens: Systematic Illegalities and Indoor Gatekeeping

Black immigration had been banned, but that did not mean black immigration had ended. As we have seen, extralegality was central to Greater Caribbean polities' systems of border control. Reliance on alternating nonenforcement with periodic action against those “illegally” present was nowhere clearer than in Venezuela. Antillean immigration was banned alongside that of Asians in 1895, and the prohibition was reiterated in 1912 and 1918. Yet the latter laws specifically permitted temporary entry for contract labor.113 A new law in 1925 tightened entry requirements, yet more migrants flooded in—in part because alternatives in the United States, Cuba, and Panama had become so scarce. In 1926 one Jefe Civil in the Paria Peninsula sent plantation owners a printed circular announcing that “individuals of black race, whatever their origin, are unacceptable when they enter the country in a group to dedicate themselves to agricultural, industrial or other labors.” The text, drawn from the 1918 law, was presented and enforced by the Jefe Civil as a new ban on black entry. The Venezuelan consul in Port of Spain fruitlessly sought clarification of what he presumed to be new policy. A terse handwritten notation from the Ministry of Foreign Relations denied all novelty, implicitly allowing the Jefe Civil's freelance crackdown to stand: “Tell [the consul] that the relevant instructions have been communicated repeatedly.”114

As in other countries, tightened restrictions in Venezuela were eventually followed by outright bans, a step made easier as the contraction of global trade reduced large employers' insistence on access to the regional labor market. By presidential decree in 1929, Venezuela forbade all further “colored” entry and authorized the deportation of any foreign resident of color who could not display certificates of employment and good conduct. The Immigration Law of 1936 formalized the total ban on entry by those of nonwhite race.115 But enforcement remained capricious—and venal. Local officials on the peninsula of Paria let British West Indians in for a profit.116 National officials turned a blind eye, then insisted that the illegal entry erased all claim to procedural protections.117 (Similarly, in Cuba, allegations that immigrants' entry or continued residence had been contrary to laws on the books—despite the complicity of officials in contravening those laws—became grounds for stripping civil protections from those whom the state wished to deport.118)

By the mid-1930s, Venezuela's ambassador in London warned superiors that any further complaints by him about the frequency of “clandestine entry” from the British Caribbean would only “reveal that Venezuela lacks the police (p.107)

Three Alien EverywhereImmigrant Exclusion and Populist Bargains, 1920s–1930s

Venezuelan foreigners' registration card, 1934. (Archivo del Estado de Sucre, Cumaná, Venezuela; Gaveta 28, B72)

(p.108) necessary to impede them,” an admission of weakness to be avoided at all cost. Better to dissuade migration through “a severe penal sanction” applied to individual migrants.119 In practice, this meant that local officials seized Grenadian, Vincentian, and Trinidadian residents, set them to forced labor for months on end, and pushed some overboard at gunpoint in waters off Trinidad's shore to swim or drown. (Because these events were directly linked to British Caribbean disputes over island emigrants' right of return, they will be discussed in more detail in chapter 6.)

Before the Great War, one might have thought that freedom of movement and freedom to sell one's labor among employers looking to hire were part of an emerging international liberal consensus. Yet as we have seen, by the late 1920s, centralized states had firmly established their right (if not always their capacity) to make national borders the limit of the first “freedom.” What of the second? Responding to Cuba's new “Nationalization of Labor Law” of 1933, which required all enterprises to employ at least 50 percent Cuban citizens, the Foreign Office instructed its representatives in terms that underline both the new consensus over states' right to control borders and the persistence of dispute over noncitizens' rights within them: “Whereas it is fully admitted that any country is justified in protecting its local labour market by prohibiting the admission of foreign labourers, it is quite a different matter to debar persons long resident in the country from continuing the employments they have long followed. Such action is altogether opposed to the principle of respect for vested rights [and therefore] violate[s] the principles of international law.”120

But the lesson of the 1930s, pace this confident rhetoric, was that no state was going to go the mat to make black noncitizens' “vested rights” a substantive reality. On the contrary, barring longtime residents “from continuing the employments they have long followed” was becoming standard practice. Workplace quota laws like Cuba's 1933 Ley del 50% were part of a broader process through which certain foreign-born residents found themselves transformed into second-class noncitizens. In Costa Rica, the workplace quota was both employer-specific and explicitly race-based. Congressmen in 1934 attached a “companion law” to the contract granting United Fruit new land concessions, requiring that “Costa Rican workers” comprise 60 percent of the company's workforce and explicitly forbidding employment of “people of colour” in the company's new Pacific coast operations.121 The company hired Nicaraguans and Guanacastecans instead and got on just fine.122 But more commonly, workplace quotas were written in terms of nationality rather than race and gave the largest employers the greatest discretion.

(p.109) Why were workplace quotas so common in the Greater Caribbean when they were apparently so rare in the industrialized North Atlantic states?123 Although Cuba, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and others attempted to use their consuls abroad to enact selective limits in this era, circum-Caribbean states did not have the overseas staff or resources needed to enact true “remote control” as had the United States.124 Nor could they turn steamship lines into effective enforcers in this region where small craft and local captains abounded.125 Finally, and most of all, there were the many thousands of non-citizen black workers (immigrants or the children of immigrants) already present within each country. If “remote control” was the prerogative of states wealthy and large enough to project their borders outwards and police mobility at migrants' points of departure, workplace quotas were the mirror opposite: “indoor gatekeeping” that allowed states too weak to police their frontiers nevertheless to constrain noncitizens' access to the social goods of the populist bargain.

Thus, in the Greater Caribbean, efforts to preserve labor markets for native workers ended up using as the unit of regulation and enforcement not the national territory as a whole but the individual employing enterprise. As unemployment surged in the 1930s, workplace quota laws were put in place in every Greater Caribbean receiving society except the United States. In Panama, a 1926 law demanded that 75 percent of employees of any enterprise be Panamanian nationals; enforcement was inconsistent but highly visible in terminal cities.126 That same year, Cuba's secretary of public works declared that no more than 15 percent of employees on public roadworks would be “Antillean workers”; he promised to employ “as many Cuban workers as possible or in their defect Spanish and other European laborers.” Cuban papers lauded the “patriotic and foresighted gesture.”127 A Jamaican returnee later that year reported that he and a fellow islander had been able to get work only by passing for “Americans.” “The first question an employer asks is: What country do you come from? And when he is told Jamaica, the applicant for the job is told ‘you are out of luck.’”128

By 1932 laws in Guatemala and Honduras reportedly required all “companies (native and foreign) to employ 75% native labour”; enforcement was tight, and yet United Fruit managed to hire extra Jamaicans in Honduras in years when banana exports were good—and dismiss them when they were not.129 In keeping with regional trends, the Dominican congress passed laws in 1934, 1935, and 1938 demanding that all businesses employ at least 70 percent Dominicans; equally in keeping with regional trends, sugar companies got the exemptions they wanted.130 Venezuela's new Ley de Trabajo in 1936 (p.110) required every company to employ 75 percent Venezuelan workers.131 Foreign oil companies denied that they were bound by the law, yet they announced a voluntary “policy” of favoring Venezuelan workers, which in practice meant firing British Caribbeans first whenever downsizing seemed useful.132

Enforced at employers' discretion or local officials' will, such laws increased migrants' vulnerability to economic cycles and political shifts. Threats of enforcement created de facto surtaxes, extralegal fines levied for the crime of being black and crossing borders. The governor of British Honduras reported in 1932 that recent “activity shown against coloured persons” in Guatemala owed largely “to agitation by officials who, having been recently appointed, were endeavouring by the threat of deportation to collect the customary ‘graft.’”133 When Panama passed its 75 percent law in 1926, United Fruit announced that it might be forced to suspend operations in Bocas del Toro. Two years later, banana exports were humming along just fine, but Jamaican workers who lived on the Costa Rican side and crossed the border daily to work found themselves pulled off trains on paydays by Panamanian officials eager to be asked to look the other way for a price.134

Thus circum-Caribbean receiving societies turned British West Indians into second-class noncitizens in lands where some had lived for decades and others had been born. This was accomplished at the lowest possible cost to states on the one hand and employers on the other, via systems that meshed legalities and illegalities, gestured toward remote control but relied on indoor gatekeeping, and pledged populism while preserving the privilege that mattered.

Imigration Restriction in the British Caribbean: Nativism Only Skin Deep

“Unemployment in Trinidad is growing,” warned the Gleaner in 1930. “The United States of America, Cuba, Jamaica, and Venezuela have all adopted legislation with a view to checking excessive Immigration, and it is time that the Trinidad Government take the opportunity to improve and to tighten its archaic Immigration laws.”135 Modern and effective polities policed population frontiers, and British West Indians found themselves on the receiving end of exclusionary laws around the region as a result. Could the masses within British colonies demand privileged access to home labor markets in turn? Would the classes come to identify their own destiny with that of this pueblo? Could colonial elites enact a restrictionist bargain even if they wanted to? Matters of immigration control touched the most fundamental questions (p.111) of political membership and sovereignty. Anti-immigrant initiatives within the British colonies made visible the islands' connections to regional currents of political thought. At the same time, they underline the ways in which political parameters in these imperial possessions were fundamentally unlike those in the surrounding republics.

Subsidized South Asian immigration, which champions of Afro-Caribbean workers had long railed against for undercutting wages, had finally halted in 1917—not as a result of any populist bargain but in response to activists in British India, who campaigned against the mistreatment of their people abroad.136 In the 1920s, from one-fourth to one-fifth of the populations of British Guiana and Trinidad had been born elsewhere—roughly split between Windward Islanders and South Asians—while no other British island had more than 3 percent immigrants within its population.137 Nevertheless, most had small but highly visible Chinese and Syrian communities, concentrated in retail trade; and as had been true a generation earlier in the Spanish-speaking republics, it was these Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants who became the first targets.

Anti-Asian sentiment among the islands'working classes had its own complexities. Moments of violence punctuated daily patterns that mixed mutual disdain with connection. In 1918 Jamaica's 8,000-strong Chinese community (perhaps a quarter of them immigrants, the rest second or third generation) became the target of riots across the island in response to rumors that an Afro-Jamaican policeman had been killed by his sweetheart's Chinese lover. (The rumor—which turned out to be false—captures both the mobilizing potential of group loyalty and the recognition that intimate relations routinely crossed those lines).138 Chinese immigration accelerated markedly in the late 1920s and 1930s (see Table 3). Popular demonization of the Chinese followed apace. Among Afro-Jamaicans, it was returnees from Panama and Cuba who came to be identified with the most strident anti-Chinese racism—and with the loudest threats of violence if colonial officials ignored demands for action. In Trinidad, as well, the basic pattern repeated. Antiblack exclusion abroad led to nativist agitation at home, within which anti-Asian posturing seemed the only point on which workingmen's leaders, middle sectors of color, and at least some white elites could agree.139

But whereas in the Spanish-speaking republics, such coalitions forged populist bargains, as elites jumped noisily onto the nativist bandwagon (and kept the vagaries of enforcement sub rosa), anti-Asian agitation on the islands stuttered to a halt each time it reached the hands of those with actual power to set policy: imperial administrators. British bureaucrats hustled behind the (p.112)

Table 3 Population of Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago by Race, 1921–1946





East Indian





























Trinidad and Tobago












(a) Includes “East Indian” and “Chinese” population

(b) Includes 5, 114 “East Indian Coloured”

(c) Includes 5,515 “Chinese Coloured”

(d) Includes 834 “Syrian” and 171 “Syrian Coloured”

(e) Includes “White,” “Mixed,” and “Black” population

(f) Includes 8,406 “Indian Creole” and 3,673 “Chinese Creole”

(g) Includes 889 “Syrian and Other Asiatic”

Source: R. R. Kuczynski, Demographic Survey of the British Colonial Empire, vol. 3, West Indian and American Territories (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), 28–29.

scenes to duck colonial demands and avoid the international consequences of anti-Asian acts within empire.

There were other differences as well. As elsewhere in the Americas, the impact of immigration on “native” employment was much discussed. But restrictionist leaders within the British colonies not only came from but also spoke for the middle classes. With the franchise tightly restricted across the islands, there was no “temptation to appeal to the masses” because one was “asking them for their votes.”140 Johnson-Reed, though, had made itself felt among the ranks of those with some voice in island affairs. “So long as the members of our upper and middle classes could emigrate to the United States freely, we said and did little about the immigration of aliens here,” explained the Gleaners editorial page in October 1924. But no longer: “America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, protect their nationals against the severe and desperate competition of outsiders, even if some of these happen to be British subjects.” It was time for Jamaica to do the same and block Chinese entry.141

The editors insisted that their campaign was driven not by racial animus but rather by an admirable collective identity: “It is not that we dislike other people, but that we are bound to love ourselves more than we love the alien, (p.113) and to do something in protection of ourselves.”142 White and near-white Jamaican elites, for whom the Gleaner spoke, avoided explicit race talk even when promoting race-based restriction, and with good reason. In this deeply divided society, talk of race and rights could too quickly slip toward social revolution. No wonder Guy Ewen, a white Legislative Council member, begged his fellow councilors in the 1925 debate over Chinese exclusion to stop talking about racial antagonism. “It was not right that in Jamaica they should be treating such a subject as this with any amount of passion which might later bring race feeling to the disadvantage of the Colony,” Ewen cautioned. “It was the easiest thing to set fire, and the easiest of all was race prejudice.”143

For the moment, though, the masses seemed willing to believe the Chinese were the problem.144 Council members of color, and those whose electorates included significant numbers of Afro-Jamaicans, drove the 1925 debate forward. Council member Cawley declaimed, “The people were saying emphatically that they wanted no aliens in this country (hear, hear).” Afro-Jamaican councilor Rev. A. A. Barclay repeated that the “alien issue” “had been dealt with in Australia, and Canada, and the United States, and so far as Jamaicans were concerned, this matter was being dealt with in the United States, Cuba, and Central America.” If laws now “prevent[ed] Jamaicans from going to those places, and prevent [ed] them from earning a livelihood there … then it was only to be expected that Jamaicans would not want these aliens to come here and take positions which would be filled by our sons and daughters.”145

It is worth noting the neat trick of symbolic substitution here: other nations banned Chinese and Jamaicans; therefore Jamaica should ban Chinese. That Chinese immigration had no impact on job prospects for those (working-class) Jamaicans most harmed by foreign restrictionism went unacknowledged, as did the fact that retaliation against white immigrants from the restrictionist countries was off the table.146 Not surprisingly, then, the Gleaner commended the elective members' stand: “Whatever” restrictions “necessary for the safeguarding of Jamaica as a home for Jamaicans must be applied.”147

The utility of having Asian exclusion stand as the answer to antiblack action abroad was underlined two years later, when the return of a native son ramped up the explicit race talk in public debate. Marcus Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1927, deported from the United States after jail time for mail fraud. Welcomed with “thunderous applause” by a packed crowd only one day after arrival, Garvey staked out a fierce claim to black rights within empire. He also denounced Chinese and Syrian merchants as the heart of Afro-Jamaicans' problems and proclaimed their continuing presence the clearest evidence of the abrogation of Afro-Jamaican rights.

(p.114) Garvey made it clear for whom he spoke: “I am a black man. I have returned under certain circumstances to my native land, not to lead white people, not to lead coloured people who do not call themselves Negroes, but to lead black people and those who call themselves Negroes towards their destiny.” He would not be silenced.

I know what to say within the Empire and how to say it within the Empire (applause). And in this far-flung outpost of the Empire, where great advantage is being taken of the constitution of the Mother Country, England, I want those who think they can fool Marcus Garvey and fool the Negro peoples of this country … to know they are making a great mistake. When I look upon the people of this country, their naked condition—their diseased and dirty condition—do you think that I, so long as there is a God, could keep my mouth closed and my soul steady as a black man, and let the Chinaman, the Syrian sap the wealth of this country while our people die in poverty?148

Garvey chose to treat anti-Asian exclusion as the litmus test of legitimate rule. “All the people of Jamaica want to do is to seriously understand and know themselves,” he said, “and as British subjects to know that they have rights that the British Government is bound to respect when you intelligently represent those rights to them.”149 Anti-Chinese hostility proved highly effective in mobilizing popular protest. But by making the right to enact race-based exclusion the yardstick of rights within empire, Garvey put his imprimatur on a symbolic bargain that offered Jamaica's black masses all of the xenophobia and none of the populism.

Both Garvey's People's Political Party and the disaffected Garveyites who split to form the Jamaica Native Defenders Committee (JNDC) pushed Asian exclusion.150 By 1930 the “suffering of the population” due to the “entry of Chinese, Syrians, and Turks” again headed the Legislative Council's agenda and Cawley again demanded action, in response, he said, to pressure from the many workers repatriated from Cuba who thronged his constituency.151 By 1931 leaders of the JNDC were threatening, like their contemporaries in Panama and Venezuela, to take immigration policy into their own hands: “There is not one man among the Executive that has any sense; and so the people will think about cutting throats, burning down shops and do all sorts of things…. We are out to agitate for something, and that is to bid Chinese goodbye.”152 The JNDC's links to rimland xenophobia were direct: founder (p.115) Leonard Waison was himself a second-generation “returnee”—born in Panama to Jamaican parents—and he explicitly linked the JNDC's anti-Chinese demands to “the feeling amongst Jamaicans returning from Latin America.”153

Like (white) councilor Ewen five years before, JNDC leaders saw race prejudice as explosive; unlike Ewen, they welcomed the violence that could result. “I would not work for a chinaman, because I would kill him everyday,” declared one. “The Government are arch-criminals, and they only crush people. I am not a Bolshevik but I can be any moment I want to be. Bolshevik say the only way a country can reform is to cut throat, and I believe in it.”154 If the masses made anti-Chinese laws the price of avoiding revolution, island elites were happy to comply—while working, as always, to tamp down the risky passions of race. The Gleaner editors did their best to articulate a less race-conscious reading of “Native Defense.” “We are not actuated by racial feelings,” they wrote, “when we ask: Why should Jamaica open her doors wide to Chinese immigration, when but few of her sons and daughters can migrate to nearby countries to enter larger fields of industry?”155

Just two years before, a British West Indian commentator had declared from Limón that “the slogan that the voice of the people is the voice of the government has become universally accepted.”156 When the Gleaner and Garveyites alike declared “Jamaica for the Jamaicans,” one might believe that the voice of the people had triumphed on the islands as well. The Barbados Assembly similarly presented immigration limits as evidence of their commitment to “Barbados for the Barbadian.”157 Barbados's tiny “Democratic League,” however, struggling to reform the islands famously restricted franchise, were not convinced: “That instead of decency, health, and comfort we have poverty, nakedness and disease is due to the callous indifference and naked greed of the wealthier classes.”158

In North Atlantic democracies and even the Spanish American republics, populist coalitions spurred on by organized labor translated notional solidarity into material gains: the eight-hour workday, education spending, public health measures. British Caribbean elites were not willing to pay for a real populist bargain, and the structure of colonial rule ensured they did not have to. Asian immigrants seemed an ideal target for those seeking to proclaim national solidarity at a low practical cost.

But it was not that simple. That same structure of colonial rule that shielded elites from the need to “appeal to the masses … when asking for their votes” meant that actual policies were shaped by and for empire. And at the imperial level, the politics of Asian exclusion was quite different.

(p.116) The High Politics of Asian Exclusion Within A Differentiated Empire

Those seeking to quash restrictionist proposals in the British Caribbean had long warned that barring certain immigrants would cause diplomatic complications for the “Mother Country.”159 By 1925, with the decade-old Republic of China already torn among warring Nationalist, Communist, and regionalist groups in the wake of Sun Yat-sen's death, the Gleaner could dismiss this concern as no longer even “a joke”:

No one here is such a fool as to believe that Eastern countries, torn by internal dissensions, riddled with dishonesty and graft, hopeless preys to designing exploiters, can threaten England with serious pains and penalties if Jamaica closes her doors to alien immigration in protection of her legitimate interests. How is it that these foreign nations have not proceeded to strike at England because of the restrictions placed upon immigration by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa? Are we to be told that they realise that the self-Governing Dominions are free to do what they please to protect themselves, while colonies like Jamaica may be sacrificed with impunity?160

Well, yes. Even as Chiang Kai-shek consolidated control of the Kuomintang, battled regional opponents, and clawed back late imperial concessions to European powers, his Nationalist government tracked the evolution of Asian exclusion abroad—and, yes, in disempowered colored colonies as well as assertive white dominions. The Republic of China, just like receiving societies around the Caribbean, was attuned to the geopolitics of biopolitics. Asserting sovereign power within the emerging international order was a matter of territorial frontiers and trade policy, but it was also a matter of racialized populations and their perceived place in the hierarchy of mankind. As the armies of the Nationalist government encircled the international settlement of Shanghai in 1927, Chinese foreign minister Eugene Chen declared to the foreign press that “a great and impressive fact must be grasped by all: the Chinese question now is not what Great Britain and other powers may wish to grant China to meet ‘the legitimate aspirations of the Chinese’; but the question is what China may justly grant to Great Britain and the other powers.”161

Chen had reason to know well the racial ideologies that shaped Western responses to China. A contemporary of Marcus Garvey, Chen had been born on the island of Trinidad. He grew up speaking English in a Westernized (p.117) Chinese household, became a prominent Port of Spain barrister, and married a colored Creole. In 1911, the same year that Garvey left Kingston for Costa Rica, Eugene Chen left Trinidad for China, drawn to join Sun Yat-sen's Nationalist movement. He became Sun's most trusted deputy. He negotiated (with little success) on behalf of China at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, and, after Suns death, he emerged as a key leader of the “Left” Kuomintang. In 1927, negotiating this time from a position of strength as the Nationalist army overran British trade enclaves, Chen would achieve in the Chen-O'Malley Treaty the revocation of British control of key treaty ports. Eugene Chen, who never learned to speak or write Chinese, understood well the uses of state power in the interwar international order.162

Colonial Office correspondence lets us see just how carefully the Chinese Nationalist government tracked exclusionary laws abroad, even in this tumultuous era. It was the insult of open racial exclusion that Chinese diplomats sought to prevent rather than the consequences of exclusion for those excluded. When a report by Jamaica's Legislative Council in 1931 announced the intent to halt further entry by “Immigrants of Asiatic origin, viz., Chinese and Syrians,” the Chinese chargé d'affaires was at the Foreign Office in London, “copies of cuttings from the Jamaica press” in hand, even before a law to enact the proposals could be drafted.163 As the Foreign Office explained urgently to the undersecretary of state for the colonies: “Dr. Chen expressed the earnest hope that any legislation contemplated would be expressed in general terms, and would not make special mention of Chinese. He made it clear that this, rather than the practical effect of any such legislation, was the main preoccupation of the Chinese Government.”164

The proposed law had included text defining the targeted “aliens” as those with one or more parents “of Chinese or Syrian race.” The Home Office urged a redefinition that would exclude certain individuals “without discrimination,” although acknowledging that this might not “be acceptable in public opinion in Jamaica.” At a minimum, if reference to race were left in, the law should be revised to spell out “what evidence is to be regarded as affording prima facie evidence of race,” given that “race,” unlike “nationality,” offered no “tangible and (from the point of view of proof) effective test.”165 The Foreign Office pushed back. Racial language was absolutely off-limits: “[T]o single out any particular race or nationality by name … is apt to be resented in that country concerned, and to lead to retaliatory measures against British subjects.”166

This high-level concern over the possibility of future restrictions on “British subjects” who might wish to travel to China stands in stark contrast to the frank inaction of the same office in response to the actually existing (p.118) restrictions rupturing the lives of British subjects in the Caribbean. The first kind of British subjects—whose whiteness was already implicit in their status as full subjects of empire—could count on proactive imperial attention to their scope of mobility. The latter had to kick and scream even to be acknowledged as a nuisance.

Comparing the actions of Chinese diplomats and the Chinese state to those of British diplomats and the British state, we see that racial identification mattered. When laws made “special mention” of the Chinese as undesirable, Chinese diplomats knew their nations honor was at stake. When laws described British West Indians as racially “undesirable,” British diplomats nodded in agreement, or at least some did. Josiah Crosby, British minister in Panama, was particularly egregious. A typical confidential dispatch in 1932 waxed eloquent about the pain this restrictionist moment was causing—to white Panamanian elites, that is, who had waited too long to ban blacks. “The stable door has unhappily been locked too late,” Crosby lamented, “and the harm is already done.” A second generation of locally born British West Indians would soon be eligible to demand to vote. Crosby predicted “much contention, and perhaps even bloodshed … before Panama fulfills what I conceive to be her doom of becoming one day a second Hayti or Dominican Republic, with a population in which the African strain is uppermost. Such will be the harsh penalty attending her failure in the past to stem the tide of West Indian immigration before it had reached full flood.”167

Caribbean migrants could not hear what was said behind closed doors, but the results were plain to see. Issues of mobility revealed the race-based gap in British subjects' rights. Moreover, the formalization of migratory control meant that this gap might have to be written out in black and white. When His Majesty's government considered an accord with Haiti for the reciprocal waiver of passports, the British consul in Portau-Prince first urged “that it should not apply to British West Indian subjects, if such an exception were possible”; he then suggested that no accord was necessary, given that there were “so few British subjects staying in Haiti.” On second thought, he corrected this by hand to read “there are so few other British subjects staying in Haiti”—other than British West Indians, that is, of whom there were several thousand.168 His intercalated “other” acknowledged that Caribbeans of color must still be counted as British subjects, even as his “if such an exception were possible” asked just how far the formalization of second-class subjecthood could go.

Confronting the same core dilemma in the geopolitical rather than micropolitical realm, Colonial Office functionaries struggled to craft an (p.119) immigration law that would be nominally universal but permit Jamaicans to ban “the only aliens who really worry them”: Chinese and Syrians. To avoid “friction with the Chinese Government” and not “embarrass the Foreign Office in its negotiations,” it was essential that “some … non-discrimina-tory method of restricting Chinese immigration should be adopted.”169 Ultimately, they suggested a kind of modified remote control, with British consuls “instructed either to grant no visas without [consulting with] the Colony, or if it is desired in practice to exercise discrimination in regard to persons of Chinese and Syrian race, to grant no visas … to persons appearing to belong to those races” without consulting the colony in advance.170 So it was done. From 1931 onward, British consuls in Hong Kong ceased granting passports to Chinese for Jamaica, a move that “virtually ended all Chinese entry into Jamaica” even though no explicit anti-Asian exclusion was adopted.171 In other words, just like the United States in regard to British Caribbeans, the empire used remote control to exclude without enunciating race.

The Chinese Nationalist government was busy around the Caribbean in these years, responding to the wave of exclusionary legislation that had brought new assaults on Chinese as well as black migrants. When Rafael Trujillo was sworn in for a second term in the Dominican Republic in 1934, the Chinese government sent a special envoy to confer on Trujillo its “highest Order” of honors. Foreign diplomats understood this to be “in recognition” of the regime's revision of a proposed immigration law in response to Chinese pressure.172 China was not the only sending state that was acting. Japan took active steps to ensure that its people did not face the stigma of outright racial bans; this was the root of the “Gentlemen's Agreement” through which Japanese entry to the United States was limited from 1907 forward. Similarly in negotiating a trade accord with Venezuela in 1913, the Japanese government insisted that language labeling Japanese as less desirable than Europeans be excised from Venezuela laws governing subsidized colonization; as a result, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, while Chinese and Afro-descendants were repeatedly banned, Venezuelan laws listed “those of white race or islanders of the Northern hemisphere”—which is to say, Japanese—as the sought-after immigrants.173 Asia's rising powers knew that laws that barred their peoples as undesirable were part and parcel of other attempts to deny them a seat at the table of sovereign states, and they reacted accordingly, and got results.

In sum, multiple trends collided in conflicts over immigration policies within the British Caribbean in these years. Themselves barred by racist states abroad, working-class British West Indians demanded symbolic privilege at home. The rise of international mobility control had turned nationality into (p.120) something “tangible” as never before, measured at the border through documents, photos, and fingerprints. Working-class demands for Asian exclusion asked colonial legislatures to make nationality tangible as a criterion for entry into British Caribbean islands. That was not identical to making nationality tangible in the sense of real material commitments. But given British Caribbean migrants' experiences of populist exclusion from Havana to Harlem, it was not crazy to think that creating nationality at the borders and endowing it with social content could be made to go hand in hand.

From the point of view of island elites, the popular lunge toward xenophobic nationalism was a mixed bag. Those invested in maintaining social order never welcomed working-class assertiveness. On the other hand, “Jamaica for the Jamaicans” was far less threatening to island elites than many of the collective identities on offer in this era, including Garvey's own “Race First.” “Jamaica for the Jamaicans” gave the island's white and near-white elites something to work with: a collective mission they could conceivably position themselves to lead, rather than one for which they would necessarily be the target. Discrete remote control allowed colonial elites to claim to have defended their islands while also allowing empire to maintain the pretense of race-blind universality before the audience that most concerned it—which at this point meant Asia's rising rulers rather than either Spanish American officials or black subjects abroad.


In the interwar era, polities across the Greater Caribbean both restricted entry and placed new limits on foreign-born noncitizens already resident, in each case systematically relying on partial enforcement to meet the demands of multiple constituencies at once. The results were systems in which, on the one hand, supposedly ironclad bars were enforced at officials' discretion (generally to their own profit and to the benefit of employers), while, on the other hand, certain apparently neutral rules in fact functioned as bans against those whose skin was a certain color or eyes a certain shape. This world of unpredictable power and unspoken exclusions was not eternal or natural. It was the world that the combined geopolitics and domestic politics of the interwar era wrought.

To British West Indians—just as to Eugene Chen and Japanese imperial bureaucrats—the symbolism of the law mattered. The implementation of the law mattered, too. Everyone knew they were not one and the same. Where domestic politics or foreign relations demanded exclusion without mention (p.121) of race, so it was. Where domestic politics and foreign relations favored trumpeting state protection of “la raza,” that was done. Either way, the targets of exclusion knew who they were. And employers like United Fruit and Standard Oil proved happy to work with either approach. Discriminatory laws' implementation, riddled by systematic illegalities and often delegated to local officials whose excesses national authorities could disavow, worked to increase worker dependency and employer power.

The preceding comparative and connective analysis reveals the United States to have been both part of and slightly out of step with hemispheric trends. Relying on consuls to stanch immigration at migrants' points of origin, the United States (unlike other circum-Caribbean receiving societies) did not institute a system constraining employment by nativity or race for migrants already across the border—or at least not in the Atlantic Seaboard cities that were the overwhelming destination of British Caribbeans. Yet the system of fluctuating mobility control along the U.S.-Mexico border—with its deference to employer needs and its devolution of enforcement to local rather than national agents—looks a great deal like the systems that created second-class noncitizen status across the circum-Caribbean in these years. From across the Rio Grande, the United States looked, in this sense, less like the “Colossus to the North” and more like yet another banana republic.174

Nowhere did laws function exactly as written. But the divergence of government practice from legal rules was patterned rather than haphazard. In areas where state power was institutionalized and effective, paperwork, consuls, and shipping lines achieved borders without bloodshed. In contrast, in areas where central state institutions were weak and employers powerful—eastern Venezuela, northwest Panama, southwest United States—responsibility for gatekeeping was handed off to a shifting constellation of bosses, local officials, and vigilantes. Not coincidentally, all of these were areas where geography worked against bureaucratized control: long land borders or porous coastlines where port bottlenecks could not be used to leverage state power. Where state institutions were weakest, state violence was bloodiest. The massacre of tens of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry by Dominican soldiers in Dajabón in 1937 was in this sense the awful parallel to the violence against British West Indians in eastern Venezuela in that same year. States were staking their claim to border control. If they could not achieve it through the smooth hegemony of documentary demands, they would do it by the blade of a machete.175

Think back to the cable codes that encapsulated the U.S. quota systems goals, stripped of obfuscation. If you had the resources to convince officials (p.122) you were just passing through, FREEDOM. If some official decided to deny entry, IMMOBILE. Except that for real people, that was never the end of the story. People began working around the system as soon as it was built. Few wasted their time continually butting up against it. They went elsewhere, or they went outside the law. Thus, the creation of systematic illegality was part of the creation of governmentality. Subterfuge took the place of outrage, and people got on with their lives. But their ideas about how states might bar the bounds of belonging, and what states should do for their own native sons, had irrevocably shifted.


(1) . Census of 1920, Borough of Manhattan, Enumeration District 1414, Sheet No. 1855; Jackson, “Ottley.”

(2) . W. A. Domingo, “Immigration Restriction in U.S.,” in Kingston Daily Gleaner, Nov. 24, 1924, 12, reprinting article from New Amsterdam News; statistics in James, Holding Aloft, 355.

(3) . Tilly, “Citizenship, Identity and Social History”; Wimmer and Glick Schiller, “Methodological Nationalism”; Fahrmeir, Citizenship.

(4) . Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class.

(5) . Actas de la Primera Conferencia Panamericana. See discussion in Stepan, Hour of Eugenics, 174–88; Putnam, “Eventually Alien.”

(6) . AHS, Gaveta 4, A17; Gaveta 4, A18.

(7) . McKeown, Melancholy Order; Zolberg, Nation by Design; Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door.

(8) . Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door, 27–48; Zolberg, Nation by Design, 251–54.

(9) . Letter from Latham, U.S. Consul, Kingston, to Bryan, Colonial Secretary, Kingston Daily Gleaner, Oct. 30, 1920, 20; “Jamaicans Who Intend Going to United States,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, July 16, 1923.

(10) . RG84Bdos, vol. 201, 1923, vol. 2, various; RG84Jca vol. 321, 1923, Part 5, various.

(11) . See Putnam, “Ties Allowed to Bind.”

(12) . RG84Jca, vol. 323, 1923, Part 7: Letters from consul, Kingston, July 31, 1923, and July 28, 1923.

(13) . RG84Bdos, vol. 208, 1925, vol. 3: Transcript, Board of Special Inquiry, Ellis Island, Apr. 8, 1925: ALLEYNE, Ada.

(14) . RG84Jca, vol. 321, 1923, Part 5: Letter from Theodora Richards. “Captable” spelled as in original.

(15) . RG84Jca, vol. 321, 1923, Part 5: U.S. Consul, Kingston, to Colonial Secretary, Kingston, July 1923.

(16) . “Jamaicans Who Intend Going to United States.”

(17) . Statistics recalculated from Reid, Negro Immigrant, 235; see also James, Holding Aloft, 355. On the impact of U.S. quotas from 1922 to 1924, see Zolberg, “Matters of State,” 74–75.

(18) . Domingo, “Tropics in New York.” Domingo's apparently precise figures differ somewhat from those for 1920 reported by the 1930 census: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of the United States, 1930, vol. 2, 70. Meanwhile, the 1930 census reported 39,833 foreign-born “Negroes” in Manhattan, 11,266 in Brooklyn, and 3,655 in the other boroughs. Ibid.

(19) . U.S. Census 1930, New York, Manhattan Assembly District 21, Enumeration District 31–997, Sheet No. 19B.

(20) . Stoddard, Rising Tide of Color, 253.

(21) . Foerster, “Racial Problems,” 304 et passim.

(22) . RG84Jca, vol. 323, 1923, Part 7: Letter from “Commonwealth Club of California” to consul, Nov. 14, 1923. See Ngai, “Architecture of Race,” 76; and Stern, Eugenic Nation, 88–92.

(23) . RG84Bods, vol. 201, 1923, vol. 2: Letter from consul, Jan. 2 1923.

(24) . Davie, Constructive Immigration Policy, 33, 6–7. Consulted via http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4666248.

(25) . Zolberg, Nation by Design, 254–64; Stern, Eugenic Nation, 57–81; Ngai, Impossible Subjects, 50–55.

(26) . King, Making Americans, 153–59.

(27) . RG84Bdos, vol. 205, 1924, vol. 4: Circular from Department of State, July 1, 1924. See Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door, 49–58; and Ngai, Impossible Subjects, 21–55.

(28) . “Emigration of Jamaicans to U.S. Stopped,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, June 14, 1924, 1. Details emerged in bits and pieces: “Jamaica Negro Influx Is Checked,” The World (New York, Joseph Pulitzer), July 7, 1924; “Some Confusion,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, July 30, 1924; “Jamaica Falls in U.K. Quota, Says Washington Report,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Aug. 2, 1924; “Immigration Visas along the Colonies,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Sept. 4, 1924, 3. See Putnam, “Unspoken Exclusions.”

(29) . RG84Bdos, vol. 205, 1924, vol. 4: Letter from J. Sydney de Bourg, “For Publication,” reprinting article “New Alien Bar Goes Up” from The World, dateline Washington, July 1, 1924.

(30) . RG84Jca, vol. 329, 1924, Part 8: Letter from consul, Kingston, to Department of State, Aug. 5, 1924.

(31) . RG84Jca, vol. 329, 1924, Part 8: Letter from consul, Kingston, to consul, London, Aug. 5, 1924.

(32) . RG84Jca, vol. 329, 1924, Part 8: Telegram from consul, London, Sept. 2, 1924.

(33) . RG84Jca, vol. 329, 1924, Part 8: Letter from consul, Kingston, to consul, London, Sept. 4, 1924.

(34) . RG84Jca, vol. 329, 1924, Part 8: Sept. 22, 1924.

(35) . RG84Bdos, vol. 205, 1924, vol. 4: Letter to consul from Colonial Secretary, Barbados, Nov. 19, 1924; reply from consul, Bridgetown, Nov. 21, 1924. The allocation first announced had been a mere ten quota numbers annually. “Barbados Quota,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Aug. 27, 1924.

(36) . RG84Bdos, vol. 208, 1925, vol. 3: Letter from consul to Department of State, July 6, 1925.

(37) . “Big Reduction in Quota to U.S.,” Panama American, July 1, 1927.

(38) . United States, Annual Report of the Commissioner General of Immigration, 62, 151. This total includes British Guiana, British Honduras, and the British Islands.

(39) . E.g., RG84Jca, vol. 331, 1924, Part 14: Open letter from consul, Honecker, to Editor, Gleaner, June 14, 1924.

(40) . Not only did consuls and their superiors never discuss, as far as I can tell, the impact of Johnson-Reed in terms of race, but they almost never made reference to the race of specific petitioners. (One U.S. consul in Antilla, Cuba, did indeed routinely label British West Indian applicants as “colored” in his correspondence about their cases; this stands out by its divergence from his fellow consuls' standard practice.) In contrast, consular correspondence contains frequent discussion of the legal consequences of the racial status of other groups: Chinese (deportable to Spanish American republics, or not?); Mexicans (white or nonwhite?); South Asians (barred on racial grounds if born in Trinidad and hence outside the barred zone, or not?). When employers or local elites wrote letters to consuls on behalf of applicants, they (p.257) too routinely described the petitioner's race: “my negro cook,” “a respectable girl, black,” etc. It seems they presumed race was among the issues relevant to the consuls' response. Yet in all the letters I have reviewed, no British Caribbean applicant makes mention of his or her own color or that of the family member for whom he or she is writing. (Mentions of literacy, legitimacy, employment, and reputation, in contrast, are common, even in informal letters of inquiry that did not require such information.)

(41) . “The American Immigration Law,” letter to the Editor from PROLETARIAT, New York City, July 25, 1924, Kingston Daily Gleaner, Aug. 6, 1924, 10. See also “American Ban on Emigration,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Aug. 18, 1924, 12; and “The Immigration Restriction in U.S.: Writer Says U.S. Limitation Act Has Achieved Object of Its Framers,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Nov. 24, 1924, 12, reprinting article by W. A. Domingo from New York Amsterdam News of Oct. 15, 1924.

(42) . “The Colour Bar: An Incident and Some Thoughts,” Barbados Weekly Herald, Feb. 24, 1925, 4; “Bill to Repeal Super Tax Passes Committee,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, May 15, 1925, 7, 8, 9; see Lake and Reynolds, Global Colour Line.

(43) . RG84Jca, vol. 329, 1924, Part 8: Letter from consul to Department of State, Aug. 5, 1924.

(44) . RG84Jca, vol. 331, 1924, Part 14: Letter from J. N. Wright to consul, July 9, 1924.

(45) . “The American Immigration Law.”

(46) . W. E. B. Du Bois, “Opinion … West Indian Immigration,” in The Crisis 29, no. 2 (December 1924): 57. For upbeat predictions of the benefits of the 1924 law for African Americans, and no mention of black immigrants, see “Get Ready to Work,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 16, 1925, 16.

(47) . RG84Jca, vol. 329, 1924, Part 8, 811.11: Diplomatic Serial No. 318, from Department of State, Washington, Dec. 6, 1924.

(48) . RG84Jca, vol. 331, 1924, Part 14: Copy of cable (translated) from UFCo New York to UFCo Kingston office, June 10, 1924. See Zolberg, “Archaeology of ‘Remote Control.’”

(49) . RG84Jca, vol. 352, 1926, Correspondence 811.11, Visas for Foreign Passports.

(50) . On importance of assessing the “bona fide” intentions of those claiming tourist status, see RG84Jca, vol. 321, 1923, Part 5: Copy of letter from Secretary of Labor to Secretary of State, Oct. 8, 1923; RG84Bdos, vol. 205, 1924, vol. 4: Circular, Nov. 19, 1924, re: Temporary Visits of Aliens.

(51) . “Emigration of Jamaicans to U.S. Stopped,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, June 14, 1924, 1.

(52) . Putnam, “Ties Allowed to Bind.” On the related “mismatch between theory and practice” with relation to current family/citizenship law, see Bhabha, “‘Mere Fortuity of Birth’?”

(53) . JNA, 1B/5/77/24: Emigration to USA (Individual Enquiries), 1928–1948.

(54) . U.S. Department of State, Admission of Aliens, 96–100; RG84Bdos, vol. 205, 1924, vol. 4: Circular from Department of State, Dec. 15, 1924.

(55) . JNA, 1B/5/77/24: Emigration to USA (Individual Enquiries), 1928–1948.

(56) . RG84Jca, vol. 331, 1924, Part 14: Letter to consul from Jamaica Fruit & Shipping Co., Aug. 15, 1924; reply from consul, Aug. 26, 1924.

(57) . See, for instance, RG84Jca, vol. 321, 1923, Part 5, Letter from Joseph Henry Morgan and Daisy Thelwell Morgan to American Consul, Kingston, Mar. 8, 1923, and associated correspondence.

(58) . For rejections by the U.S. consul of even those applicants who should have been accorded preference status, see RG84Bdos, vol. 208, 1925, vol. 3; RG84Bdos, vol. 209, 1925, vol. 5. In theory, it was the length of each consulate's waiting list that served the London-based quota control officer as evidence of “active demand” and thus determined the allocation of quota numbers among consulates. See U.S. Department of State, Admission of Aliens, 104, 192.

(59) . “Today's News: Foreign,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Aug. 11, 1924, 10.

(60) . RG84Havana, vol. 523, Part 21, 1924, Classes 851–861.3: Cable from Department of State and reply from consul, both Dec. 15, 1924.

(61) . RG84Bdos, vol. 209, Correspondence, American Consulate, Barbados, 1925, vol. 5: Report from consul, Mar. 27, 1925.

(62) . “The Passport Nuisance,” Panama American, Feb. 27, 1926; see also “News of the World: Coming Back to Pre War days,” Limón Searchlight, Feb. 15, 1930, 1.

(63) . Editorial, “The Undesirable Alien,” Panama American, Oct. 10, 1925, 2.

(64) . CO 318/413/1, Immigration of British West Indians into Central America: Report by Rogelio Pino, June 1934, translation enclosed in Letter from British Legation to FO, Aug. 8, 1934.

(65) . Gómez, Contribución al estudio de la inmigración, 9. See also Hernández González, “Raza, inmigración e identidad nacional.”

(66) . Moya, Cousins and Strangers, 46, 423. Nearly 800,000 Spaniards entered Cuba between 1902 and 1931, and though many returned home after a few years' work, some stayed: 1931 found over 250,000 Spanish-born on the island. Ferenczi and Willcox, International Migrations, vol. 1, Statistics, 525–27; de la Fuente, Nation for All, 101.

(67) . Stepan, Hour of Eugenics; Fahrmeir, Citizenship; Cook-Martín and FitzGerald, “Liberalism and the Limits of Inclusion.”

(68) . Uslar Pietri, “Introducción a la Primera Edición,” 4, 12 et passim. On growing Afro-Latin incorporation in this era, see Andrews, Afro-Latin America, 153–69.

(69) . Adriani, “Venezuela y los problemas de la inmigración,” 150; see Tinker Salas, Enduring Legacy, 133–35.

(70) . Chomsky, “West Indian Workers”; Soto Quirós, “Inmigración e identidad nacional”; Harpelle, “Racism and Nationalism”; McLeod, “Undesirable Aliens”; O'Reggio, Between Alienation and Citizenship.

(71) . “Panama's Immigration Need Is Discussed by ‘El Diario,’” Panama American, Dec. 29, 1926. On the role of U.S. employers' policies in provoking anti-immigrant nationalism, see Bourgois, Ethnicity at Work; Tinker Salas, Enduring Legacy; and Colby, Business of Empire.

(72) . Venezuela, Ministerio de Relaciones Interiores, Memoria 1929, xvi.

(73) . “Consolidated Cooperation Only Solution to Negro Problem,” Limón Search-light, Sept. 20, 1930, 8.

(74) . Cook-Martín and FitzGerald, “Liberalism and the Limits of Inclusion.”

(75) . Editorial, “Their Policy,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Aug. 18, 1924, 12.

(76) . “West Indian Labourers in the Republics,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Sept. 5, 1924, 3.

(77) . Sidney A. Young, “Sid Says: Within the Law,” Panama American, Oct. 27, 1926. “Chombos” was a derogative term for foreign blacks.

(78) . “West Indians Are Not Wanted in Venezuela,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Sept. 18, 1930, 5. See Pellegrino, Historia, 158–60; and Tinker Salas, Enduring Legacy, 107–42.

(79) . E.g., Chomsky, “West Indian Workers”; Chomsky, “Barbados or Canada?”; Carr, “Identity, Class, and Nation”; Bergquist, Labor in Latin America, 223.

(80) . CO 318/408/3, Immigration of British West Indians to Central and South America, 1932: Transcribed pamphlet, signed Francisco Nieto, June 26, 1933, enclosed by Crosby.

(81) . CO 318/408/4, Immigration of British West Indians to Central and South America, 1933: Letter from British Legation Panama, Aug. 10, 1933.

(82) . FO 288/200, Consulate, Panama: General Correspondence (31 Dec. 1918–31 July 1919): Petition to Governor, Jamaica, from West Indian Labour Union, Guachipali, Panama, n.d.

(83) . “Urge Members to Turn out at Meetings,” Panama American, Aug. 11, 1927.

(84) . “The Colour Bar,” Barbados Weekly Herald, Feb. 24, 1925, 4. See Winks, Blacks in Canada, 298–313; and Calliste, “Race, Gender, and Canadian Immigration Policy,” esp. 138–39.

(85) . “Panama's Immigration Need Is Discussed by ‘El Diario’: Says Bar Exists in Dominions,” Panama American, Dec. 29, 1926.

(86) . Archivo del Congreso (Bogotá, Colombia), Leyes Autógrafas 1922, tomo XII, folios 373–76. I am grateful to Sharika Crawford for sharing this document with me.

(87) . See Cook-Martín and FitzGerald, “Liberalism and the Limits of Inclusion”; Shanahan, “Scripted Debate,” 67–96; Lake and Reynolds, Global Colour Line; and McGraw, “Neither Slaves nor Tyrants,” 416–22.

(88) . CO 318/413/1, Immigration of British West Indians into Central America: Report by Rogelio Pino, June 1934, translation enclosed in Letter from British Legation to FO, Aug. 8, 1934.

(89) . Lee, “‘Yellow Peril’ and Asian Exclusion”; Putnam, “Eventually Alien.” Note that colonization, immigration, and entry were three separate categories—the first denoted state-supported landed settlement schemes; the second, entry with intention of permanent residence; the last, border crossing, whatever the goal or intended length of stay. Thus, for instance, an 1862 Costa Rican law frequently cited as having banned black immigration in fact only outlawed colonization schemes using black settlers. Ley de Bases y Colonización, no. 24, Noviembre 3, 1862, in Costa Rica, Leyes y Decretos. See also Berglund, “Bases sociales y económicas,” 954.

(90) . “Salvador Passes Law Barring All Coloured Immigration,” Panama Star and Herald, May 4, 1925, 1; El Salvador, Ley y reglamento de migración, 18.

(91) . CO 318/406/1, Immigration of British West Indians in Central and South America: Letter to FO from British Embassy, Santiago, Chile, Feb. 24, 1932.

(92) . “Honduras Bars Negroes,” New York Times, Feb. 13, 1923, 32; Euraque, “Banana Enclave,” 152; and Honduras, Reglamento para la Ley de inmigración, 1929, 7–9.

(93) . Those already in the country were permitted to stay, but they could not reenter if they left for any reason. Guatemala, Decreto Número 1735 de la Asamblea Legislativa de la República de Guatemala del 30 de mayo de 1931, artículo 2; cited in Zorraquín Becu, Problema del extranjero, 55–56. See Mosquera Aguilar, “Regulación jurídica de la migración en Guatemala,” accessed via http://www.angelfire.com/mo/squera/derecho.html.

(94) . “Mexico Forbids Negroes to Enter,” New York Times, Oct. 31, 1926, 17. Research in progress by Elisabeth Cunin will illuminate the legal and extralegal measures involved in barring Mexico's southern border to black immigrants in this era.

(95) . CO 318/406/1, Immigration of British West Indians in Central and South America: Letter from Governor of British Honduras, Apr. 14, 1932.

(96) . Chambers, Race, Nation, and West Indian Immigration, 115–35.

(97) . Nicaragua, Decreto legislativo, 9 de Octubre de 1897; Decreto sobre la entrada y admisión de extranjeros en el territorio de la república, 16 de Abril de 1918; Ley de Inmigración, 25 de Abril de 1930, accessed via http://legislacion.asamblea.gob.ni/Normaweb.nsf/.

(98) . E.g., “Exclusion Bill Passed Again, Few Changes,” Panama American, Oct. 21, 1926; and “Modification of Immigration Ban to Venezuela,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Nov. 17, 1930, 17.

(99) . CO 318/406/1, Immigration of British West Indians in Central and South America: Reply to FO from British Legation, Bogota, Mar. 29, 1932. See also Flores Bolívar, “Beyond the White Republic,” 20–21; and McGraw, “Neither Slaves nor Tyrants,” 422–29.

(100) . Archivo del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (Bogotá, Colombia), Legación de Colombia en Panama, Caja 673, Transferencia 8, folios 329–31: letter from consul of Colombia in Panama, Oct. 24, 1924. I am grateful to Sharika Crawford for sharing this document with me.

(101) . “Colombia Imposes Law against Dark-Skinned Immigrants,” Panama American, June 10, 1927.

(102) . Bryan, “Question of Labor in the Sugar Industry”; del Castillo, Inmigración de braceros azucareros, 45–58; Baud, “Sugar and Unfree Labour,” esp. 314–18; Martínez Vergne, Nation and Citizen, 88 et passim.

(103) . Derby, “Haitians, Magic, and Money”; Turits, “A World Destroyed.”

(104) . CO 318/408/3, Immigration of British West Indians to Central and South America, 1932: Letter to FO from British Legation, Santo Domingo, June 1, 1933.

(105) . CO 318/408/3, Immigration of British West Indians to Central and South America, 1932: Letter from British Legation, Panama, to FO, June 27, 1933.

(106) . CO 318/406/1, Immigration of British West Indians in Central and South America: Letter from British Legation Havana, Apr. 4, 1932; Pollitt, “Cuban Sugar Economy.” For debates within Cuba on the racial politics of immigration, see de la Fuente, Nation for All, 51–53.

(107) . “News From Abroad: Immigrants to Cuba,” Limón Searchlight, July 18, 1931, 3.

(108) . See Decree No. 1601, July 28, 1925, enclosed in CO 318/394/3, Immigration of British West Indians: Letter from British Legation, Havana, Apr. 25, 1929; McLeod, “Undesirable Aliens”; and de la Fuente, Nation for All, 100–105. The report of Cuban (p.261) special investigator Rogelio Pino in 1934 urged immediate decrees to prohibit the entry of “Negroes and Mongolians in general.” See report included in translation in CO 318/413/1, Immigration of British West Indians into Central America: Letter to FO from British Legation Havana, Aug. 8, 1934.

(109) . Conniff, Black Labor on a White Canal, 65–66, 80–84, 98–106, 127–30. The retroactive denationalization was reversed in 1945. See Westerman, Inmigrantes antillanos, 95–101.

(110) . Sidney A. Young, “Being a Philosopher,” in Young, Isthmian Echoes, 238–39.

(111) . “Undesirables,” Limón Searchlight, Apr. 12, 1930, 3.

(112) . Costa Rica, Colección de leyes y decretos, Decreto no. 4 del 26 de abril de 1942; Soto Quirós, “Inmigración e identidad nacional,” 216–49.

(113) . Berglund, “Bases sociales,” 954.

(114) . RelExtDPI 164 (Gran Bretaña, 1926), Inmigración de raza negra: Letter from vice-consul of Venezuela, Port of Spain, Oct. 21, 1926.

(115) . “Venezuelan Act Rouses West Indies,” New York Times, Nov. 2, 1929, 20.Coloured Immigration into Venezuela,” London Times, Nov. 2, 1929, 11; Tinker Salas, Enduring Legacy, 136–37; Berglund, “Bases sociales,” 955.

(116) . E.g., CO 318/417/6, Treatment of British West Indians in Venezuela, Claims for Compensation: Letter from Lloyd, British vice-consul, Yrapa, Apr. 6, 1935; AHS, Gaveta 31, B88: Varios, 1935, “Rafael Hernandez denuncia el desembarco de tres ingleses en Caño Braval por Jose Sanchez.” Four-fifths of the British West Indians registered by Sucre state authorities in the early 1930s had entered without documentation. Author's analysis, AHS, Gaveta 28, B72: Cédulas de Identidad, Registros de Extranjeros; Gaveta 23, B37: Cédulas de Identidad, Registro de Extranjeros (1932); Gaveta 22, B32: Cédulas de Extranjeros (1932), including full sets for distritos Arismendi, Mejías, Benítez, Rivero, and Mariño.

(117) . E.g., RelExtDPI 164 (Gran Bretaña, 1926), Inmigración de raza negra; RelExtDPI 298 (Gran Bretaña, 1934), Sobre la entrada clandestina a Venezuela de los extranjeros provenientes de Trinidad.

(118) . CO 318/413/1, Immigration of British West Indians into Central America: Translation into English of report by Rogelio Pino, forwarded to FO by British Legation, Havana, Aug. 8 1934. On the emergence of “illegal alien” as status in the United States in the same period, see Ngai, Impossible Subjects, 56–90.

(119) . RelExtDPI 569 (Gran Bretaña, 1936), Memoria de labores de la Legación en 1935.

(120) . CO 318/413/1, Immigration of British West Indians into Central America: Telegram from FO to Watson, Havana, Jan. 3, 1934. On the Cuban law itself, see McLeod, “Undesirable Aliens,” 604–5; and de la Fuente, Nation for All, 104–5.

(121) . Harpelle, “Racism and Nationalism,” 48–49; Harpelle, West Indians, 71–73, 86–87, 133; Colby, Business of Empire, 184–91.

(122) . Costa Rican national mythology so effectively identified Costa Rican-ness with whiteness that the prohibition on Pacific employment made no mention of citizenship as a criteria at all: self-evidently, “people of color” must refer to foreigners. The British West Indian press of Limón mocked this perception. “Is this not ridiculous? (to say the least of it) when we find that 2/3 of the population of Puntarenas (p.262) are people of coloured origin, being a mixed breed of Negroes and Indians…. And what of the thousands of people of colour, Costa Ricans by naturalization or birth, who vote?” “The Costa Rican Negro's Place in Costa Rica?,” Atlantic Voice, Nov. 3, 1934.

(123) . Differentiated access to labor markets for noncitizens is commonly managed today through the issuance of work permits (“green cards,” etc.) specific to the worker, rather than through quotas specific to the workplace.

(124) . See Records of the Department of State Relating to Internal Affairs of Venezuela, 1910–1929, Micro F 265, Reel 13, slide 0174: Report, American Legation, Caracas, Feb. 5, 1927; JNA, 1B/5/77/179, Cuba, Prohibition against entry of women and families (1929); El Salvador, Ley y reglamento de migración, 21–23; and Honduras, Reglamento para la Ley de inmigración, 1929, 9–10.

(125) . See Casey, “Haitian Migrants in Cuba”; CO 318/382, West Indies: General, 1925, Item 21, May 1925: “Treatment of B W Indians in Santo Domingo”: Letter from Chargé d'Affaires, Santo Domingo, Apr. 24, 1925.

(126) . CO 318/406/1, Immigration of British West Indians in Central and South America: Letter to FO from Crosby, British Legation Panama, Feb. 24, 1932. A 1927 revision specifically exempted agricultural enterprises that could “prove” insufficient “national” workers were available. “Enforcing New Employment Law,” Panama American, Jan. 14, 1927; “West Indians to Be Excluded from Provisions of Law on Immigration,” Panama American, Jan. 19, 1927.

(127) . “Jamaican Labor to Be Restricted on Cuban Roads,” Panama American, Feb. 19, 1927, reprinting article from El Comercio de Cienfuegos via the Havana Post.

(128) . “Appalling Conditions in Cuba,” Panama American, July 22, 1927, reprinting article from the Jamaica Mail.

(129) . CO 318/406/1, Immigration of British West Indians in Central and South America: Letter from British Legation, Guatemala, to FO, Apr. 8, 1932.

(130) . Martinez, Peripheral Migrants, 44.

(131) . Pellegrino, Historia, 169.

(132) . RelExtDPI 592 (Gran Bretaña, 1936), “Supuesto maltrato de los antillanos en los campos petroleros.”

(133) . CO 318/406/1, Immigration of British West Indians in Central and South America: Letter from Governor of British Honduras, Apr. 14, 1932.

(134) . “Panamanian Law Hits the United Fruit Co,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Dec. 9, 1926, 5; “Jamaicans in Bocas del Toro,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Feb. 9, 1928, 22.

(135) . “Unemployment in Trinidad Is Growing,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Sept. 11, 1930, 16.

(136) . Brereton, History of Modern Trinidad, 159.

(137) . Kuczynski, Demographic Survey, 155, 341. The population of British Honduras included 15 percent born elsewhere, largely Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras.

(138) . Johnson, “Anti-Chinese Riots”; Anshan, “Survival, Adaptation, and Integration,” 57; Bouknight-Davis, “Chinese Economic Development,” 84; Hu-DeHart, “Indispensable Enemy or Convenient Scapegoat?”

(139) . Examples from Trinidad are discussed in more detail in chapter 6.

(140) . Editorial, “Their Policy,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Aug. 18, 1924, 12.

(141) . “The First Question,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Oct. 11, 1924, 12. For examples of those previous arguments, see “Parochial Board of St. James,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Jan. 7, 1918, 13. On Asian exclusion in the “white settler” colonies and the intraimperial tensions occasioned, see Gorman, Imperial Citizenship, 158–71; McKeown, Melancholy Order; Lake and Reynolds, Global Colour Line; and Mongia, “Race, Nationality, Mobility.”

(142) . Editorial, “Jamaica's Case Stated,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Jan. 7, 1925, 10.

(143) . “Bill to Repeal Super Tax Passes Committee,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, May 15, 1925, 7. On Guy Ewen, see Carnegie, Some Aspects of Jamaica's Politics, 76, 81, 87. On the Gleaner's place in island politics in this era, see ibid., 162–78 et passim.

(144) . See, e.g., “The Alien Question,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, May 15, 1925, 8.

(145) . “Alien Issue in the Legislature,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, May 15, 1925, 9; Carnegie, Some Aspects of Jamaica's Politics, 44, 64, 74.

(146) . Even the Jamaican Imperial Association, the voice of the wealthiest planters, was happy to urge “vigorous enforcement” of the existing immigration law—“which of course,” they clarified, “would not apply to persons from the Mother Country, the self-Governing Dominions and the United States of America.” “Points Placed before the New Governor,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Oct. 1, 1924, 7.

(147) . “Explicit Speaking,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, May 15, 1925, 8.

(148) . Article in Kingston Daily Gleaner, Dec. 12, 1927, rpt. in Hill, Garvey and UNIA Papers, vol. 7, 23–24.

(149) . Ibid.

(150) . Carnegie, Some Aspects of Jamaica's Politics, 111, 119–21; Post, Arise Ye Starvelings, 208–12; Stein, World of Marcus Garvey, 264.

(151) . “On Immigration,” Limón Searchlight, Dec. 13, 1930, 1; “Committee Starts to Deal with the Alien Question,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Dec. 30, 1930, 1; Carnegie, Some Aspects of Jamaica's Politics, 83, 79. Cawley was member for St. Catherine.

(152) . “Another Sedition Case,” Limón Searchlight, June 6, 1931, 2. On anti-Asian agitation among Garveyites and others in the mid-1930s in connection with threats of mass repatriation from Cuba, see Post, Arise Ye Starvelings, 208–12.

(153) . Carnegie, Some Aspects of Jamaica's Politics, 101, 121 (quote), 150.

(154) . “Another Sedition Case,” Limón Searchlight, June 6, 1931, 2.

(155) .Kingston Daily Gleaner, Sept. 7, 1932, quoted in Bouknight-Davis, “Chinese Economic Development,” 88.

(156) . “Consolidated Cooperation Only Solution to Negro Problem,” Limón Search-light, Sept. 20, 1930, 8.

(157) . “Here and There in the News, by the Speaker,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Oct. 27, 1933, 10.

(158) . “The Democratic League: Its Policy and Creed,” Barbados Weekly Herald, Mar. 28, 1925, 4; Chamberlain, Empire and Nation-Building, 26–50.

(159) . E.g., speech by Brown in “Parochial Board of St. James,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, Jan. 7, 1918, 13.

(160) . “Explicit Speaking,” Kingston Daily Gleaner, May 15, 1925, 8.

(161) . “CHINA: Dragon v. Lion,” Time magazine, Feb. 7, 1927. Accessed via http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,729959,00.html#ixzz1D04aM0c4.

(162) . Chen, Return to the Middle Kingdom. J. A. Rogers gave Chen prominent billing in his 1940s World's Great Men of Color, 180.

(163) . CO 137/794/14, Proposals for restriction of immigration into Jamaica: concerns raised over Syrian and Chinese applicants, 1931: “Report of Committee appointed to enquire into and report upon the question of the Immigration of Aliens into Jamaica,” Jan. 30, 1931.

(164) . CO 137/794/14, Proposals for restriction of immigration into Jamaica: Letter from FO to Under Secretary of State for Colonies, Jan. 29, 1932.

(165) . CO 137/794/14, Proposals for restriction of immigration into Jamaica: Letter from Home Office to Under Secretary of State for Colonies, Aug. 6, 1932.

(166) . CO 137/794/14, Proposals for restriction of immigration into Jamaica: Letter from FO to Under Secretary of State for Colonies, Apr. 4, 1932.

(167) . CO 318/406/2, Immigration of British West Indians to Central and South America, 1932: Letter from J. Crosby, British Legation in Panama, Sept. 8, 1932.

(168) . CO 318/394/3, Immigration of British West Indians: Letter from British Legation, Port au Prince, Jan. 16, 1929. My emphasis.

(169) . CO 137/794/14, Proposals for restriction of immigration into Jamaica: Minutes.

(170) . CO 137/794/14, Proposals for restriction of immigration into Jamaica: Colonial Office draft correspondence.

(171) . Bouknight-Davis, “Chinese Economic Development,” 87. Similarly, see CO 295/596/17, Criticisms by the Chinese Government of the immigration legislation recently enacted by the Government of Trinidad: FO response to Chinese ambassador, June 18, 1937.

(172) . CO 318/413/1, Immigration of British West Indians into Central America: Letter from consul, Santo Domingo, to FO, Sept. 10, 1934.

(173) . Tarchov, “Esquema historico.” My emphasis. Venezuela, Ministerio del Interior y Justicia, Memoria 1931, n.p., xvii; Tinker Salas, Enduring Legacy, 136.

(174) . Particularly relevant here is Zolberg's description of southwest border control as a “success” if judged by its benefits to p owerful constituencies rather than by the rhetoric of exclusionary intent. Zolberg, “Matters of State,” 71–93. Meanwhile, the U.S. government–run guestworker programs that brought British Caribbean migrants to Atlantic Seaboard farms, by the thousands in the interwar years and by the scores of thousands during and after World War II, form a third modality. These migrants did not have the autonomy of British Caribbeans who had paid their own way to New York City, “show money” in hand, before 1924. However, they had more means to demand accountability from receiving- and sending-state officials than did most braceros in the Southwest. Hahahmovitch, Fruits of Their Labor; Hahamovitch, No Man's Land. See also Ngai, Impossible Subjects, 127–66.

(175) . Turits, Foundations of Despotism, 144–80.