Historian Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey tells the story of the African migrants who circulated between the Caribbean and the North America in the twentieth century, and how a subset of them built a transnational life, and racial solidarity, along the US-Canadian border.
As a worldwide movement to unite people of African descent, Pan-Africanism may have found its ideal reflected in a community that resided between Canada and the US in the early twentieth century. With fluid borders to aid their mobility, migrant blacks in the Great Lakes region forged a thriving community with arts, sports, intellectualism, and political consciousness at the center of social life. It was a brief yet remarkable piece of black diasporic history that calls into question the utility of rigid national borders and identities.
By Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey
The international refugee crisis—the result of internal strife and wars, poverty, climate change, and unstable governments—threatens the global order. In the Americas, this calamity is forcing migrants to seek safety and opportunity in the United States and Canada. From the turn of the twentieth century to the Great Depression, agricultural downturn, low standard of living, and natural disasters and epidemics compelled roughly 100,000 immigrants from the Caribbean and Central America to seek opportunity in the United States. Canada’s strict policies prohibiting black immigrants meant that fewer than three thousand entered the Dominion in the same period.
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, black bodies often circulated around the Caribbean and Central and North America, driven by plantation economies and imperial rivalries. In North America, in fact, cross-border migration specifically between the United States and Canada represented self-determination. For example, the Underground Railroad, a network of clandestine safe houses and passageways, facilitated the escape of tens of thousands of enslaved persons to northern US states or into British North America (Canada) during the antebellum period in the early 1800s. After Congress enacted the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, a law that allowed the capture and return of runaways, upwards of thirty thousand fugitives and free persons crossed the border into Canada. Some of these refugees returned to fight in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Many more returned to the US in the promising Reconstruction years.... Read more about Cross-Border Cosmopolitans
For Syrian refugees fortunate enough to reach Germany—a model among European countries for its commitment to refugees—the day-to-day realities and the uncertainty of their futures loom large.
Third in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.
Weatherhead Center Undergraduate Research Fellow Hanaa Masalmeh spent a semester in Germany studying Syrian refugee integration. Her work focuses on the formal and informal structures of integration, especially on the role of women—both German and Syrian—in the integration process. This article, written by Masalmeh, is based on her research on volunteer groups in Bavaria, Germany. Names have been changed to afford privacy to the interviewees.
Every Wednesday and Friday, Barbra gets into her blue Volkswagen and drives five minutes down the road to a small yellow house near a churchyard. After carefully parking her car and grabbing her brown messenger bag, she knocks on the door.
Barbra is a Sprachpartner, a volunteer who makes sure that Syrian refugees are learning German. Barbra also explains the basics of German culture, helps Syrians open bank accounts, file insurance claims, and apply for work.
A young man opens the door and invites Barbra inside. “Mohammad!” Barbra says, greeting him with a hug. “Welcome, Grandmother!” the young man responds jokingly, and Barbra laughs.
As an ethnographer and an EMT, Harvard anthropologist Ieva Jusionyte has a front-line perspective on tensions at the politically fraught border between Mexico and the United States.
Ieva Jusionyte has always been drawn to tensions at the border. As a graduate student, she went right to the heart of the drug and human smuggling nexus of Puerto Iguazu, a town at the tri-border area of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, to research how the media reported on crime. While there, she developed a deep interest in the experiences of firefighters and rescue workers, and later, in the US, trained to become a certified emergency medical technician, paramedic, and wildland firefighter.
Most recently, she embedded herself at the US-Mexico border for a year, using her technical skills to help first responders on both sides of the divide. She reasoned that firefighters and EMTs would face many of the human consequences of national security policy on a daily basis. In order to fully leverage her insights as an anthropologist, she felt she needed to participate.
In Nogales, Arizona, she volunteered as an EMT with the suburban fire department, responding to 911 calls—whether it was for a wildfire or for a critically ill or wounded person. Across the border in Nogales, Mexico, she delivered first aid to injured migrants and deportees on a bench in a soup kitchen, which also served as a humanitarian and legal center. Her forthcoming book, Threshold: Emergency and Rescue on the U.S.-Mexico Border will bring together the experiences of the first responders and residents of the local border communities, to take stock of the real-life impact of US national security measures.... Read more about Life and Death on the US-Mexico Border
Harvard Professor Lorgia García-Peña returns to her roots to investigate the narratives that shaped a divide.
The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic forces a conspicuous dividing line between black and non-black, respectively. How the island of Hispaniola came to be so racially divided, and the impact it has had on the formation of the Dominican identity is a central focus of Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nation, and Archives of Contradiction by Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Lorgia García-Peña, Roy G. Clouse Associate Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.
The Dominican identity is highly complex, melding various ancestries from Spanish colonials, Indigenous peoples, emancipated slaves from the seventeenth century, and Haitian blacks, who are themselves descendents of the slaves of French colonizers. Above all racial affiliations, blackness has been historically the most reviled and disputed element of Dominican diversity, where many shades of “brown” have been somehow easier to embrace. García-Peña delves into the archives and oral histories to document historic, cultural, and literary efforts to erase blackness from the national identity. As a contributor to the growing discipline of Afro-Latin American studies, her research moves beyond slavery and persecution to identify the many ways in which Dominicans are embracing their multifaceted ancestries and to document the growing awareness of social inequities for ethnic Haitians and Afro-Dominicans.
Dominicans should never forget the inherent ferocity of those monsters that penetrated our homes…and even the innocence of our candid virgins destroyed.
—Translated from the song “Canción dominicana” by Felix Maria del Monte, 1844.
As concepts of boundaries and territories are being reconceptualized in the twenty-first century, the notion of what it means to be part of a particular society takes on new dimensions. For most of us, traditional concepts of nation, state, and territory remain deeply ingrained in our sense of self and belonging. In his book, Maier takes readers on a meditative journey through the “fitful evolution of territorial organization,” and reflects on how science and technology have expanded our conceptualization of space, authority, and sovereignty. Once Within Borders invites us to step back and consider the many ways in which human societies have claimed borders and territories to consolidate power, wealth, and group affiliation—and how those borders have shaped our consciousness through time. The Weatherhead Center engaged Charles Maier, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University, in a discussion about the value of borders in today’s networked world.