North America

Cross-Border Cosmopolitans

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.

Photo of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Paradise marquee

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

Trump's Impact on the World: Christina L. Davis on Trade

Harvard Professor Christina L. Davis discusses President Trump's strategies on trade—some of which may not be as outlandish as many people think.

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This is the first blog post in a series of edited transcripts from a panel on Trump's presidency held during our orientation in August 28, 2018. Our three panelists were Christina L. Davis, Melani Cammett, and Timothy Colton.

Since the panel took place, Mexico, Canada and the United States reached an agreement to restructure and revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, the trade accord includes, for example, some help for the US dairy and drug industries, stricter protections for autos made in North America, updated intellectual property rights, and improved labor rights and environmental protections. Legislatures of all three countries must ratify the new deal.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Talk delivered by Christina L. Davis:

It’s another interesting day in the study of trade.

I still don't follow Twitter, but I do check the news before I come to talk about trade. I think we're in NAFTA, but just barely, today. So the latest news is the US supposedly has some deal with Mexico. They're going to tell Canada, you can join, or you don't have to. And we're ripping up NAFTA. And this will be the best trade deal ever.

It's really amazing studying trade policy because this is one area where Trump has been fairly consistent. Since the 1980s, Donald Trump has been anti-trade. And it's also one of the areas where he's delivering beyond the rhetoric.... Read more about Trump's Impact on the World: Christina L. Davis on Trade

Hope for a New Transatlantic Relationship

An important transformation is occurring in Europe. Whether we call it a move toward “strategic autonomy,” “sovereignty,” or whatever else, it is forging a new trajectory of self-reliance.

Image of US and EU chess pieces on a board

By Adrien Abecassis

Since taking office, Donald Trump—the president of Europe’s greatest ally—has publicly castigated his counterparts in Europe, denounced Europe as being “set up to take advantage of the US,” and characterized the Europeans not as allies but as “foes.” 

The approach of not taking these statements seriously, or downplaying them, did not last very long. To the Europeans, they are serious. For them, the options were always to wait for the Trump storm to pass in the hope of reverting to a “normal” transatlantic relationship once he was out of office, or react and deal with the consequences. Increasingly, Europeans are moving toward the latter.

Growing calls for a “sovereign Europe”
 

“Europe can no longer entrust its security to the United States alone. It is up to us to assume our responsibilities and to guarantee European security and, thereby, sovereignty,” declared French President Emmanuel Macron in his annual grand speech on foreign policy earlier this month. “And we have only one credible European response: that of our strategic autonomy,” he continued. The French Ministry of Defense echoed him a few days after: “A European defense today is an imperative. We can no longer shelter under the American umbrella.”

A “sovereign Europe” has remained a key theme of Macron’s speeches since his election campaign began. One may say that a French president advocating for greater independence has been nothing new since de Gaulle. But other European leaders have joined Macron. Alluding to the American leadership, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the times in which we could totally rely on others are to some extent over. We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.” 

That statement caused some stir. Her foreign minister doubled down, suggesting in an opinion piece that after seventy years of depending on the US, Europe should pursue “a new world order” in which Germany, France, and its European partners should seek a “balanced partnership” with Washington. For good measure, he added, “Where the USA crosses the line, we Europeans must form a counterweight—as difficult as that can be,” and advised Europe advance “where America retreats.” Merkel had to downplay the tone by calling this comment a “personal expression.” However, her own spokesman immediately stressed that “the article conveyed much of what constitutes the common stance of the government towards the United States” and that it “presents observations that are preoccupying the government—namely stronger European unity and the question of Europe taking on more responsibility.”

In turn, two weeks ago, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker titled his annual State of the European Union speech, “The Hour of European Sovereignty,” asserting that the “geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come. It is time Europe took its destiny into its own hands. It is time Europe developed what I coined Weltpolitikfähigkeit—the capacity to play a role in shaping global affairs. Europe has to become a more sovereign actor in international relations.” Indeed, “strategic autonomy” is itself a goal defined in the last EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Defense Policy.... Read more about Hope for a New Transatlantic Relationship

Life and Death on the US-Mexico Border

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.

Image of protesters on both sides of the border fence during rally

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

The Cold War’s Endless Ripples

Harvard historian Odd Arne Westad contends that the Cold War lasted 100 years—and affected many more countries than originally thought.

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As an international historian, Faculty Associate Odd Arne Westad may be best known for bringing a fresh interpretation to the Cold War in which he argues that the era began much earlier and extended much farther than popularly thought.

Those and other themes are explored in detail in a comprehensive new history of the Cold War written by Westad, the S.T. Lee Professor of U.S.-Asia Relations at Harvard Kennedy School. In The Cold War: A World History, Westad traces the broad history of the era, including what he sees as its origins and its far-flung effects.

The Harvard Gazette spoke to Westad about his perspective on the Cold War, including the forces that brought about and sustained the epic confrontation, and how it continues to reverberate decades after ending.

Q: What inspired your fascination with the Cold War?
 

A: Growing up in Norway would be a part of it. Norway in the 1960s and early 1970s when I grew up was very much a kind of border region with regard to the East-West conflict. It very much felt like that when I was a child. Then when I was just out of college I was doing a lot of work with different kinds of volunteer organizations. I went to southern Africa to work there for a while with a relief organization dealing with refugees. I did some work in Pakistan a little bit later in the mid-1980s. And that certainly also inspired me in terms of thinking about these issues, because then you got to see the impact of the Cold War in a very different kind of way. Many of the problems these people were coping with had actually been created by the Cold War in a much more direct sense than anything I had experienced where I grew up.... Read more about The Cold War’s Endless Ripples

Absences in the “Archive of Dominicanidad”

Harvard Professor Lorgia García-Peña returns to her roots to investigate the narratives that shaped a divide.

Map of Haiti and Dominican Republic

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.

... Read more about Absences in the “Archive of Dominicanidad”

What We Think about When We Think of Crime

How does perceived vulnerability to crime pervade politics, markets, and democracy? Professors Jean and John Comaroff compare the United States to South Africa. 

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Jean and John Comaroff, professors in the Departments of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology, divide their teaching and research between Harvard and universities in South Africa. Their scholarship has focused on colonialism and the transformation of societies in the postcolonial and late modern worlds. A recent joint effort, The Truth about Crime, documents their “existential engagement” with the interplay of crime, policing, and sovereignty, in response to what they see as a rising global preoccupation. 

The Comaroffs joined the academic boycott of South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s until the transition of power and formal end of apartheid in 1994. Upon their return to Cape Town, they immediately noticed an overwhelming preoccupation with crime in South Africa. Their desire to unpack this obsession, and what it says about modernity and our relationship to the state, is the subject of their book. Together, the Comaroffs consider the economic, political, and sociological shifts that underlie modern attitudes toward criminality and how these shifts have contributed to the fear of one another, to racial violence, and to public distrust in government.

The Weatherhead Center spoke to the Comaroffs from their home in Cape Town, and asked them to tease out some of the complex relationships between crime and policing and how they affect the concept of citizenship.

... Read more about What We Think about When We Think of Crime

Elite Cues or Social Cues? The Formation of Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

A new study challenges long-held beliefs about what influences the public’s positions on foreign policy.

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In July 2014, a wave of violence erupted in the Middle East, as Israel responded to a barrage of rockets from Gaza by launching airstrikes, and eventually, a ground incursion intent on degrading Hamas’s military capabilities. In Washington, both Democrats and Republicans firmly sided with Israel: the Senate passed a unanimous resolution blaming Hamas for the conflict, and both prominent Democrats and Republicans gave staunch defenses of Israel’s right to defend itself.  

... Read more about Elite Cues or Social Cues? The Formation of Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

Cross-National Responses to Discrimination: A Q&A with Michèle Lamont

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Racism and discrimination are daily realities for members of marginalized groups. But what does it look like at the ground level, and how do individuals from various groups and countries respond to such experiences? Drawing on more than 400 in-depth interviews with middle class and working class men and women residing in the multi-ethnic suburbs of New York, Rio, and Tel Aviv, and representing five different racial “groups,” a team of sociologists examine how people deal with and make sense of the various forms of exclusion that are ever present in their lives.

Getting Respect: Responding to Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil & Israel opens up many new perspectives on the comparative analysis of race and identity.

... Read more about Cross-National Responses to Discrimination: A Q&A with Michèle Lamont

On Love and Metamorphosis

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Andrea Ortiz went down to the Charles River on the afternoon that she—victoriously—submitted her senior thesis. There she was, a girl born in Mexico City, an immigrant raised in Miami, a bright light, the first in her family line to get to Harvard. Yet she felt a wave of sadness, and that, she reasoned, made no sense. So she sat by the river to think until it came to her: this was yearning.

“You never accomplish anything alone. I was feeling the absence of the people who were most influential in getting me to this point,” she said later. “I wished they could be here too.”... Read more about On Love and Metamorphosis

Coming of Age, Setting a Goal

Image of Hanna Amanuel

Hanna Amanuel knows something about dignity. Even as a child in the Bronx, she saw it in places others did not—the bravery of new immigrants; the potential in low-income grade schoolers of color who, like her, were often underestimated; and in her mother, a proud woman from the Horn of Africa.

Amanuel will graduate in May. With her sharp intelligence, a Harvard degree and the future it implies might seem to have been a given; an accomplishment, yes, but not an unusual one. That is not the case. She got here because mentors of color drew her onto a path that included competitive private schools, role models, and the reassurance that she too could succeed.... Read more about Coming of Age, Setting a Goal