Colloquium: Ismael Garcia Colon, "Colonial Subjects at the Heart of US Empire..."
FEB 28, 2014 | 4:15 PM TO 6:00 PM
The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
February 28, 2014: 4:15 PM-6:00 PM
Ismael Garcia Colon
Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work
College of Staten Island, CUNY
"Colonial Subjects at the Heart of U.S. Empire: Puerto Rican Migrant Workers in the U.S. Farms, 1940's-1960's"
Using a historical anthropology rooted in the study of political economy, this paper traces the specific ways power shaped the formation of Puerto Ricans as particular social subjects within U.S. farm labor during the 1940s through the 1960s. In 1948, workers began to migrate to the U.S. Northeast through contracts sponsored by the government of Puerto Rico’s Farm Labor Program (PRFLP). By promoting migration and assisting workers, the government sought to eliminate unemployment on the islands while feeding the postwar labor demands of U.S. employers. Puerto Rican workers encountered a labor market in which employers praised the deportability of farmworkers and rendered domestic workers, like them, as undesirable for agriculture. The lobby efforts of colonial officials forced federal agencies and elected officials to pay attention to Puerto Rican migrant workers. Moreover, the dominant definitions of citizenships based on cultural and racial homogeneity led many employers and officials to treat Puerto Ricans as deportable immigrants. Clarification of Puerto Ricans’ legal status prompted the government of Puerto Rico to intervene on behalf of workers. The formation of the Puerto Rican farm labor force also depended on migrants’ networks, their perception of working and living conditions, the efforts of their households, farmers’ role in recruitment and labor practices, and the attitudes of rural communities. Puerto Rican farm labor migration mirrors the possible effects of open border policies for immigrant farmworkers in the United States.