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208 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue ca.nadtenned'etudes america.ines Irma Watkins-Owens. Blood Relations: Caribbean Immigrants and the Harlem Community, 1900-1930. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. Pp. x + 238 + appendix. Irma Watkins-Owens has given us the first major examination of Afro-Caribbean immigrants to the United States in the period before World War II since Ira De Augustine Reid's pathbreaking The Negro Immigrant (New York Columbia University Press, 1939), published nearly sixty years ago. The reasons for this neglect are various. Immigration historians, consistent with their ethnocentric concentration on European immigrants and their descendants, have until very recently largely ignored black Caribbean immigrants, although there have been several recent treatments of largely post-1965 black immigrants, most notably Marilyn Haltees 1993 study of Cape Verdean immigrants, Between Race and Ethnicity (Urbana, University of Illinois Press). Similarly historians of African Americans have shown little interest in the persons of African descent, largely Afro-Caribbeans, who have come to the United States since the death of slavery. At a time when Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, seems to be the most popular black political figure in American history, this book is most timely. Unlike De Reid's book, which looked at black immigrants throughout the nation, the focus here is on the Harlem community, which contained many, but by no means all, of New York City's foreign-born blacks. By 1930 nearly 330,000 African Americans lived in New York City-up from 60,000 in 1900. Some two-thirds of these lived in Manhattan, 40,000 of whom were foreign born. These were a sizable minority of the nearly 100,000 foreign-born blacks reported in the 1930 census. The book's central theme is "black ethnic heterogeneity in an emerging community" (1). Thus little attention is paid to the societies which the Caribbean immigrants left, and even less attention is paid to the process of migration. Instead the emphasis is on what the immigrants-or some of them-did after they arrived, and with whom they interacted. In eleven often impressionistic chapters she discusses: interracial ethnicity in Harlem; the significance of Caribbean migration; the development of Harlem as a black community; some Harlem social institutions; politics and the struggle to gain black political representation; a discussion of streetcorner politics; Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association; black businesses; the numbers racket or "policy"; the intraracial aspects of the Harlem Renaissance; and a conclusion entitled "Blood Re- Book Reviews 209 lations in the Black Metropolis." Each of these slim chapters addresses a subject that deserves a monograph. A fascinating appendix (177-84) analyses in tabular form the social composition of one Harlem block, 131st Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenue, by using data from the New York State censuses of 1905, 1915, and 1925 (it would have been difficult, but interesting, to use the federal censuses of 1910 and 1920, the latest now available in manuscript form). The question of how representative that block was is not really addressed; the author finesses the question in the text by calling it "one of the most heterogenous-but not untypical-blocks in New York'' (166). Particularly noteworthy is the attention paid to women and questions of gender, topics that have been largely ignored by the masculine chroniclers of Harlem. Beginning with quotations from immigrant women's letters in chapter two, Watkins-Owens stresses women's contributions and concerns throughout even though most of the dominant figures in the book, as in Harlem, are male. I find the title, Blood Relations, troubling. The notion that African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans (and presumably, but not explicitly, Africans) are related by blood harks back to a racist pseudoscience once widely believed . While Watkins-Owens uses the term only rhetorically and only in titles, and does not indulge in what is sometimes called 'Afrocentrism,' it is, I believe, a mistake to thus echo racism. The African-American ethnic group was made in America, not Africa, and, as the author correctly observes, most Afro-Caribbean immigrants quickly became "African Americanized." That objection aside, this is a useful and important book, both in its own right and as an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 208-209
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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