- Tell My Mother I Gone to Cuba by Sharon Milagro Marshall
One of the issues facing scholars of the Caribbean scene, is the relative paucity of works in English, detailing the encounter of Anglophone Caribbean migrant laborers with their counterparts in the Hispanic Caribbean. There have been a few treatments of migration to [End Page 205] the Hispanic Caribbean, as for example, Elizabeth Thomas-Hope (1978), “The Establishment of a Migration Tradition: British West Indian Movements to the Hispanic Caribbean in the Century after Emancipation” (1978); Elizabeth Petras (1988), “Jamaican Labor Migration: White Capital and Black Labor 1850–1930;” Lancelot Lewis (1980), “The West Indian in Panama;” and Velma Newton (1984), “The Silver Men: West Indian Migration to Panama, 1850–1914.” This latest publication by Sharon Milagro Marshall on Barbadian migration and re-migration to and from Cuba represents a noteworthy contribution to this historiography. This body of scholarship that is enhanced by Marshall’s own work permits us to bring into focus the complexity of Caribbean inter-colonial relationships in the era of the various migratory movements of the post-emancipation period.
In a brief preface to her work, Marshall introduces to us the personal attachment that she has to Barbadian migration to Cuba. Her mother, Delcina Esperanza Marshall, was the daughter of a Barbadian couple that had migrated, first to Panama and then to Cuba. Once that preliminary orientation has been completed, she then turns her attention in the first chapter of Part I of the study to a comprehensive survey of the conditions that sparked Barbadian migration from the immediate post-emancipation years into the 1920s. Marshall adroitly mines the secondary and primary literature to reveal that several “push” factors were at work to spur the migration of Barbadian workers. These included a wage rate that was, perhaps, the lowest in the Anglophone Caribbean; a socio-political and economic system that kept the formerly enslaved largely restrained on the sugar plantations; and the lack of adequate work opportunities. Added to these factors, Marshall notes that, initially, there were attempts by colonial officials in Barbados to restrict the emigration of their laborers.
Throughout Part I of her study, Marshall takes us sequentially through various elements of the immigration experience, ensuring that the wider context is always kept in focus. Thus, she considers the place of investment by American “sugar” barons in the Cuban sugar industry and the subsequent increase in the demand for labor. She follows this by looking at the experience of the Anglophone Caribbean migrants in Cuba, noting that they faced racist attacks from the authorities, and she charts their attempts to establish communities in the host environment.
Through all the challenges, migrants sent remittances back to the various islands and sent petitions to the British consular representatives in Cuba, protesting their maltreatment. Unfortunately, even when the consular representatives did send official communications to the Cuban authorities, there was no guarantee of redress. One significant aspect of the migrant experience in such places as Baraguá and Guantánamo [End Page 206] is the reliance of the migrants on masonic lodges and English-speaking churches, along with other institutions imported from their homeland, to provide a sense of group solidarity. Moreover, as Marshall informs us, migrants continued to pay attention to happenings in the homeland, sending relief funds at times of hurricanes. Also, there appeared to be a strong desire for repatriation to their homelands by some migrants and they insisted on English-language instruction for their children. Along with this maintenance of home ties, Marshall unearths evidence that migrants also paid very close attention to the political life of the host society, even at time participating in efforts to challenge the oppressive system that threatened their wellbeing.
Once the task of providing the historical analysis had been completed, Marshall comes to Part II of her study. Here the reader is provided with, perhaps, the most important part of her investigation. Through a series of interviews with some return migrants in Barbados...