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Reviewed by:
  • Caribbean Migration. The Legacies of Colonialism ed. by Anke Birkenmaier
  • Ingrid Robyn
Birkenmaier, Anke, ed. Caribbean Migration. The Legacies of Colonialism. Rutgers UP, 2021. 305 pp.

In her introduction to Caribbean Migration. The Legacies of Colonialism, editor Anke Birkenmaier writes, “[m]igration may be considered a fact of life in the Caribbean and globally” (214). This sentence summarizes the impulse behind this ambitious, necessary book. Here, Birkenmaier makes a compelling point about the relevance of the Caribbean to the field of migration studies. Tracing migration to and from the Caribbean back to European colonialism and the development of capitalism, she notes that the Caribbean experience was always one of constant, successive flows of migrants that, starting in the nineteenth century, moved mostly from the islands to the very centers of the empires that colonized them, as well as to the US. This migration pattern, which is often explained in terms of economic dependency, actually has profound roots and consequences, which can be understood if one considers the Caribbean’s perennial peripheric position in the world system and what Aníbal Quijano called “coloniality of power”: “The link between the coloniality of power and migration has been studied closely by scholars of the Caribbean. Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel has argued that because the region has long been the ‘fragmented frontier of multiple imperial projects,’ colonial legacies have manifested themselves in the Caribbean in the form of massive migration events from the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries. This is what she calls the ‘coloniality of diasporas’” (2). With that term, Martínez San-Miguel refers to the fact that the Caribbean was and still is a colonial region, an “other-wise modern” one in which migration has always played a major role. Additionally, given the “bi-focal” lives of so many Caribbean subjects, always divided between a “here” and “there,” the Caribbean makes for a very particular diasporic experience, one that nonetheless sheds light on the experiences of millions of people around the world: “As a region that for better or worse has experienced waves of colonization and decolonization since the sixteenth century—a region that therefore has always depended on travelers and migrants—we believe that the Caribbean holds lessons for those seeking to understand the political, social, and cultural consequences of migration” (3).

The book offers a transdisciplinary approach to the study of Caribbean migration, including contribution from scholars in different fields—sociology to literary criticism and cultural studies—, many of whom are US-based Caribbean migrants themselves. In fact, on top of the voices of specialists, the book includes the voices of Caribbean intellectuals, activists, and artists from both the islands and their diasporas, enriching its academic approach by establishing a dialogue with people outside academia. More important, however, is the scope of the book, as it breaks with the traditional language-oriented focus that we observe in most books dedicated to the Caribbean. If any criticism to this volume could be made, it is the fact that it only considers a single Francophone Caribbean country —Haiti—and does not offer any contribution regarding the Dutch Caribbean.

Part I, “Unincorporated Subjects,” concentrates on the unique experiences of people from the islands of Puerto Rico and Guam, and their relationship to the US mainland. While chapters two and three, by Carlos Vargas-Ramos and Jorge [End Page 173] Duany, respectively, explore the Puerto Rican migration to the US mainland from the perspective of the social sciences, chapters four and six approach the Puerto Rican diaspora from the perspective of cultural studies. In these chapters, Edward Chamberlain and Jossianna Arroyo-Martínez explore the way different types of media—social media, photography, artistic performances—from the past decade have responded to the constant crisis that the island has faced in the 2000s. Chapters five and seven, by Vivian Halloran and Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel, deal with the issue of Caribbean American identity and (in)visibility, considering the experiences of the people from Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Guam. In both chapters, the authors explore the notion of “territory” and what Martínez-San Miguel refers to as archipelagic thinking, particularly in so-called lesser...


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