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54 3 couNteRiNg tHe “bLack iNvasioN” The Intellectual Response to West Indian Immigration t he arrival of West Indians on the North Coast of Honduras sparked more than immigration reform. The presence of this mostly black, English-speaking, and skilled labor force gave rise to a social and economic debate about race, identity, and the competition for muchneeded employment. The Honduran press provided the platform for much of the intellectual discourse centered on nationalist rhetoric and the protection of Honduran workers’ rights from undesirable immigrants . Labor leaders and thinkers of the day often viewed the presence of West Indians on the North Coast as an attack on Honduran sovereignty, portraying West Indians as invaders intent on destroying every aspect of Honduran life. As early as 1913, reports of the importation of black laborers to Tela to work for the Tela Railroad Company sparked criticism from the press on the basis that hiring West Indians to fill company positions displaced local Honduran workers.1 The Honduran intellectual Froylán Turcios declared that not only was the presence of these workers in the country unnecessary in order to fill positions in the burgeoning fruit industry, but that “black labor, particularly from the Anglo-Saxon countries such as the West Indies, constituted a source of unease and neighboring danger.”2 “Black workers,” according to Turcios, were “less intelligent, less apt for agricultural work, and due to their physiological makeup were much more prone to violence and crime.”3 In addition, blacks and other immigrant groups were often scapegoated as the reason why Honduras could not maintain a hygienic society. Blacks, Chinese, and other foreigners, due to their “displeasing” customs, were said to represent disagreeable sectors of CoUnteRInG tHe “BlACk InvAsIon” 55 society and pose a general health risk.4 According to José Antonio Funes, Turcios’s criticisms tended to exacerbate nationalist sentiments in Honduras .5 A key literary figure in Honduras, Turcios questioned not only the presence of undesirable immigrants in the country, but the effect the North American capitalist system was having on the politics and culture of Honduras. For Turcios, West Indians and their allegiance to both Britain and the U.S. fruit companies were a threat to Honduran sovereignty. The North Coast, where most of these arrivals settled, possessed a reputation for lawlessness due to the long history of clandestine activity in the isolated area. Disease posed a constant threat because of the enormous amount of pestilence in the region caused by mosquitoes. Racial and ethnic stereotyping of African and Indian descent peoples in the region hinted at the growing role of identity politics in the political and cultural discourse. A Honduran Justice Department report suggested, “as a result of the primitive indigenous influence on Honduran culture and the deviant behaviors associated with poverty, that it would be difficult to improve the life of the Honduran people.”6 Undesirable immigrant groups such as West Indians added to the difficulty of nation building and therefore were discouraged. Many even began to question their ability to perform the duties associated with being fruit company employees by suggesting that black workers were incapable of agricultural labor. The claim that black workers were ill-equipped for agricultural work is astounding considering the fact that historically, the experience of peoples of African descent in the Americas has been one of plantation labor centered on agricultural production. Turcios’s comments were an attempt to justify notions of black inferiority, a doctrine that many within the Honduran intellectual elite espoused. His remark was one of the few instances in which English-speaking black labor was referred to specifically within the national immigration debate. Despite the racial overtones of Turcios’s position regarding black operatives , he was right in discerning that there was a growing West Indian presence on the North Coast of Honduras attributed largely to the hiring practices of the American-owned fruit companies. Even when other Latin Americans were hired, they were in many instances descendants of West Indians. In company towns such as Tela, many black operatives arrived from Colombia and Panama to work for the United Fruit Company.7 These workers were in most instances descendants of black West Indians arriving from Colombia’s Caribbean possessions of Providencia and San 56 RACe, nAtIon, AnD West InDIAn IMMIGRAtIon to HonDURAs Andrés or from the Canal Zone. Mario Posas maintains that black operatives were imported both legally and illegally from Jamaica, Colombia, Panama, Cuba, and Belize because of their prior banana plantation experiences .8...


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