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97 5 aN imagiNed citizeNRy The Racial Realities of British Identity among West Indians in Honduras t he authenticity of West Indian claims of British citizenship and their status in Honduras were recurring themes in the antagonistic relationships among West Indians, Hondurans, and the North American fruit companies. West Indians often exerted their “rights” as British subjects when seeking to extricate themselves from the political and social turmoil that affected the daily lives of most Hondurans. West Indians became a target of Honduran labor organizers who saw them as aligning with the fruit companies to further limit the advances of the downtrodden laborers. Honduran governing officials in many municipalities on the North Coast reported that West Indians often refused to participate in relief efforts to assist them in rebuilding the city after storms, fires, and political violence left sections in turmoil. More important, many in Honduras saw the West Indian as an extension of a growing foreign presence in the country that was draining the economic lifeblood of the nation. Claims of West Indian indignation toward their Spanish-speaking hosts and their insistence on maintaining a separate, “British” identity permeate the literature on West Indian migrant communities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Jorge Giovanetti, in his study of West Indian descent communities in Cuba, encountered a Barbadosborn woman in her nineties who claimed that she was “still a British subject ” despite the fact that she had spent the majority of her life in the Cuban town of Baraguá and Barbados had long since become an independent nation.1 Trevor O’Reggio and Philippe Bourgois note similar inclinations in the West Indian communities in Panama and Costa Rica, respectively, during the same time period. The former maintains that the 98 RACe, nAtIon, AnD West InDIAn IMMIGRAtIon to HonDURAs idea of nationality and citizenship among West Indians in Panama remained British colonial through the 1920s.2 Much of the change after the 1920s stems from the fact that the British government failed to respond to the demands of their subjects abroad and left them at the mercy of their U.S. employers for protection, which given the Jim Crow nature of the Panama Canal Zone, provided little solace to a community that was experiencing negative attention from Panamanian proponents of anti–West Indian immigration legislation.3 Bourgois argues in the case of Costa Rica that West Indians had very practical reasons for emphasizing their British origins. In many instances, the British government “was the only external source of support available to West Indians during times of crisis.”4 Despite the proclivity for West Indians to identify with Great Britain, the British government expressed little interest in coming to the aid of its black citizens abroad. The British documents related to the situation of West Indians in Honduras reveal a similar trend in that the government failed to protect its citizens. Yet, despite this, the propensity for West Indians to adhere to their British identity persisted for as long as they resided in the country. The extent to which the British government fully extended the rights of citizenship to its West Indian subjects on the North Coast remained inconsistent throughout the period in which their presence in the banana zones was most significant. For the West Indian, failure on the part of the British government to validate the authenticity of their citizenship claims left them in a continuous state of diplomatic uncertainty. Formal recognition of British citizenship did not guarantee West Indians the same rights and privileges as Anglo-Saxon subjects in the United Kingdom and the larger British Empire. West Indians were at best second-class citizens. They were never formally denied British citizenship, but they also were never able to realize the full benefits of being subjects of the most extensive and powerful empire of its era. This chapter deflates the notions of politicians and labor organizers that West Indians in Honduras benefited from British nationality by examining Britain’s attitudes toward its black subjects in the West Indies and the emerging West Indian migrant communities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. West Indian notions of Britishness in Honduras drew on their prior experiences in the Caribbean and on colonial perceptions of the superiority of British and Anglo-Caribbean culture and traditions among all others. Their views did not necessarily equate with the realities of an Anglo-Saxon racial philoso- An IMAGIneD CItIzenRy 99 phy that situated colonial subjects at the lower rungs of a rigid hierarchy. After full emancipation...


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MARC Record
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