Chinese Indentured Labor during the Era of Abolition: Cuba, Peru, and the United States during the Mid-Nineteenth Century

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Latino/Latin American Studies (LLAS)


This talk examines the experience of the tens of thousands of Chinese indentured laborers who went to Cuba, Peru, and the United States during the mid-nineteenth century as replacements or supplements for slaves. In particular, it explores how and why Cuba and Peru, despite their many differences, developed similar systems of Chinese indentured labor—ones in which supposedly free individuals labored like slaves—while an effort to copy this system failed in the U.S. South. Race, abolition, Chinese resistance, and international relations all interacted to shape the trajectory of Chinese indentured labor in these three places. Nevertheless, the strength (even if temporary), goals, and actions of the state helped determine the viability of this labor system.

Dr. Benjamin Narvaez is Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, Morris, where he also serves as coordinator of the Latin American Area Studies program. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and his B.A. from Grinnell College. His research focuses on the history of Chinese migration to Latin America, especially Chinese indentured labor in nineteenth-century Cuba and Peru and Chinese immigration in early twentieth-century Costa Rica. His work has appeared in various journals, including the Journal of Social History, The Americas, and the New West Indian Guide, as well as edited volumes.

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