Beyond "Boat People": New Directions in Haitian Immigration History

Solicited by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS)

Friday, March 31, 2023, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Immigration and Internal Migration; Race


This roundtable aims to explore new approaches to the history of Haitian immigration in the late twentieth century. Tragic depictions of Haitian asylum seekers saturated the media in the 1980s and early 1990s, highlighting the "desperation" of Haitian "boat people" fleeing the Duvalier dictatorships and the military regimes that followed. The injustice of US efforts to exclude and incarcerate Haitians merits recounting, but many of the narratives used to portray Haitians in the late twentieth century were dehumanizing and demeaning. The scholars in this panel are working to reassess this important history by foregrounding transnational, comparative, and activist-focused methodologies.

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Jeffrey Sterling Kahn, University of California, Davis
Jeffrey Kahn is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis. His award-winning first book, Islands of Sovereignty: Haitian Migration and the Borders of Empire (University of Chicago Press 2019), examines how boat migration from Haiti to the United States during the last three decades of the twentieth century led to the development of new forms of legal activism, border governance, and oceanic policing that remade the spatiality of the American nation-state. Kahn's second book project explores the maritime economies and the practices of mobility that Haitians have fashioned in a Caribbean increasingly saturated by American projects of containment and securitization. Prior to joining the Anthropology Department at UC Davis, Professor Kahn was an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, an Associate Research Scholar in Law/Robina Foundation International Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School, and a law clerk on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Panelist: Llana Barber, SUNY Old Westbury
Llana Barber is associate professor of American Studies at SUNY Old Westbury. She researches immigration and Latinx history with a focus on the Caribbean diaspora. Her first book, Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000 (UNC Press, 2017), traced the history of New England’s first Latinx-majority city. This work emphasized the impact of deindustrialization and suburbanization on Lawrence, and the Puerto Rican and Dominican activism that transformed the city. Latino City received the 2018 Lois P. Rudnick Prize from the New England American Studies Association and the 2017 Kenneth Jackson Award from the Urban History Association. Her current book-length research project, “No Refuge from Empire: Haitian Migration, Mass Exclusion, and the Formation of the Nativist State,” explores Haitian migration to (and militarized exclusion from) the United States, Dominican Republic, and Bahamas in the late twentieth century.

Panelist: Monika Gosin, College of William & Mary
Monika Gosin is an associate professor of Sociology and the director of the Latin American Studies Program at the College of William & Mary. She is the author of The Racial Politics of Division: Interethnic Struggles for Legitimacy in Multicultural Miami (Cornell University Press, 2019). Gosin’s research and teaching interests include African diaspora and Latinx studies, Afro-Latinx immigrant identities, international migration, popular culture and media, and inter-minority relations. Her work places Haitian experiences in comparative perspective with that of Afro-Cubans and African Americans.

Panelist: Ayanna Legros, Duke University
Ayanna Legros is completing a doctorate in the Department of History at Duke University. She is co-author of “From the Other Side of the Sea: Rasanblaj/Reassembling Haitian Radio Archives of Exile” (Radio Cultures of the Global South, forthcoming) with Laura Wagner (Radio Haïti-Inter Archivist) and author of “Capturing Emancipation: Histories of the Black Atlantic in the Works of Fabiola Jean-Louis” (Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture, 2021). Her dissertation research broadly traces the usage of radio programming networks among members of the Haitian community in New York City.

Panelist: Carl D. Lindskoog, Raritan Valley Community College
Carl Lindskoog is associate professor of History at Raritan Valley Community College. He is the author of Detain and Punish: Haitian Refugees and the Rise of the World's Largest Immigration Detention System and "Migration, Racial Empire, and the Carceral Settler State," Journal of American History (Spring, 2022). His writing has also appeared in The Washington Post and in Public Books. Carl Lindskoog's current research on the history of race, migration, and empire in the Americas focuses on the Sanctuary Movement from the 1980s to the present. His work emphasizes activism and organizing against migrant exclusion.