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Open Access Haitians’ Labor and Leisure on Cuban Sugar Plantations: The Limits of Company Control

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Haitians’ Labor and Leisure on Cuban Sugar Plantations: The Limits of Company Control

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image of New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids

This article challenges the common notion that Cuban sugar companies controlled the labor and social relations of Haitian immigrant laborers fully and without challenge during the first half of the 20th century. It begins by showing the way that Cuban newspapers and sugar company administrators projected an image of Haitians as a homogenous group of powerless, culturally isolated cane cutters who were separated from other groups through an idealized labor hierarchy. Then it details Haitians’ laboring lives on Cuban sugar plantations to demonstrate three things. First, that Haitians participated in other aspects of sugar production, including skilled positions within centrales. Second, that cane cutters themselves were divided by their skill levels and (in)formal hierarchies. Third, that Haitians worked alongside individuals of other nationalities in both sugar fields and the mills where cane was processed. The essay ends by analyzing Haitians’ attempts to carve out autonomy in their work and leisure hours by exerting control over their labor and creating various types of commercial and social networks with individuals of other nationalities on plantations.

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