Workers across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History

By Leon Fink | Go to book overview

V
LABOR RECRUITMENT AND
IMMIGRATION CONTROL:
INTRODUCTION

Camille Guérin-Gonzales

The surge of interest in transnationalism, globalization, and internationalism marks a return, in many ways, to an earlier vibrant period of knowledge production—the 1920s and 1930s—when academics, activists, and artists envisioned North America as far more interconnected with other nations of the world than those who would write about and research and represent North American peoples and places in the subsequent era of the Cold War.1 In the Cold War years, the shift away from what many had come to see as universalizing grand narratives reinvigorated exceptionalist ideas about the United States at the same time that it opened the door for greater attention to differences within the United States that threatened ideals of American exceptionalism.2 The reifying of national identity that accompanied this turn made it difficult to recognize similarities of experience across borders and the ways in which the very concept of the United States is dependent upon policing borders that both separate and connect it to other nation-states. In the late twentieth century, however, a whole host of developments challenged such notions—the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of postcolonial nation-states, the push for global “free trade,” and, in the United States, the efficacy of the anti– Vietnam War movement and ultimately the sagging fortunes of a labor movement predicated on national boundaries. As a result, scholars on the left increasingly came to see, once again, the global interconnectedness of human experience, in general, and of working people and the products they produce, in particular. This, in turn, has prompted renewed interest in labor migration and its control.

The following chapters offer important insights into the uneasy tension between exclusionary practices of nation building in the early years of the twentieth century and the continued reliance of the United States on the transnational migration of labor. The authors examine the process of state building without seeing that process or its

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