Jagan Lecture looks at the West Indies’ Asian diaspora

Noted historian and scholar Walton Look Lai is coming to York this weekend for a Caribbean dialogue. Look Lai’s talk, titled “They Came in Ships: Imperialism, Migration and Asian Diasporas in the 19th Century”, is this year’s Jagan Lecture and will take place in Vanier Lecture Hall, 135 Vanier College, on Saturday, Oct. 20, from 7:30 to 9:30pm.

Cheddi JaganA professor at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad & Tobago, Look Lai’s talk will begin the dialogue, which is co-organized by York’s Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean (CERLAC), York International and the Jagan Lectures planning committee. The lecture series, which began in 1999, commemorates the life and legacy of Caribbean thinker, politician and visionary leader Cheddi Jagan, the first elected president of Guyana.

Left: Cheddi Jagan

A noted Caribbean scholar and historian, Look Lai is has written extensively on the migration and indentureship of Asians (mainly Indians and Chinese) to the Caribbean. Among his publications is the well-known text, Indentured Labour, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993). He has also written The Chinese in the West Indies, 1806-1995: A Documentary History (University of the West Indies Press, 1998) and is the editor and publisher of Essays on the Chinese Diaspora in the Caribbean (2006).

The economist W. Arthur Lewis spoke of late-19th-century global development as being powered by two vast streams of international migration, 50 million people leaving Europe for the temperate settlements, and another estimated 50 million people leaving India and China to work in the tropics on plantations, in mines and in construction projects. Because of the widespread demand for labor in all sectors of the global economy in this period, migration tended to adopt the racial and ethnic character that Lewis spoke about: the Europeans went largely to the industrializing sector, and the non-Whites, principally from East and South Asia, went mainly to the tropical food producing and raw materials sector.

The Seventh Annual Jagan Lecture will present a comparative overview of the pattern of East and South Asian labor migrations in the 19th century as both groups were steadily integrated into the expanding Atlantic world economy: their respective push factors and destinations, the various mechanisms under which their labor was engaged, the relative issues of freedom or unfreedom attached to their engagement, the patterns of reception and treatment in their various host countries, and finally, their comparative mobility and assimilation options and choices in their host countries.