25
Saturday
Apr
2015
Christ Church (Festival Café)414 Sparks Street
6:45pm

Dying to Better Themselves:
West Indians and the
Building of the Panama Canal
with Olive Senior

Hosted by CBC’s Adrian Harewood
"
Olive Senior

The popular West Indian migration narrative often starts with the “Windrush Generation” in 1950’s England, but in Dying to Better Themselves, Olive Senior examines an earlier narrative: that of the neglected post-emancipation generation of the 1850’s who were lured to Panama by the promise of lucrative work and who initiated a pattern of circular migration that would transform the islands economically, socially and politically well into the twentieth century. 

 

West Indians provided the bulk of the workforce for the construction of the Panama Railroad and the Panama Canal, and between 1850 and 1914 untold numbers sacrificed their lives, limbs and mental faculties to the Panama projects. Many West Indians remained as settlers, their descendants now citizens of Panama; many returned home with enough of a nest egg to better themselves; and others launched themselves elsewhere in the Americas as work beckoned. 

 

Drawing on official records, contemporary newspapers, journals, books, songs, sayings, literature, and the words of the participants themselves, Senior answers the questions as to who went to Panama, how and why; she describes the work they did there, the conditions under which they lived, the impact on their homelands when they returned or on the host societies when they stayed.

 

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