We Are Left without a Father Here

Masculinity, Domesticity, and Migration in Postwar Puerto Rico

We Are Left without a Father Here

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 39 illustrations Published: December 2014

Caribbean Studies, History > U.S. History, Latin American Studies

We Are Left without a Father Here is a transnational history of working people's struggles and a gendered analysis of populism and colonialism in mid-twentieth-century Puerto Rico. At its core are the thousands of agricultural workers who, at the behest of the Puerto Rican government, migrated to Michigan in 1950 to work in the state's sugar beet fields. The men expected to earn enough income to finally become successful breadwinners and fathers. To their dismay, the men encountered abysmal working conditions and pay. The migrant workers in Michigan and their wives in Puerto Rico soon exploded in protest. Chronicling the protests, the surprising alliances that they created, and the Puerto Rican government's response, Eileen J. Suárez Findlay explains that notions of fatherhood and domesticity were central to Puerto Rican populist politics. Patriarchal ideals shaped citizens' understandings of themselves, their relationship to Puerto Rican leaders and the state, as well as the meanings they ascribed to U.S. colonialism. Findlay argues that the motivations and strategies for transnational labor migrations, colonial policies, and worker solidarities are all deeply gendered.


 “A most excellent gendered history of Puerto Rican political and labor history, this book will be required reading for Latin Americanists and labor historians. Essential. All levels/libraries.”  — B. A. Lucero, Choice

"Suárez Findlay has managed to weave a transnational history in which the diaspora and the island are equally important for understanding the Puerto Rican experience.... While remaining accessible to undergraduate students, this work is aimed at labor and gender specialists."  — Harry Franqui-Rivera, Hispanic American Historical Review

"We Are Left without a Father Here offers an important contribution to the scholarship on gender, populism, colonial economic development and politics, and migration in the post–World War II era.... This story is a significant one that encapsulates far-reaching and multifaceted implications in an accessible and engaging prose. This book deserves a broad readership." — Carmen Teresa Whalen, American Historical Review

"For scholars of Latina/o history – Puerto Rican history and Puerto Rican diasporas in particular – this study produces a set of powerful arguments with which to investigate the histories of migrants and migration policy from the perspective of the countries of origin and destination.... Above all, the strength of the study lies in its use of gender criticism to interrogate grand narratives such as modernism and colonialism and to produce new connections between the micro and the macro." — Timo Schrader, Gender & History

"This book can be used as a reference or complementary text for a college and graduate level course. It is a valuable source for any course on American, Caribbean, Latino, and Latin American studies, and any other related fields." — Milagros Denis-Rosario, Canadian Journal of History

"What [Findlay] has unearthed is rich, painful to read, but highly recommended to anyone wishing to understand the present moment of colonial crisis." — Maura I. Toro-Morn, Agricultural History

"What can a literary scholar take away from this text? I find the lesson in avoiding binaries and challenging facile dichotomies to be powerfully illustrated here. We Are Left Without a Father Here . . . makes the case for a definition of historical agency that does not depend on measurable political or material success." — Marilyn G. Miller, Hispanic Review

"Adding a gender dimension is an important contribution to the scholarship of Puerto Rico, which has largely understood populism and migration within the frames of colonialism, development, and transnationalism. . . . Scholars of labor and state formation will find this book an excellent analysis of the significance of patriarchy in the politics of migration and populism." — Ismael García Colón, New West Indian Guide

"The book provides many opportunities for discussion and debate among historians and graduate students. First, students of transnational labor migration can learn from Findlay’s methodology: follow the workers. . . . Second, historians of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States will appreciate Findlay’s extensive archival work and intensive use of sources. . . . Third, scholars of populism in Latin America and the Caribbean will benefit from Findlay’s examination of popular understandings of gender and the state. . . . Fourth, labor historians and scholars of the Midwest and of the Puerto Rican diasporas will be stimulated by Findlay’s uncovering of new 'origin stories.'" — Solsiree del Moral, The Americas

"In this fascinating study, Eileen J. Suárez Findlay reinterprets Puerto Rican history in the mid-twentieth century by placing labor migration, populist politics, and gender at the heart of her narrative. Thousands of Puerto Rican migrant workers, seeking modernity and an escape from the harsh colonialism on their home island, journeyed to sugar beet fields in Michigan. There they found exploitation harsher than they had known. Findlay eloquently explores their travels and travails and shows how they reshaped both U.S. colonialism and Puerto Rican populism."
— Julie Greene, author of The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal

"Eileen J. Suárez Findlay's new work illuminates a forgotten chapter of Puerto Rican history—the 1950 'Operation Farmlift,' which ended in protests by migrant workers in Michigan's sugar beet fields. Findlay's analysis is meticulously documented, imaginative, and insightful. It is also sensitive to the multiple intersections among gender, race, and class in postwar Puerto Rican economic development, colonial reforms, and mass migration. I learned much from reading this admirable book." — Jorge Duany, author of Blurred Borders: Transnational Migration between the Hispanic Caribbean and the United States


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eileen J. Suárez Findlay is Associate Professor of Latin American and Caribbean History at American University. She is the author of Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870–1920, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Bregando the Sugar Beet Fields 1

1. Family and Fatherhood in "a New Era for All": Populist Politics and Reformed Colonialism 25

2. Building Homes, Domesticity Dreams, and the Drive to Modernity 59

3. Removing "Excess Population": Redirecting the Great Migration 90

4. Arriving in Michigan: The Collapse of the Dream 118

5. The Brega Expands 148

Conclusion. Persistent Bregas 173

Notes 191

Bibliography 257

Index 295
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5782-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5766-7
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