top of page

Slack Post Reflection

"Upon reading the petitions on Wednesday, I was struck by the severity of violence and exploitation delineated by Chinese laborers. They describe “voices crying out wrong and bearing pain” and “shapes of broken skin and flesh,” illuminating the profound suffering and violence Chinese laborers were subject to (246). Perhaps what struck me most was the question raised: “Do Cubans even have sympathy for us as humans?” (246). Furthermore, they indict Cuban officials as being complicit in withholding freedom papers and extorting Chinese back into exploitative labor despite the completion of their contract. They describe duplicitous plots which deceived Chinese laborers and facilitated their re-ensnarement in into the labor system. For me, the immense brutality and as well as the expansive grasp of the labor system— which ensured Chinese laborers were unable to escape the system— are revealing of the way in which coolie labor functioned as de facto slavery given the profound, unjust denial of autonomy." - Kath Coetzer


Kath Coetzer’s post delivers the most succinct and well-versed reflection upon the Chinese Coolie trade in the Caribbean, as she details the Addendums with precision, including several direct quotes from the primary source. At the beginning of the 19th century, the British colonial authorities began to scramble for labor on the sugar plantations to “replace [the] African slaves” (López, 16). A small population of Chinese, since the 1830s, had already “established a presence” in Cuba, but soon the island was teeming with coolie imports, as the Spanish colonizers “transformed” a land previously “incapable of self-sufficiency” to a “magnificent entrepot,” leaving Havana the “most active port in the Caribbean” (Guterl, 214). The Chinese were “ensnare[d]” into an “[in]escap[able]” labor system filled with “duplicitous plots” that “deceived” the Chinese laborers—an institution that “functioned as de facto slavery” (Coetzer). Kath outlines this “unjust denial of autonomy” for the Chinese, as she states how they were forced into more work, “despite the completion of their contract” (Coetzer). López further describes how the Chinese contracts were meaningless since they were “auctioned” around and the Chinese were “forced” to sign them anyways (López, 27, 26). Kath highlights an important quote from the Addendums within her post: “Do Cubans even have sympathy for us as humans?” (Yun, 246). This is a central question that I will be addressing within my own portfolio, as I attempt to document the ways in which the identities of enslaved Chinese were wrongfully and inhumanely stripped from them.

bottom of page