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Racial ReconstructionBlack Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship$
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Edlie Wong

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9781479868001

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479868001.001.0001

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“Cosa de Cuba!”

“Cosa de Cuba!”

American Literary Travels, Empire, and the Contract Coolie

(p.17) 1 “Cosa de Cuba!”
Racial Reconstruction

Edlie L. Wong

NYU Press

Chapter 1 mines an under-examined archive of American travelogues to Cuba to explore the emergence of Chinese “cooliesm” as a transatlantic racial formation enmeshed in the geopolitics of U.S. Empire and in national debates over labor versus capital. Controversies over U.S. participation in the lucrative “coolie trade,” involving the transport of thousands of Chinese indentured laborers to Cuba and Peru, intensified as sectional tensions over the future of slavery threatened to erupt into Civil War. This chapter explores how popular travel narratives by writers, including Richard Henry Dana and Eliza McHatton Ripley, refracted and reshaped American ideas about slavery, citizenship, and free labor, especially in relation to contract ideology and its associated concepts of self-ownership and free will. These narratives helped disseminate the specter of the Chinese “coolie-slave,” which influenced U.S. debates over slavery and later became a potent symbol for the enduring legacy of slavery in Reconstruction America.

Keywords:   coolie, indenture labor, slavery, travel narrative, Cuba, American Civil War, abolition, contract, Richard Henry Dana, Eliza McHatton Ripley

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