Mobilizing Empire: Race, Sugar, and U.S. Colonialism across the Pacific, 1898-1934
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This dissertation brings together histories of the colonization of the American West, Hawai‘i, and the Philippines to explore the historical development of race and capitalism in the formation of the U.S. empire. Focusing on the commercial production of sugar across the expanding U.S. empire, this dissertation traces in particular the formation of the migrant worker, whose recruitment and exclusion created the conditions of possibility for sugar production, imperial expansion, and, ultimately, anticolonial critique. Using the production of sugar as a lens onto broader historical processes, this dissertation shows how the U.S. empire operated through the movements of labor and capital, which produced contradictions that simultaneously reinforced and exceeded state objectives. From 1906 to 1934, over 100,000 migrant Filipinos traveled to Hawai‘i, most of them recruited to work in the territory’s sugar plantations, while U.S. capital flowed in the opposite direction to transform the Philippine economy in the name of “development” and racial “uplift.” The annexation of Hawai‘i and the Philippines in 1898 brought two additional sugar-producing regions under U.S. domain, threatening to undermine the nascent beet sugar industry in the western states. American sugar beet farmers mobilized to defend their industry against sugar produced by so-called “coolie” labor in the Philippines and Hawai‘i, even as they depended on the racialized labor of noncitizen migrant workers in domestic sugar beet production. But the same forces that drove the transpacific migration of workers also generated political visions and social networks that exposed, critiqued, and challenged the U.S. empire. Drawing on plantation records, documents from the Bureau of Insular Affairs, and oral histories, this dissertation shows how Filipinos and other migrants leveraged imperial power relations to mobilize against capital and to pursue radical alternatives to American nationalism and U.S. colonial rule.
- History