This introductory chapter sets out the focus of the book, namely black labor migration to Guatemala in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with particular attention paid to the experiences of black immigrants and their relations with Guatemalans and other Latin Americans. Studies of Caribbean coast laborers are scarce to nonexistent, but where these workers are represented in the historical record, they tend to be depicted as passive pawns of their employers and victims of state repression during the repressive dictatorship of President Estrada Cabrera. This book advances a revisionist interpretation, arguing that workers of African descent have played an important role in Guatemala's history since the 1880s when liberal elites first revamped the republic's economic development and modernization plan. In revisiting and rewriting the history of black workers in Guatemala, this book concentrates on the Guatemalan departments of Izabal and Zacapa, where two Caribbean coast African diaspora communities developed with multiple black identities, including black Americans, black West Indians of various national identities, and Garifuna, or “black Caribs,” as they were once known. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented.
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