International Labor and Working-Class History


The Ties Allowed to Bind: Kinship Legalities and Migration Restriction in the Interwar Americas

Lara Putnama1

University of Pittsburgh


New immigration restrictions in the United States and elsewhere in the 1920s and 1930s made legal entry dependent on specific kinship formalities. This article explores the impact of the new system through a study of British Caribbean migrants. Because family patterns and the place of church and state sanction within them varied greatly by class—here, as in many parts of the world—the result was a curtailment of mobility that affected elites very little, and working-class would-be migrants enormously. In order to elucidate de facto patterns of exclusion, the author concludes, historians of transnational labor must begin paying more attention to the work “family” does.

Lara Putnam is an Associate Professor of Latin American and Caribbean History at the University of Pittsburgh. She specializes in the history of barriers and connections in the modern world, with particular attention to labor migration, racism, and family ties. Her publications include Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age (Chapel Hill, NC, 2013); The Company They Kept: Migrants and the Politics of Gender in Caribbean Costa Rica, 1870–1960 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2002); and “To Study the Fragments/Whole: Microhistory and the Atlantic World,” Journal of Social History 39 (2006).