Migration and settler colonialism: Julia Katz, From coolies to colonials, PhD Dissertation, Rutgers University, 2018


Abstract: Focusing on the period 1870-1920, my dissertation offers a social history of colonization and exclusion that integrates the experiences of Chinese migrants, indigenous Hawaiians, and white colonial and territorial officials. Drawing from government records and reports, newspaper articles, and family histories, I recover the aspirations of Chinese migrants who arrived in the islands as plantation laborers, but staked claims to alternative futures through independent, collective, creolized, and occasionally illicit economic networks, frequently capitalizing on their intimate contact with Native Hawaiians. I argue that although the management of Asian contract labor was critical to the expansion of American empire in the Pacific, migrants also undermined Americanization by pursuing autonomous endeavors. While migrant mobility and enterprise frustrated both American imperial plans for Hawai‘i as a white settler society and local elites’ development of a plantation colony, migrants cooperated as well as competed with indigenous investments in the islands. I treat American annexation and the extension of Chinese exclusion laws as a crucial hinge that profoundly changed the conditions and possibilities of Chinese settlement in Hawai‘i, incentivizing migrants’ accommodation to American empire and mobilizing the politics of Asian settler colonialism.

The dissertation is divided into four chapters. The first interrogates opium regulation in the Hawaiian kingdom as a racializing colonialist discourse that patronized Native Hawaiians and criminalized migrant Chinese, laying the ideological groundwork for both annexation and exclusion. The second chapter considers the rise and fall of Chinese rice culture, and examines immigration exclusion laws as economic policies designed to constrict non-white migrant enterprise. The third chapter investigates Chinese success in commercial food production, specifically fishpond and poi factory operation, as the result of collective financial networks, cultural appropriation, and interracial economic intimacies. My final chapter explores Chinese diplomatic and grassroots resistance to exclusion laws and the culture of racial violence that these laws fostered. I argue that legal, economic, and political insecurity around annexation freighted organized responses to everyday transgressions against Chinese subjects, overlaying concerns about the treatment of marginalized migrants with the weight of exclusion.

Ultimately, I contend that Hawai‘i Chinese mobilized settler colonial politics in response to American imperial takeover and exclusion, which curtailed the possibility of grounding migrant rights in transnational frameworks of belonging, and reduced diasporic Chinese to aliens unable to make political claims on the territory from outside the category of citizenship. As American imperial policies threatened the security of Chinese futures in the islands, migrants couched their claims to belonging in a discourse of racial and economic exceptionalism premised on their alleged superiority to Native Hawaiians.

%d bloggers like this: