Our Labor and Our Family

We brought our labor to the United States. Many of the first migrants from the West Indies to the United States arrived as nurse trainees, nurses and other health care workers after Congress ended restrictions on immigrants of Asian origin and immigrants from Africa in 1965.

The Hart-Cellar Act, which profoundly changed the demographics of the United States, was also known as the Brothers and Sisters Act.

Through it, we brought our family, with story after story after story after story creating a crescendo of family-sponsored migration resonating still. The new immigration law gave preference to prospective immigrants with family already in the United States. Among immigrants in New York City, where our enclaves and our critical mass are, Guyanese have the largest share of newcomers on family-preference visas: 60% of Guyanese arriving between 2002 and 2011 were sponsored by family members, according to the Department of City Planning.

We lugged, hoping it would give us levity, our irony about the weight of expectations from our “Queens cousins.” We still carry gratitude and grief for the grandmothers we have lost and our awe at what they have bequeathed us.

Gaiutra Bahadur, author of Coolie Woman: the Odyssey of Indenture, is an Assistant Professor at Rutgers University-Newark in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media. Her Archival Creators Fellowship project focuses on documenting within Guyanese communities descended from Indian indentured laborers. The Archival Creators Fellowship Program is made possible with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Read Gaiutra's writing about her fellowship project in TIDES:
• The Things We Carried
• The Storytellers in the Mandir
• Notes Toward a Prehistory
No Homeland Here

You can also listen to the oral history interviews Gaiutra conducted for her project and browse the archival materials she collected.

For their work and their guidance, Gaiutra is deeply grateful to her advisory board members William Depoo at DRUM, Annetta Seecharan at CHHAYA CDC, Pritha, Chitra and Karna Singh at the Rakjumari Cultural Center, Aminta Kilawan at Sadhana and the members of the collective of Ro(u)ted by Our Stories: Arita Balaram, Sasha Balkaran, Lissa Deonarain, Kimmi Ramnine, Tarika Sankar, Dharani Persaud, Simone Devi Jhingoor, Shivana Jorawar, and Yasmin Toney.