Last week, we established that transnational history was a broad methodology that could be practiced and applied in a multitude of ways. This week’s readings sought to narrow down this definition by providing us with two specific examples of transnational history, Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity, 1700-Present and Subaltern Lives: Biographies of Colonialism in the Indian Ocean World, 1790-1920. These books introduced us to an application of transnational ideas to imperial history. Although both books were interesting, I latched onto one of Transnational Lives’ analytical framework. When we take specific people(s) as our case study, and analyse their lives through the use of a transnational framework, we see that boundaries defining their citizenship and identity are constantly being drawn and redrawn across other people’s lives and territories. [1] A single person’s body can thus becomes a product of transnationalism. Inspired by the anthropologist, George Marcus, this analysis seeks to ‘follow the people’, ‘follow the thing’, and/or ‘follow the story’ to produce a ‘multi-sided ethnography’ that captures the entanglements one person’s life has with another person. [2] In turn, these entanglements are picked up on by historians and linked back to a big claim about how transnationalism has impacted a historical agent’s sense of identity.

This is the kind of analytic framework that I hope to use in my project. La Caridad 78 is a Chinese-Cuban restaurant in New York City. It is the site of three converging cultures and identities: Cuban, Chinese, and American. I wish I could say that I discovered it serendipitously whilst wandering around NYC, but the truth is less glamorous – I’ve never been to NYC. Instead, I found it on YouTube when I should have been working. Aside from serving up fusion food, like ‘lo mein de la casa with chuletas fritas’, the waiters there speak a combination of Cantonese, English, and Spanish. [3] How did a bunch of Chinese people end up in Cuba, before finally settling in America? Chinese people originally settled in Cuba in the mid-1800s to work on sugar plantations alongside African-Americans. These same workers then went on to fight alongside the Cubans in the wars of Cuban Independence, before finally leaving Cuba after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. [4] Although I’ve still got a long, long way to go with research, my current thought is that the movement of these Chinese-Cuban migrants cannot be disentangled from the Cold War. By choosing to either stay in Cuba or leave to America, identities within this community were split along ideological lines and were, perhaps, influenced by feelings of animosity and friendship between China and Cuba on the one hand, and Cuba and America on the other hand. [5] Overall, this case study of a restaurant in New York lends itself to the transnational approach articulated above. Even if my current thoughts end up being wrong, I hope that using this analytic framework more will help me uncover entanglements in places that I wouldn’t expect.

Citations:

[1] Deacon Desley, Penny Russell, and Angela Woollacott (eds.), Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity, 1700-Present (2010), p. 5

[2] George E. Marcus, ‘Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sided Ethnography’ in Annual Review Anthropology, Vol. 24 (1995)

[3] Lok Siu, ‘Chino Latino Restaurants: Converging Communities, Identities, and Cultures’ in William Luis, Afro-Hispanic Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, Afro-Asia (Spring 2008), p. 161

[4] Ibid, pp. 163-165

[5] Ibid, p. 165

‘Following the people’: microhistory as transnational history

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