Khemani Gibson

  • Fellowship year:2019-2020
  • University: New York University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Caribbean
  • Dissertation Title: The Black Cosmopolitans: The West Indian Immigrant Community in Panama, 1914-1961
  • My dissertation traces the lineage of the West Indian immigrant community in Panama from the aftermath of emancipation in the British Caribbean colonies to the community's struggles against racism and xenophobia in Panama in the twentieth century. I explore how people of African descent–a population deemed marginal in key respects by the British, by Americans, and by Panamanians–fought to secure their right to freedom and self-determination. Drawing on interdisciplinary analytical frameworks from Africana studies, I argue that West Indian immigrants and their Panamanian-born children used migration and claims-making as a means to secure freedom and practice self-determination in a post-emancipation circum-Caribbean. By looking at the century of the West Indian presence in Panama, I hope to show not only why community members migrated to Panama in hopes of escaping the stagnancy of British colonialism but also how the community's longstanding presence played a significant role in the history of the circum-Caribbean.
    As a key linkage between the Americans, the British, and the Panamanians, the West Indian immigrant community members had to contend with the racial politics of all three entities, all while attempting to achieve full freedom to control their movement, their bodies, their labor, and their identities. This tension at times forced community members to switch allegiances between the three state powers in order to ensure their survival in a complex, racially-antagonistic environment. Using sources found in archives in Panama, Jamaica, the United States, and the United Kingdom I dissect how West Indian immigrants and their Panamanian-born children interacted with these entities. Also, my dissertation analyzes the unique positionality of Panamanian-born children of West Indian heritage who were rejected by the Panamanians for being "too British" and by the British who denied these individuals access to British subjecthood. Thus, the dissertation ends by not only discussing how the West Indian immigrant community interacted with the Panamanians, the British, and the Americans but also how the community's identity transformed over its near century presence in Panama.