Migration and the French Sex Trade in Early Twentieth-Century Havana

Trafficking Past Network member Elisa Camiscioli explores the ‘French-Style’ Brothels of early twentieth century Cuba and the nationalist crusade against sexual vice 

Commercial sex in early twentieth-century Havana was an international and multiracial business, employing indigenous and other native-born women; foreign-born prostitutes from Europe, East Asia, the United States; and women from elsewhere in the Caribbean. This diversity reflects Cuba’s status as both a post-emancipation society and a country of mass immigration. But according to several accounts, French women predominated in the early twentieth-century Cuban sex industry, along with French men working as pimps and traffickers alongside their Cuban counterparts. French consular officials, Cuban social reformers, police authorities on both sides of the Atlantic, and the U.S. investigators representing the League of Nations documented an over-representation of French women in brothel prostitution, especially in the capital city of Havana.













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CALL FOR ABSTRACTS for a special issue of the Journal of Women’s History: ‘Migration, Sex and Intimate Labor, 1850-2000’

The Trafficking Past team is excited to announce our call for abstracts for a Journal of Women’s History Special issue, which Julia Laite and Philippa Hetherington will be guest editing with the support of Trafficking Past Network Members Elisa Camiscioli and Jessica Pliley.  All details are below!

Call for Abstracts— “Migration, Sex, and Intimate Labor, 1850-2000”

Women with an American GI in a brothel in Calcutta, 1945 (By Clyde Waddell – http://www.library.upenn.edu/collections/sasia/calcutta1947/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36765950)

The Journal of Women’s History is seeking expressions of interest to submit articles to a special issue on migration, sex, and intimate labor in the period between 1850 and 2000, in any local, national, transnational, or global context. It seeks to frame “intimate labor” within the long history of women’s involvement in domestic and sexual markets and their movement across and within borders for myriad forms of care and body work (Boris and Parreñas, 2010). This special issue will be positioned within an emergent historiography that examines the practices, discourses, regulation of, and attempts to suppress what has come to be known as “trafficking,” while foregrounding the ways in which a historical lens can destabilize this term. Such research brings the gendered and sexual history of migration and labor into dialogue with new literatures on the history of globalization, capitalism, citizenship, and mobility. It also speaks to on-going concerns in contemporary politics around the relationship between labor and movement, “forced” and “free” migration, and the politics of humanitarianism. As such, while firmly historical, this special issue will engage with and contribute to ongoing interdisciplinary discussions about “modern slavery,” international law, human rights, and the gendered migrant subject.

We are especially interested in work that:

  • Engages critically with the historical production of categories such as “trafficking,” “smuggling,” and migratory “illegality” as they have pertained to women’s migration
  • Examines sexual labor in the context of gendered migration and the broader category of intimate labor(s)
  • Explores the historical lived experience of migrating for intimate, domestic, and sexual labor
  • Looks at local, national, and international responses to female migrants who were defined as trafficked, illegal, or exploited
  • Places trafficking and women’s intimate labor within a wider discourse of indenture, slavery and un-freedom; as well as imperialism, mobility, and globalization

We are interested in any thematic or methodological approach, but would especially welcome work that focuses on the global south, imperial contexts, and non-white subjects. Work can be locally, nationally, transnationally, globally, or comparatively focused. All submissions must be historical in focus.

Prospective contributors to this special issue are asked to send an extended abstract of 1,000 words to the issue’s guest editors, Julia Laite (j.laite@bbk.ac.uk) and Philippa Hetherington (p.hetherington@ucl.ac.uk) by 1 June 2018. Abstracts should describe the prospective article and how it explicitly engages with the theme of the special issue. Authors should also include a discussion of the sources—archival or published—they will be using in the article.

Selected contributors will be informed within two months and asked to submit a complete manuscript by 1 June 2019, which will go through the JWH’s standard process of peer and editorial review. If the manuscript is accepted for publication at the end of this process, it will be published in the special issue.

(Im)Mobilities Symposium: Reflections and Resource Sharing

On the 13th of October, our PI Julia Laite took part in a day-long symposium, (Im)Mobilties:  Intimate labour in a transnational world, organized by Victoria Haskins (Purai -Global Indigenous and Diaspora Research Studies Centre; University of Newcastle), Rosie Cox (Geography, Birkbeck) and Julia Laite (History, Birkbeck).

The symposium  aimed to bring together Birkbeck scholars to share insights into the utility of the concept of mobility for transnational themes of race, gender, class and intimate labour (particularly but not exclusively in relation to service and care work).  The conversation was interdisciplinary, but also concerned with the methodologies of doing transnational and global research into intimate and domestic labour.

After a challenging conversation about the utility of the concepts of ‘mobility’ and ‘intimacy’ in our research, we heard short papers from Victoria Haskins (Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities Fellow; History);  Silvia Posocco (Psychosocial Studies); Esther Leslie (English and Humanities); Julia Laite (History, Classics & Archaeology); William Ackah (Geography); Ruth Sheldon (Pyschosocial Studies); Fae Dussart (Geography); and Lynne Segal (Pyschosocial Studies).  Our discussions ranged from the different kinds of transnational intimate labour and labour abuses in the past and present; to the intimate, domestic and gendered experiences of migrants; to the politics of care, gentrification, and intimate migration control.

In the comments section below we’ve encouraged symposium presenters and attendees to share their thoughts, questions, and recommended bibliographic resources to continue this conversation online.

Finding Lee Sam: Gardener, Trafficker, and a Stateless Subject in British Malaya

By Sandy Chang

 I first discovered Lee Sam – a woman convicted of trafficking and operating a brothel during the 1930s – in a brown folder at the National Archives of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. I had not been looking for her. But as is often the case with archival research, this particular encounter was a serendipitous one.

Traces of Lee Sam in the Malaysian National Archives

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Microhistories of Trafficking: Small Stories and Digital Archives

By Julia Laite

My own research within the Trafficking Past network is a microhistory of one case of trafficking from the year 1910, in which a young woman from New Zealand was convinced to go to Buenos Aires by Antonio Carvelli, an Italian man who was living in Australia, to sell sex.  Pushing against the tendency to anecdotalize and decontextualize cases of trafficking in the past and present, the book I’m writing is taking a life history approach. Each chapter will trace a major character in the case, from when they are born, until when they die, and insists on seeing them as complex human beings engaged in modes of exploitation and labour within much wider economic and social contexts.  I want to find out what happened to them before and after I encountered them in the archive file in the National Archives in London:  what factors led them to be part of the case in 1910, and what their lives were like afterward.

Antonio Carvelli, after his first arrest in Australia

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