The Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Award 2014—Caribbean Studies Association


At the 2014 awards presentation last night (May 30) at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán in Mérida, Mexico, Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) president Dwaine Plaza announced the winner of the Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Award. The award this year was shared between Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture (2013) and Kathleen López’s Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History (2013).

The Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Award: This yearly award was established to honor the memory of distinguished Caribbeanists Gordon K. Lewis and Sybil Lewis.  It is granted to the best book about the Caribbean published over the previous three-year period in Spanish, English, French or Dutch. The nominated book should approach the chosen subject or aspect of Caribbean life conditions and situations from an interdisciplinary perspective, and should clearly show to have regional impact.

Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of IndentureDescription: In 1903 a Brahmin woman sailed from India to Guyana as a ‘coolie’, the name the British gave to the million indentured labourers they recruited for sugar plantations worldwide after slavery ended. The woman, who claimed no husband, was pregnant and travelling alone. A century later, her great-granddaughter embarks on a journey into the past to find her. Traversing three continents and trawling through countless colonial archives, Bahadur excavates not only her great-grandmother’s story but also the repressed history of some quarter of a million other coolie women, shining a light on their complex lives. Coolie Woman is a meditation on survival, a gripping story of a double diaspora–from India to the West Indies in one century, Guyana to the United States in the next–that is at once a search for one’s roots and an exploration of gender and power, peril and opportunity.

Gaiutra Bahaduris a journalist and book critic who writes frequently about the culture and politics of global migration.

Chinese Cubans: A Transnational HistoryDescription: In the mid-nineteenth century, Cuba’s infamous “coolie” trade brought well over 100,000 Chinese indentured laborers to its shores. Though subjected to abominable conditions, they were followed during subsequent decades by smaller numbers of merchants, craftsmen, and free migrants searching for better lives far from home. In a comprehensive, vibrant history that draws deeply on Chinese- and Spanish-language sources in both China and Cuba, Kathleen López explores the transition of the Chinese from indentured to free migrants, the formation of transnational communities, and the eventual incorporation of the Chinese into the Cuban citizenry during the first half of the twentieth century. Chinese Cubans shows how Chinese migration, intermarriage, and assimilation are central to Cuban history and national identity during a key period of transition from slave to wage labor and from colony to nation. On a broader level, López draws out implications for issues of race, national identity, and transnational migration, especially along the Pacific Rim.

Kathleen López is assistant professor of history and Latino and Hispanic Caribbean studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

For more information, see and

Also see previous posts Forthcoming Book: Coolie Woman—The Odyssey of Indenture, Coolie Diaspora: From Indentureship to Transnational Communities, Gaiutra Bahadur’s “Coolie Woman” Longlisted for the Orwell Prize, New Book: Kathleen López’s “Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History”

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