NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute and the NYU Center for Multicultural Education and Programs hosted a conversation with authors Kathleen López and Gaiutra Bahadur about the history of indentured labor and the Asian diaspora in the Caribbean on Nov. 13 at the NYU China House.
Founding director of the institute Jack Tchen said the event was organized when Bahadur, author of “Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture,” which comes out Nov. 15, contacted the A/P/A Institute about her book.
“We were really delighted to have Gaiutra reach out to us,” Tchen said.
Tchen said he hoped the audience’s eyes were opened to sometimes ignore portions of American history.
“We tend to be very U.S.-centric,” Tchen said. “We’re really trying to open up the history of colonialism and how [this] really refigured and remapped the world in so many different ways … so it’s really not just about other places, it’s about this place.”
Tchen welcomed the audience with a brief speech about Asian immigrants. Social and Cultural Analysis professor Sukhdev Sandhu introduced the authors.
Bahadur and López, who wrote “Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History,” read passages from their books, answered questions from Sandhu and participated in an audience question-and-answer session.
Bahadur’s book tells the story of her grandmother’s journey as a lonely, pregnant, indentured laborer and the struggles that came with this role. She talked about her process of writing from the perspective of an indentured laborer.
“The perspective of the indentured, their voices, for the most part, are missing from the historical record,” Bahadur said during her presentation. “I don’t see myself as overthrowing the text as much as questioning it.”
López’s book explores the experiences of Chinese people as indentured laborers in Cuba. López spoke about compiling her book and looking to the future of Cuban-Asian culture.
“Just by way of completion, the collected histories in this book demonstrate nuances and layers in Chinese migration to Cuba from the 19th century to the present,” López said in her presentation. “One thing I would caution is to not forget the history.”
CAS senior Alisa Liu, who is enrolled in Sandhu’s Asian-American literature class, attended the lecture and said she enjoyed listening to various perspectives about the topic.
“It really opened my eyes to a different kind of Asian migration,” Liu said. “We talk a lot about Chinese people moving to America, but we never really talk about Asian [migration] to Latin America.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 14 print edition. Klein Aleardi is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]