The Silver Women: How Black Women’s Labor Made the Panama Canal

Univ. of Pennsylvania. Jan. 2023. 296p. ISBN 9781512823639. $39.95. HIST
Flores-Villalobos (history, Univ. of Southern California) shakes up the traditionally told history of the construction of the Panama Canal in this explorative historical analysis. The author contends that the creation of the Panama Canal would not have been possible without the labor of West Indian Black migrant women. Flores-Villalobos dives into the lives of these women, including the social and racial hierarchies present in the area and throughout the construction process, as well as the communities created by the migrants. The women were subjected to discriminatory practices, despite the value of their efforts in creating a local workforce economy consisting of food, housing, and domestic labor. Readers of Lara Putnam’s Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age will find similar themes in the community-building aspects of the migrants, including their relationships with people living in Harlem.
VERDICT Flores-Villalobos beautifully tells the story of these women and brings this important history to life using a vast array of archival sources. A recommended purchase for academic libraries.
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