CFP: Passages of Water and Labor Cultures of the Coastal South and the Caribbean

deadline for submissions: 
March 18, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
MLA 2023 LLC Southern US Forum

In Edwidge Danticat’s short story “Without Inspection,” an undocumented Haitian immigrant, Arnold, dies from unsafe working conditions at a construction site in south Florida. In the news coverage about the event, the construction company and developer release a statement in which he is referred to as Ernesto Fernandez, probably from the false documents Arnold offered to be hired. Danticat’s story illustrates the blending of Caribbean cultures in the U.S. South through worksites and migration processes, centering labor and labor conditions in immigrant and refugee life. The coastal southern border of the United States demarcates a site of a migration and humanitarian crisis, which has been represented in the writings of Attica Locke, Russell Banks, Eric Nguyen, and Patricia Engel. Beyond the struggle for safety, people arriving to this area from points in the Caribbean and across the Gulf of Mexico search for better working conditions and create communities of labor. However, as they arrive to the U.S. South, migrant workers confront the hostility of white supremacy, the legacy of the plantation economy, and anti-labor policies in right-to-work states.  

This panel seeks to define the waters between the U.S. and the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico in terms of migratory labor. We consider the historic contexts of the Middle Passage, plantation economies, and transnational work communities, such as Cuban cigarmaking, and extend this into contemporary labor migration, such as the undocumented workers in post-Katrina Gulf South and New Orleans. By defining the U.S. South as a multilingual and diverse space, we ask how these transnational communities of labor shape the process of placemaking and creating community in a region where those concepts are highly valued. We confront the limitations of those values as we consider the presence of Krome Detention Center in South Florida and the fact that the largest ICE raid in US history was in Mississippi. Recent labor campaigns in the South, such as the Amazon warehouse union campaign in Bessemer, Alabama and the rise of worker centers, call on us to reflect on how the U.S. South has always been a site of labor activism, and how new arrivals call for better working conditions in the coastal U.S.  


Possible topics include:

  • Representation of migrant work cultures in areas of the coastal and Gulf South, including but not limited to New Orleans, Miami, Tampa, and Mobile. 

  • How literature, such as Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season, and art, such as Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, engages with the history of violent labor conditions of the plantation. 

  • How climate change and (un)natural disasters disrupt and create new communities of labor, and how these are represented in writings such as Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun, 

  • How worksites and labor communities become sites that are both contact zones, but also places to experience and preserve multicultural identities. 

  • How canonical southern authors such as William Faulkner and Zora Neale Hurston represent transnational work communities and Caribbean cultures in their fiction. 

  • Labor activism in the U.S. South, especially within the coastal South and/or new arrival communities. 


Please submit abstracts of 250 words and a short bio by March 18th to