Borderland on the Isthmus

Race, Culture, and the Struggle for the Canal Zone

Borderland on the Isthmus

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 21 photographs, 1 table, 3 maps Published: May 2014

History > U.S. History, Latin American Studies > Central America, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

The construction, maintenance, and defense of the Panama Canal brought Panamanians, U.S. soldiers and civilians, West Indians, Asians, and Latin Americans into close, even intimate, contact. In this lively and provocative social history, Michael E. Donoghue positions the Panama Canal Zone as an imperial borderland where U.S. power, culture, and ideology were projected and contested. Highlighting race as both an overt and underlying force that shaped life in and beyond the Zone, Donoghue details how local traditions and colonial policies interacted and frequently clashed. Panamanians responded to U.S. occupation with proclamations, protests, and everyday forms of resistance and acquiescence. Although U.S. "Zonians" and military personnel stigmatized Panamanians as racial inferiors, they also sought them out for service labor, contraband, sexual pleasure, and marriage. The Canal Zone, he concludes, reproduced classic colonial hierarchies of race, national identity, and gender, establishing a model for other U.S. bases and imperial outposts around the globe.


"This book is recommended for use in courses in modern Latin American History, U.S.-Latin American Relations, and the history of race, gender, and sexuality." — Colonial Latin American Historical Review

"Donoghue’s social history of the Canal Zone is an indispensable source for our understanding of the good, bad, and ugly of this experiment in a (perhaps) American empire." — Russel Crandall, American Historical Review

"The book should be required reading for anyone seeking to get a sense of life around the Panama Canal, especially in World War II and the postwar decades.” — Noel Maurer, Journal of American History

"Borderland on the Isthmus is the most thorough and best depiction of day-to-day reality in the post-war Canal Zone to date.... The theoretical questions that linger here... make this anthro-historical study all the more important to read for historians interested in Latin America and the US empire." — Ezer Vierba, Journal of Latin American Studies

"Borderland on the Isthmus is an outstanding achievement, highly recommended for scholars of empires in general and the US empire in particular, borderland studies, US diplomatic history, Latin American studies, gender studies, cultural studies, and social history." — Atalia Shragai, Canadian Journal of History

“This readable yet academically documented book contributes to American and Canal Zone historiography. It will interest general readers as well as students of postcolonial history, American imperialism, and late twentieth-century US history.” — Robin E. Zenger, Hispanic American Historical Review

"In this fascinating social history, Michael E. Donoghue breaks new ground by exploring not just a single group in the Panama Canal Zone, but all of the diverse and conflicted resident populations and the relationships between them, particularly in the years after World War II. He shows how societies in conflict also collaborated, and he locates these interactions in relation to the broader U.S. imperial project in the Canal Zone." — John Lindsay-Poland, author of Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama

"As the newly expanded Panama Canal opens to pose historic challenges to U.S. trade and diplomacy, Michael E. Donoghue's timely, superbly written, and remarkably researched book is unsurpassed in giving us a social history of the century-long American empire in Panama—with welcome emphases on the post-1945 years, the multiethnic Panamanian perspectives, the long-lasting U.S. imperial experiences, and their legacies for the twenty-first century." — Walter LaFeber, Andrew and James Tisch University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael E. Donoghue is Associate Professor of History at Marquette University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Borderland on the Isthmus: The Changing Boundaries and Frontiers of the Panama Canal Zone 8

2. Race and Identity in the Zone-Panama Borderland: Zonians Uber Alles 50

3. Race and Identity in the Zone-Panama Borderland: West Indians Contra Todos 93

4. Desire, Sexuality, and Gender in the Zone-Panama Borderland 128

5. The U.S. Military: Armed Guardians of the Borderland 168

6. "Injuring the Power System": Crime and Resistance in the Borderland 203

Epilogue: The Zone-Panama Borderland and the Complexity of U.S. Empire 245

Notes 255

Bibliography 307

Index 333
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5678-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5666-0
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