When I thought back to what Connie has meant to her students over the years, I realized Connie was a role model, not in the neo-liberal sense of learning how to market yourself, but in the sense of a path maker who taught us what a woman can be. Connie was actually one of 5 women professors when I was an undergraduate. at N.Y.U. And in the 1960s, just a few years after the campus at NYU University Heights became co-ed, I was fortunate that there were actually five women faculty. But one taught Latin and her presence was as irrelevant as the language was for me trying to understand how to live my life. And the second one taught Elementary Education and I thought she was acting as a role model on how you speak to second graders. That's how she spoke to that class. One taught political science and most of her life seemed preoccupied with hiding the fact she was married to a more senior professor, because it was illegal to hire a spouse in those days and she didn’t see a way to challenge that rule or even acknowledge to any of us the pressure she was under. And one taught marriage and the family and made her students feel that these were the only subjects that women could study.
And then there was Connie. And then there was Connie who taught us that the personal was political through breaking down the student/teacher barrier and sharing her life, her desires, her sense of style and sexuality, and her passions for social justice. Her feminism was lived and potent and deeply touched all of us here. She was the one who brought me to my first demonstration and teach-in, having taken up the idea from Marshall Sahlins and having helped organize one on our campus. And she's the one who gave us an anthropology in which the knowledge of human potential was a vital force for social transformation and social justice. And when I found myself staying in her apartment on September 11, 2001, it was Connie who knew we needed to immediately respond with a collective statement that grieved for the lives lost but as part of the grief for hundreds of thousands of lives lost by US imperial acts around the world. She understood with Malcolm X that “the chickens come home to roost.” So that's where Connie Sutton as a role model fits in.
But I also want to talk about Connie the scholar because the significance of her contributions is often not fully acknowledged., Take for example, the way Connie wrote about the Caribbean. When she (and later when I) entered anthropology, the Caribbean was seen as culturally hybrid and therefore not a serious area for anthropological research. Connie saw that because the capitalism, slavery, and modernity were born together in the Caribbean the region was a central area for anthropological study. Connie wrote her dissertation about a sugar-cane workers' strike in Barbados and had to struggle with a tendency rampant in both anthropology and the left at the time to see workers as subjects and historical actors only in Europe and the U.S. --- not in the Caribbean. Those who toiled in the Caribbean were generally described as peasants rather than as workers who were capable of labor solidarity and taking on the world. Connie told a different story and began a lineage of scholarship, a lineage that extends among many others to Linda Basch, who studied Trinidadian oil workers at a different historical conjuncture, and Sue Barrow who told the story of race and class in Barbados in the struggles of the 1970s and Deborah Thomas, who's delved into the emergence of neoliberalism and the co-option of political movements and nationalism in Jamaica and the ongoing struggles to transcend the violence unleashed within the moment of conquest and enslavement. Even today, despite the current interest in hybridity and the multiple studies of workers outside of Europe, the creative power of Afro-Caribbean workers that Connie documented and understood has never fully been appreciated. And in memory of Connie we have to salute their collective history and Connie’s wisdom.
And Connie’s scholarship also challenged the tendency of the discipline to speak and think of bounded and homogenous communities, a problem that persists, despite the 1990s mantras of fluidities and globalization and the continuing discourses about “ethnic communities.” In 1987, Connie, working with Elsa Chaney, published a path breaking edited volume Caribbean Life in New York, which argued that Caribbean migration is a “transnational sociocultural system” constituted by a “continuous and intense bidirectional flow of peoples, ideas, practices and ideologies between the Caribbean region and New York City” (p 19). That volume was central, --together with work by the Rosina and Wilton Wiltshire, Linda Basch and Joyce Toney (1990), the contributors of the edited volume Towards a Transnational Framework for the Study of Migration (Glick Schiller et al 1992), the work of Michael Kearney and Carol Nagengast (1989) and of Nations Unbound (Basch et al 1994 --in initiating the first wave of transnational migration scholarship. This first wave of scholarship with its examination of transnational relations of unequal power voiced Connie’s commitment to contentious struggles against racialized and gender hierarchies and a world without boundaries.
And finally, I'd like to speak about Connie as a friend. And to say, echoing what Linda Basch said on the occasion of Connie’s 90th birthday: "Connie is there for you as a sister and friend always." She took you in when you're down and to keep you going through hours of solace and sisterhood and often good Bajun rum at her kitchen table. She built a kitchen table sisterhood extends globally across the generations.
Basch, L., Glick Schiller, N., and Szanton Blanc, C. 1994 Nations Unbound: Transnational Project, Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialized Nation-States. New York: Gordon and Breech (Routledge).
Glick Schiller, N., Basch, L., and Szanton Blanc, C. eds. 1992 Towards a Transnational Perspective on Migration: Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Nationalism Reconsidered. New York: New York Academy of Sciences.
Sutton, C. and Chaney, E. 1987 Caribbean Life in New York City: Sociocultural Dimensions. New York: Center for Migration Studies.
Wiltshire, R., Basch, L., Wiltshire, W., and Toney, J. 1990 Caribbean Transnational Migration Networks: Implications for Donor Societies. Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre.
, the contributors of the edited volume Towards a Transnational Framework for the Study of Migration (Glick Schiller et al 1992), the work of Michael Kearney and Carol Nagengast (1989) and of Nations Unbound (Basch et al 1994)- the volume I co-authored --in initiating the wave of transnational migration scholarship.