Connie Sutton was my teacher, mentor, collaborator, neighbor and very dear friend for over 50 years. When I met Connie in 1966, I was an English major about to begin the last semester of my senior year at NYU’s University Heights campus with no clear plans for my future. Although I had only taken one previous anthropology course, she allowed me to participate in her advanced seminar on social change. That experience altered my life course and gave me an entirely new lens for understanding the world. I became one of the first of Connie’s undergraduate students to go on to become an anthropologist.
Connie was a strong advocate for Caribbean anthropology. At a time when it was too often dismissed by a discipline focused on indigenous and “traditional” societies, she recognized not only the historic centrality of Caribbean societies in the building of empires and metropoles but also their ongoing importance for an anthropological understanding of the contemporary world. When she learned that I participated in a summer fieldwork program in Antigua, she hired me the following summer, in 1969, to conduct interviews in the Barbadian plantation community of Ellerton, exploring changes that had occurred in the decade since her pathbreaking dissertation research with sugar cane workers there. Ellerton not only became the site of my own dissertation research from 1970 to 1972, but in subsequent years we collaborated on several articles that drew on our fieldwork there to conceptualize issues in the emerging fields of feminist anthropology and transnationalism. Our collaborative work entailed long, sometimes combative, always intense discussions of women’s roles as community and societal actors, and of the networks, identities, and political consciousness emerging from postcolonial migration patterns linking Caribbean peoples to metropolitan centers abroad. In those pre-PC and pre-internet days, we usually worked in Connie’s study, with its expansive views of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge. Our efforts were fueled partially by convivial dinners with Sam, David, and whoever else had gathered around Connie’s now famous kitchen table, followed by a steady supply of after dinner chocolate, and often capped off with late-night excitement at those “aha” moments of insight.
The anthropology that Connie introduced me to not only offered an intellectual grounding but mandated moral and political commitments as well. She taught, wrote, and marched for social justice, fought against racism and sexism within and beyond academic settings; and provided mentorship and support to scholars and activists throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Connie was not only generous in sharing her knowledge and ideas. She also drew students and those she mentored into her extensive personal network. My life has been enriched by the privilege of becoming one of her lifelong friends and of coming to know, through the years, so many of her nearest and dearest. For the last 30 years, we were close neighbors in the same building, where Connie and Antonio would “swing by” for impromptu visits and where we shared grocery shopping, holiday celebrations, visits with grandchildren, trips to Antonio and Connie’s house in the country, outings to movies, theater, and dance performances, as well as meetings and events in our building. Our lives remained deeply intertwined and I can’t yet begin to imagine a world without Connie.
Sutton, C. and Makiesky, S., Migration and West Indian racial and ethnic consciousness. In H. Safa and B. duToit, Eds., Migration and Development: Implications for Ethnic Identity and Political Conflict. Mouton, The Hague, 1975; abbreviated version reprinted in C. Sutton and E. Chaney, Ed., Caribbean Life in New York City, Center for Migration Studies of New York, Inc., 1987
Sutton, C., Makiesky, S., Dwyer, D., and Klein, L., Women, knowledge, and power. R. Rohrlich-Leavitt, Ed., Women Cross-Culturally: Change and Challenge. Mouton, The Hague, 1975
Sutton, C., and Makiesky-Barrow, S., Social inequality and sexual status in Barbados. A. Schlegel, Ed., Sexual Stratification: A Cross-Cultural View. Columbia University Press, New York, 1977.