Cover of Forging Ties, Forging Passports by Devi Mays
Forging Ties, Forging Passports
Migration and the Modern Sephardi Diaspora
Devi Mays


360 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503613201
Paperback ISBN: 9781503613218
Ebook ISBN: 9781503613225

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Winner of the 2020 National Jewish Book Awards, Sephardic Culture category, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council.

Winner of the 2021 Dorothy Rosenberg Prize, sponsored by the American Historical Association (AHA).

Winner of the 2021 Jordan Schnitzer Prize in the category of Modern Jewish History and Culture: Africa, Americas, Asia, and Oceania; sponsored by the Association of Jewish Studies (AJS).

Winner of the 2021 Alixa Naff Prize in Migration Studies, sponsored by the Moise Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies.

Forging Ties, Forging Passports is a history of migration and nation-building from the vantage point of those who lived between states. Devi Mays traces the histories of Ottoman Sephardi Jews who emigrated to the Americas—and especially to Mexico—in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the complex relationships they maintained to legal documentation as they migrated and settled into new homes. Mays considers the shifting notions of belonging, nationality, and citizenship through the stories of individual women, men, and families who navigated these transitions in their everyday lives, as well as through the paperwork they carried.

In the aftermath of World War I and the Mexican Revolution, migrants traversed new layers of bureaucracy and authority amid shifting political regimes as they crossed and were crossed by borders. Ottoman Sephardi migrants in Mexico resisted unequivocal classification as either Ottoman expatriates or Mexicans through their links to the Sephardi diaspora in formerly Ottoman lands, France, Cuba, and the United States. By making use of commercial and familial networks, these Sephardi migrants maintained a geographic and social mobility that challenged the physical borders of the state and the conceptual boundaries of the nation.

About the author

Devi Mays is Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.

"Forging Ties, Forging Passports powerfully demonstrates that in eras of migration restriction, mobility becomes a radical act. Examining how Ottoman Jews in Mexico grappled with their home empire's collapse, Devi Mays reclaims these migrants from the state's cartographic tyrannies and captures the wholeness of their experience. A sparkling work of social history that prompts larger questions over citizenship and its meanings."

—Stacy D. Fahrenthold, University of California, Davis

"Devi Mays has written a rich account of Sephardi migrants' lives as they moved across states, adapting to and subverting the restrictions that sought to limit their mobility. Forging Ties, Forging Passports forces us to rethink the validity of categories like 'Sephardi,' 'Jewish,' and 'Mexican,' and deepens our understanding of the complex transnational ties that shaped the lives of Jews who came to Latin America."

—Adriana Brodsky, St. Mary's College of Maryland

"Forging Ties, Forging Passports is an important addition to research, bridging Jewish and Middle Eastern scholarship with the broader investigation of migration and diaspora, as the transnational turn still makes new inroads into MENA studies and Sephardic studies."

—Aviad Moreno, Association for Jewish Studies Review

"Mays's work adds a great deal to our knowledge of the mechanics of how Sephardi Jews migrated from the Mediterranean to the Americas, and her focus on hypermobility will align in a variety of ways with much scholarship on a variety of immigrant groups throughout history."

—Mollie Lewis Nouwen, Hispanic American Historical Review

"In discussing a highly unique response to an era of growing exclusion, Mays's book makes an important contribution to the field of transborder studies."

—Ben Nobbs-Thiessen, Latin American Research Review

"Mays has written a book that begs to be read. The reader is asked to think more deeply about why people engage in the act of migration and how access to different political, social, cultural, and ethnic identities allow certain groups greater mobility and entrée into new social worlds.... Captivatingly written, this is a book that greatly deepens our understanding not only of Sephardic Jewish immigration during the early twentieth century but of the global forces that impelled migrants to disperse across oceans and continents."

—Laura Limonic, Mashriq & Mahjar

"This book's strengths are many. By centering the narrative on individual migrants, Mays reminds scholars of migration not to exaggerate the role of state power in shaping mobility."

—David Gutman, American Historical Review