Historians have often explored the massive impact that nostalgia had on almost every aspect of the lives of migrants. While this is true, I will argue that the migrants’ lives were also defined by a deep sense of rupture from the life back ‘home’. This rupture was arguably experienced for the first time at the immigration depots and on board ships, both through overt and subtle forms of violence that they were subjected to, and through the medical surveillance that they had to endure. The time spent within these confined spaces was instrumental in forming a nascent sense of the ‘coolie’ identity, as well as in setting the tone for their future relationship with the state and other authorities. This paper will explore these issues with particular reference to Trinidad and British Guiana.