LITR 4333 American Immigrant Literature

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Fall 2013-14; Monday 7-9:50 Bayou 2230

companion course: LITR 4332 American Minority Literature

Dr. White's


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Model Assignments


Course Objectives—organizing themes & terms for presentations and exams  (terms index)


Overall Objective 1: To identify the immigrant narrative as a defining story, model, or social contract for American culture and recognize its relations to "the American Dream” and other multicultural narratives or identities. Such applications identify four multicultural groups or narratives for the United States of America.

  • The standard immigrant story of escaping the Old World and assimilating to the New World and its dominant culture; two great historical waves of American immigration:

    • late 1800s to early 1900s: southern, eastern, and central Europeans including Jews

    • late 20th-early 21st century: Asian Americans + New World Immigrants in late 20th-early 21st century

    • (Jews and Asian Americans sometimes called "model minorities" for assimilation to American economics, esp. education, professions, and capitalism; also "STEM.")

  • Minority narratives (African Americans, Native Americans) are NOT immigrant stories (i.e., voluntary participation and assimilation) but stories of involuntary contact and exploitation, resisting assimilation (or being denied opportunities) and creating an identity more or less separate from the mainstream. (Color code as wild-card factor.)

  • The New World immigrant (Hispanic/Latino/a and Afro-Caribbean) constitutes the largest wave of contemporary immigration and combines immigrant and minority narratives: voluntary immigration from the Caribbean / West Indies or MesoAmerica but also often experience of exploitation by USA in countries or origin, or through identification with minorities (Indians and Blacks) via color code.

  • The Dominant Culture of earlier immigrants from Northern and Western Europe—despite their predominance and power, this group is often the hardest to identify because of their "unmarked" status: often identified with whiteness but also with middle-class modesty, plainness, and cleanliness. Following the Exodus story, the dominant culture does not assimilate to pre-existing cultures but conquers and displaces earlier traditions. Two major strains: middle-class Puritans (Pilgrims) emphasizing education, community, and progress, and Scots-Irish, hillbilly, or redneck culture emphasizing common-sense traditions, family honor, evangelical religion, and resentment of elites.

These categories are not exclusive, absolute, or definitive, only proximate efforts to imitate informal classifications in practice. Borders or boundaries of human identities are always more or less fluid and blendable, and social contracts are constantly renegotiated.

(People or peoples and their stories are always complicated, always changeable, and always frustrating to efforts at classification, but the need to classify—mostly as "us and them" or "self and other"—is also distinctively human.)

Objective 2. Dynamics, variations, and stages of the immigrant narrative.