LITR 4340 American Immigrant Literature Lecture Notes

Lecture Notes

Afro-Caribbean Immigrants

June Jordan (1936-2002)
b. NYC of Jamaican-American parents

Edwidge Danticat, b. 1969 in Haiti, moved to NYC at age 12

Paule Marshall, b. 1929 in NYC to immigrants from Barbadoes


Mrs. White returns Monday, so may be late to office hours



Edwidge Danticat, “Children of the Sea” (IA 98-112)

98 nightmares

98 Haiti is just the way you left it

99 closed the schools since the Army took over

all the other youth federation members have disappeared

manman says that butterflies can bring news

pregnant girl on board, face covered with scars

the hopelessness of the future in our country

I used to read a lot about America, university exams, Miami

no borderlines on the sea

100 lot of Protestants on this boat . . as Job or the Children of Israel, part the sea for us [preview Pilgrims]

some good wanga magic   [syncretism, African traditions]

you have a name, you have a reputation

our neighbor madan roger came home with her son's head and not much else

the macoutes

101 charcoal layer of sunburn, x-mistaken for Cubans   [color code]

some Cubans black too      color code, mestizo, hispanic / latino

took the Cubans to Miami and sent him back to Haiti   [differential treatment]

Beloved Haiti, there is no place like you. I had to leave

If I was a girl, maybe I would have been at home

102 all the American factories are closed

slapping me really hard

finally an African, even darker than your father

102 hoped the Coast Guard would find us soon

103 dreamt I died and went to heaven

starfishes and mermaids

make the son sleep with his mother, a daughter and father

104 you are an educated girl

104 feel like we are sailing for Africa

treat Haitians like dogs in the Bahamas . . . same African fathers

104 cf. slave ships

106 they are the law, law of the land, nothing we can do

sometimes hope is the biggest weapon of all to use against us

107 offering for Agwe, spirit of water

108 Do you remember our silly dreams?

my mother had a kriz [attack, seizure, crisis]

109 choose b/w your father and the man you love

110 you passed

butterflies here, tons of butterflies

111 She threw it overboard

111 I know a coast guard ship is coming. It came to me in my dream

those who have escaped the chains of slavery to form a world beneath the heavens

111 live with Agwe at bottom of sea

112 another boat sank off the cost of the bahamas




Paule Marshall, “The Making of a Writer: From the Poets in the Kitchen” [handout]; Paule Marshall, “To Da-Duh, in Memoriam” (IA 368-377)


Paule Marshall, “To Da-Duh, in Memoriam” (IA 368-377)


“To Da-Duh”

368 ship that brought us from NY

alien sights and sounds of Barbados

caught between sunlight at her end of the building and the darkness inside-and for a moment she appeared to contain them both

white dress . . . sense of a past that was still alive

369 darkness . . . in her face

both child and woman, darkness and light, past and present, life and death--all the opposites contained and reconciled in her

369 wiped out the 15 years my mother had been away and restored the old relationship

369 not only did Da-duh prefer boys, but she also liked her grandchildren to be “white,” that is, fair-skinned . . . cousins, the outside children of / white estate managers [colonial tradition; hierarchy, inequality]

girl child takes after her father

370 why I don’t like to go anyplace with you St. Andrews people . . . You all ain’t been colonized”

371 the canes, as giant weeds

I longed for the familiar; for the street in Brooklyn

St. Thomas canes

371 purchased it with Panama money sent her by her eldest son, my uncle Joseph, who had died working on the canal [colonialism]

372 the names of the trees as though they were those of her gods

my world did seem suddenly lacking [cf. Coco Frio]

I bet you don't even know that these canes here and the sugar you eat is one and the same thing. . . . some damn machine at the factory [resources > industry]

inexplicably angry motion

I found myself in the middle of a small tropical wood . . . a violent place . . . earth smelled like spring

373 what's this snow like that you hear so much about

a dance called the Truck which was popular back then in the 1930s

as if I were a creature from Mars

374 refrigerators, radios, gas stoves . . .

I beat up a white girl

374 Beating up white people?  Oh the lord, the world’s changing up so I can scarce recognize it anymore

375 Empire State Building

fight went out of her

like a Benin mask, ancient abstract sorrow

376 gazing out at the land as if it were already doomed

died during the famous '37 strike   [British West Indies labor unrest, 1934-39]  [resistance > self-government]

England sent planes flying low over the island, in a show of force

377 I went to live alone

thunderous tread of machines




“The Making of a Writer: From the Poets in the Kitchen”

87 [assimilation] graduated from the corner of the kitchen to the neighborhood library, and thus from the spoken to the written word

88 reading voraciously, indiscriminately . . . everything from Jane Austen to Zane Grey . . . Tom Jones, Great Expectations, Vanity Fair

[In other words, she's reading the classics of western civilization, England and western Europe, and thus assimilating to the best of the dominant culture]

88 sensed a lack

88 Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872-1906 (Dayton, Ohio)

88 the closeness, the special relationship I had had with my father

88-89 No grade school literature teacher of mine had ever mentioned Dunbar or J W Johnson or L Hughes

89 What I needed, what all the kids—West Indian and native black American alike—with whom I grew up needed, was an equivalent of the Jewish shul, someplace where we could go after school—the schools that were shortchanging us—and read words by those like ourselves and learn about our history



Afro-Caribbean writers, caught in the middle, may model a middle way between immigrant and minority stories

Marshall in "Poets in the Kitchen" is on a direct immigrant path to professional development, higher education . . .

but . . .

something's missing, and the need is met by the color code

p. 88 And I began to search then for books and stories and poems about "The Race" (as it was put back then), about my people. While not abandoning Thackeray, Fielding, Dickens and the others, I started asking the reference librarian, who was white, for books by Negro writers, although I must admit I did so at first with a feeling of shame . . . .

Marshall's resolution: try to balance, juggle both dominant culture and ethnic difference

Standard, well-intentioned curricular answer: balance, inclusion

Main catch: only so much time in a semester or term, so constantly adding new groups eventually passes point of diminishing returns

Need for a way to make differences talk to each other within a unified scheme instead of just taking turns

purpose of course . . . all Americans can talk through the immigrant story, even if it doesn't exactly apply to them



Compare Hispanics

Both groups want a part of the American Dream of economic success but also want to hold on to part of their traditional identity

Is it desirable for everyone to assimilate?

Is it necessary?

Not yet at a stage of history where we can answer the question, but these comparisons give us the ability to put together an answer and think about it critically--like your midterms!


New World Immigrants as possible future?

identify with more than one culture? Multicultural?

Dominant culture and minority culture(s) will persist, along with immigrants who assimilate completely to dominant culture, but increasingly outnumbered by groups who don't completely assimilate but combine or exceed such identities?

Trans-national migrants




June Jordan, “Report from the Bahamas” (VA 305-315)

306 history begins 1492—legitimate history tracks white

306 Black Americans [tourists]

306 intruders from North

307 Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska

308 a grad student [i. e., white] [cf. American American]

308 Federal Student Loan Programs . . . do not affect him. . . . My own son, however, is Black. . . . if Reagan succeeds








Roman poet Horace on purpose of literature: "to entertain and educate"

Different genres may emphasize one or the other

Fiction emphasizes "entertain"

Nonfiction emphasizes "educate"

In fiction, one aspect of the "entertainment" is the audience tends to get "drawn in," to "inhabit" the scene, to "feel a part of" whatever's going on, as though it's happening to you

In nonfiction, the audience keeps more of a distance, which is less emotionally powerful, but that cooler "critical distance" may be essential to the operation of the intellect, analysis, reason.

Effects on setting:

fiction sets a scene that you reader moves into--but surprisingly, it does so with less detail--the less detail, the less obstruction to identification

nonfiction gives more detail, but that detail can actually obstruct the reader's inhabitation--the more historical detail there is, the more you know "This isn't happening to me"

“Kitchen” 84 FDR hero, Garvey god [history]


But these aren't rules, and either genre can bend. For instance, "To Da-Duh" is in our fiction collection, but these historical details are more like nonfiction:

356 a dance called the Truck which was popular back then in the 1930s

357 Over the weeks I told her about refrigerators, radios, gas stoves, elevators, . . . .

359 the famous ’39 strike

historical details become dated, can interfere with identification by later readers. 

Fiction avoids too much detail to maintain universal attraction, identification.



Effects on language:

Fiction uses simpler language, more down-to-earth--fiction is not directly about ideas but about sensation, feeling

352 caught between the sunlight and the darkness [particular / universal moment]

Nonfiction uses more abstract language because it's more about ideas than identification and absorption into action

"Kitchen" 86 hyperbole [note educated language, distancing or generalizing of phenomena] [f-nf]

86 taken the standard English taught them in the primary schools of Barbados and transformed it into an idiom . . . changing around the syntax and imposing their own rhythm and accent so that the sentences were more pleasing to their ears.

87 Why the antonym, the contradiction, the linking of opposites?

87 theory in linguistics: very conception of reality: a thing is at the same time its opposite