LITR 5831 World / Multicultural Literature:
American Immigrant

Homepage & Syllabus

coursesite URL:

Summer 2016, 1st 5-weeks session
 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 3-5:59pm Bayou 2237

Instructor: Craig White      Phone: 281 283 3380.      

Email:        Office: Bayou 2529-8      

Office Hours: Monday, Thursday noon-1, 2-3, 6-7 & by appointment

Course objectives at bottom of page

Dr. White's


terms index

Model Assignments

Required Textbooks

Brown & Ling, eds. Imagining America: Stories from the Promised Land (Persea, Rev. ed., 2003) ISBN-10: 0892552778 ISBN-13: 978-0892552771

Gordon Hutner, ed. Immigrant Voices, Vol. 2 (NAL, 2015) ISBN-10: 0451472810 ISBN-13: 978-0451472816

Eugene O'Neill, Long Day's Journey into Night (1952) Yale UP, 2nd edition (2002) ISBN-10: 0300093055 ISBN-13: 978-0300093056

+ Online texts or handouts—see schedule below

student presentations 

discussion leader

poetry reader

video presentation

web review

fiction-nonfiction dialogue

Written Assignments   

(21 June)

research posts
(15 June, 6-9 July)

final exam
(6-9 July)


Reading & Presentation Schedule, summer 2016
IA = Imagining America (2nd edition); IV2 = Immigrant Voices, vol. 2

Monday, 6 June 2016: course introduction; student information; begin immigrant narrative

readings: narrative & cultural narrative; Social Contract; Trump (waves of American immigration)  & Hamilton The Federalist Papers, #1 & #10; Hamilton cast at White House

E Pluribus Unum, "Out of Many, One": Crevecoeur, "What is an American?" & "Description of Charles-Town: Thoughts on Slavery . . . " (1782) 

Anzia Yezierska, excerpt from Bread Givers (1912); Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, The African; Declaration of Independence

Brad Plumer, "Americans still move around more than anyone else in the world" Washington Post 15 May 2013


Agenda: preview self-intros; seminar or survey; topic; research reports

midterms & finals

presentations & preferences


[break] > tomorrow's presentations

objectives / readings / default questions

continue self-intros


Wm Blake, Adam

Each student discuss following:

Name, academic career, plans . . . .

+ At least one of the following:

Familiarity with immigrant literature or immigrant narrative personally or in studies?

How to identify the American immigrant story? What images, symbols, or story-lines?

What previous readings in immigrant literature? Who gets included?

What cultural or political issues involved in teaching American Immigrant literature?

Knowledge of "trans-national migration?" > Colonial-Postcolonial Literature

Previous study of "narrative" as such? Are literary studies about literary forms or about culture?

Default questions for every class:

1. Why does gender identity continually emerge as an issue in immigrant / multicultural studies? What forms of change? Consider tradition > modernity.

2. How does the immigrant narrative identify itself, with what variations? How identical or inseparable is it to or from the American Dream? May the Immigrant Narrative / American Dream be criticized as well as celebrated?

3. How successfully may the immigrant narrative serve as a measurement for American multicultural identities and narratives?

4. Is it fair to assume "all individuals are created equal" while also assuming that our histories make us different? What are the appeals and perils of "equal but different?'

5. Can something great and not gross be made of our texts' frequent references to food? Can this be related to homelands as scent-memories and America as land of no-smell, disinfectant, or "soap and water?"

Anzia Yezierska, 1880-1970

  Part 1: Old World to New: Define & Compare
Immigrant & Minority Narratives
+ introduce dominant culture (Objectives 1, 2, 3)

Tuesday, 7 June 2016: Examples of the Immigrant Narrative.

reading assignment: Anzia Yezierska, “Soap and Water”;

Nicholasa Mohr, “The English Lesson” (IA 21-34)

Anchee Min, from The Cooked Seed (IV2 193-215)

discussion leader: instructor

fiction-nonfiction dialogue: Umaymah Shahid (fiction); Jessica Myers (nonfiction)

Poem: Gregory Djanikian, "In the Elementary School Choir"

Poetry reader: Brittney Wilson

Web review: Two (or more) Research Posts from Model Assignments

Web reviewer: instructor


research post topics; grading

discussion leader: instructor

assignments, presentations


fnf dialogue: Umaymah & Jessica

poem: Brittney



Nicholasa Mohr
(b. 1938, Nuyorican Bronx)

Discussion Questions:

1. How does each story embody the immigrant story as an identifiable narrative? What symbols can be identified in and across both stories?

2. If you liked these stories, why? What cultural values or symbols? What "myths" or cultural narratives?

3. Can we celebrate yet criticize the immigrant narrative? What are the potential downsides to these stories? Who is left out? If we're reluctant to criticize, what testimony to power of cultural narrative?

Celebrate: Both "Soap & Water" and "The English Lesson" are popular, pleasant reads. Can this pleasure and populism be related to the American immigrant narrative and the American Dream? Why do we like these stories so much?

Criticize: What potentially dark or disturbing forces may be at work in the story of "The English Lesson," and how does the text avoid highlighting them? In "Soap and Water," is it possible to validate the villains? What cultural values or roles do they represent?

4. Where does the minority narrative potentially appear in either or both stories (Obj. 3)? How does the dominant culture appear (Obj. 4)?

Gregory Djanikian
(b. 1949, Egypt)

Thursday, 9 June 2016: Early American Immigrant Literature > dominant culture?

reading assignments:

Reading discussion leader: (Carnegie); Hanna Mak  (Crevecoeur): Umaymah Shahid

Web review: selections of U.S. Declaration of Independence & U.S. Constitution re immigration; Web reviewer: instructor

Web review: Scotch-Irish (w/ Scots-Irish Immigration) & Puritans / Cavaliers as ethnic foundations of USA dominant culture; diaspora; Albion's Seed; Web reviewer: instructor

Agenda: Sleater-Kinney & Todorov

obj. 7 & Min; assimilation; research models

waves of immigration; dominant culture

Crevecoeur: Umaymah

 Carnegie: Hanna


web: Pilgrims

assignments, presentations




Discussion Questions: 1. As the "creation story" for the United States, how does the Declaration of Independence parallel or embody the immigrant narrative and its values?

2. If the Declaration and Constitution define citizenship by "rights" or "privileges and immunities," what do rights mean? What conditions for the rights of citizens? How to criticize as well as celebrate the culture of rights? (Communitarian movement: Bill of Responsibilities; Civil Rights; Human Rights)

3. Crevecoeur describes the American as a "new man": what changes and limits are observed? What models of assimilation and American exceptionalism?

4. How does Carnegie's narrative exemplify the immigrant narrative and the rags-to-riches American Dream story? How does it complicate these familiar narratives? (+ symbols). How much do Carnegie's narrative, values, and gender, ethnic, and class relations exemplify America's dominant culture?

5. Analyze Carnegie's autobiography in terms of Social Darwinism: freemarket economics as "survival of the fittest." Note emphasis on technological and scientific change as "creative destruction."

6. Evaluate the literary quality of today's texts. Can they be read for literary pleasure, or only for cultural-intellectual-historical knowledge? Does the latter tilt toward citizenship teaching? (See Purpose of literature: Entertain & Educate.)

Andrew Carnegie

Monday, 13 June 2016: African American Minority vs. the immigrant narrative

reading assignments: Toni Cade Bambara, “The Lesson” (IA 145-152)

Alice Walker, “Elethia” (IA 307-309)

Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, The African

Dr. Rose Ihedigbo, from Sandals in the Snow (IV2 149-172)

Reading Discussion Leader: Jessica Myers

Fiction-Nonfiction dialogue: Brittney Wilson (fiction); instructor (nonfiction)

Web review: from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (7.8); recent article on racial / immigrant intermarriage ( = Assimilation); More Africans Enter U.S. Than in Days of Slavery;  Intermarriage and Assimilation; Barack Obama, Dreams from my Father; white flight; What's changed for African Americans since 1963; Henry Louis Gates notes on African American genetics; Tales of African American Journeys told in DNA; Olaudah Equiano

Web Reviewer: instructor

Poem: Patricia Smith, "Blonde White Women"

Poetry reader: Liz Davis

Agenda: Last class, obj. 4 Dominant Culture; today & Thursday: obj. 3 minority vs. immigrant narrative

assignments; model minority

text discussion: Jessica

poem: Liz


fnf dialogue: Brittney, instructor

Pilgrims, Scotch-Irish



Toni Cade Bambara

Discussion question(s):

1. Especially in the Equiano text, contrast and compare the immigrant and minority narrative. How do the origins of African Americans as Americans differ from immigrant origins? What is different about their status on arriving in America, compared to immigrants?

2. If the African American past differs from the immigrant past, what about the future? Should African America follow the immigrant narrative of assimilation and forgetting the past for the sake of joining a hypermodern society hurrying into the future?

3. Is it realistic for America's dominant culture to expect a minority group like African America to forget the past of slavery and segregation?—i.e., "just get over it?" What are the potential costs or benefits of forgetting or remembering?

4. What images of the dominant culture appear in African American literature?

Olaudah Equiano

Tuesday, 14 June 2016: East Asian Immigrant Literature  (immigrant as "model minority")

reading assignments: Sui Sin Far, "In the Land of the Free" (IA 3-11)

Gish Jen, “In the American Society” (IA 158-171)

J. Christine Moon, "'What Color would you Like, Ma'am?"'

Le Ly Hayslip, from Child of War, Woman of Peace (IV2 105-125)

"Model Minority" page; Wikipedia article on "model minority"; article on "model minority" as stereotyping; modern & traditional societies

Reading Discussion leader(s): instructor

Fiction-Nonfiction dialogue: Liz Davis (fiction); Hanna Mak (nonfiction)

Web review: Asian Americans and affirmative action issues; declining Asian-American intermarriage

Web Reviewer:  instructor


assignments, research posts, midterm changes?

Web & texts: instructor


fnf dialogue: Liz, Hanna

Scotch Irish: literary > cultural


Gish Jen, b. 1955

Discussion question(s):

1. How do these stories exemplify the model minority or ideal immigrant narrative? Compare stories' endings to "Soap & Water" as Jewish-American model minority narrative.

2. Compare / contrast to minority texts by African Americans.

3. What generational differences in immigrant families? What continuities & changes b/w Old & New Worlds? What evidence of a traditional culture surviving and adapting to a modern culture?

4. What relationships do the Asian American characters have with other ethnic groups?

5. How is the "model minority" stereotype useful or limiting?

Sui Sin Far, 1865-1914

First research post due by evening of Wednesday, 15 Junelate (not very late) submissions accepted if student informs instructor: (If it's a choice between submitting on time and doing your reading for Thursday, do your reading.)

Thursday, 16 June 2016: American Indian Minority vs. the immigrant narrative.

reading assignments: Handsome Lake, How the White Man Came to America

Leslie Marmon Silko, “The Man to Send Rain Clouds” (IA 205-209)

Louise Erdrich, "American Horse" (IA 210-220)

Mei Mei Evans, “Gussuk” (IA 237-251) (Yahoo blog on "Gussuk")

Reading discussion leader(s): Umaymah Shahid

Web review: Trail of Tears; Web reviewer: instructor

Poem: Chrystos, “I Have Not Signed a Treaty with the United States Government”

Poetry reader: Jessica Myers



research posts, assignments, midterm

text discussion: Umaymah


poem: Jessica

Trail of Tears > Scotch-Irish; dominant culture

plain style



Louise Erdrich, b. 1954

Discussion question(s): 1. In the texts today, how does American Indian culture appear as Minority rather than Immigrant? Note relations to state, government, immigration, etc.

2. Compare and contrast to immigrant stories or poems so far. How does the American Indian's position in or relation to American history or society differ from the positions and attitudes of immigrants?

3. Based on these texts, what accommodations or acculturations do American Indians make to dominant or immigrant American culture? How do these accommodations or acculturations resemble or differ from assimilation?

4. Minorities maintain traditional cultures with extended families, while immigrants join a modern culture with nuclear families or individuals. How do these phenomena appear in today's stories?

Leslie Marmon Silko,
b. 1948

Monday, 20 June 2016: South Asian Immigrant Literature (another "model minority")

reading assignment: Chitra Divakaruni, “Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs” (IA 70-83)

Tahira Naqvi, “Thank God for the Jews” (IA 229-236)

Bharati Mukherjee, “A Wife’s Story” (IA 57-69)

Shoba Narayan, from Monsoon Diary (IV2 217-239)

Reading Discussion leader(s): Umaymah Shahid; Hanna Mak

Fiction-Nonfiction dialogue: instructor

Poem: Chitra Divakaruni, "Restroom"

Poetry reader: Umaymah Shahid

Web review: Christopher Caldwell, "Europe’s Other Crisis" (concerning assimilation attitudes in Europe; compare USA?)

Web Reviewer: Liz Davis

Agenda: Scotch-Irish

geography lesson

text discussion: Umaymah, Hanna



preview New World Immigrants; race / ethnicity

poetry: Umaymah

web: Liz > instructor



 "model minority"; trans-national migration

Chitra Divakaruni,
b. 1956

Discussion question(s):

Background: South Asian immigrants are another "model immigrant group," a. k. a. "Model Minorities"—compare East Asian groups (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans) from fifth class meeting.

Also, Since India was a British colony, many Indian and Pakistani immigrants arrive with special English skills and other advantages. What effect on the South Asian immigrant narrative?

1. How do today's stories exemplify the immigrant narrative? How do the identities represent Model Minorities or "ideal immigrants?"

2. How do these groups already resemble the USA's dominant culture? What attitudes toward true minorities appear?

Background: Indian-Americans (not American Indians) are probably the most distinguished group of immigrant authors around the millennium era, winning Pulitzer Prizes and gaining considerable international prestige comparable to Jewish-American immigrant writers a century ago; e.g., Jhumpa Lahiri (b. 1967, Interpreter of Maladies Pulitzer Prize 1999 & The Namesake 2003); many others.

3. Why? What history contributes to Indian-Americans' prestige and quality?

Tahira Naqvi

Tuesday, 21 June 2016: midterm; no class meeting (in-class or email; instructor holds office hours 3-6pm; email midterms due Wed. 22 June 7pm)

Part 2: New World Immigrants
Obj. 3e. “New World Immigrants” = "Western Hemisphere Immigrants" = "Trans-American Immigrants"
includes Mexican Americans, other Latinos / Hispanics, and Afro-Caribbeans;
identity somewhere between immigrant and minority patterns?

(Many recent American immigrants are from the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or "the New World," and many are descended from earlier immigrations, forced migrations, or inter-ethnic genealogies.)

Thursday, 23 June 2016: begin Mexican American Immigrant literature

reading assignment: Nash Candelaria, "El Patron" (IA 221-228)

Reyna Grande, from The Distance Between Us (IV2 83-104)

Reading Discussion leader(s): instructor

Web review: Mexican-American War (1846-1848); Some history of Mexican American Immigration + Pancho Villa (mentioned in "El Patron") & Mexican-American relations + Mestizo; Hispanic / Latin@; Gloria Anzaldua

Web Reviewer: instructor

Agenda: midterm schedule

Brexit, web review

today's webs



web review

"El Patron"

Nash Candelaria,
b. 1928

Discussion questions:

1. How do our texts' physical or cultural references support the idea of New World Immigrants as combining immigrant and minority narratives?

2. What observable stages of assimilation or resistance?

3. How may Mexican Americans (and perhaps other Southwesterners) be defined as a "border people" or defined by la Frontera?

4. How may Mexican Americans combine or vary modern and traditional cultures?

5. What evidence of the color code or its absence?

6. fiction or nonfiction markers in either story?

Pancho Villa

Monday, 27 June 2016: continue Mexican American literature

reading assignments: Mexican-American prose & poetry selected by Christine Ford: How I came to this topic . . .

Web review: Arte Publico Press & Wikipedia on Arte Publico Press

Web Reviewer:

Agenda: assignments

midterms > final exam preview; tomorrow discuss 2nd research posts?

Arte Publico:

question #1> Christine's study

Barbie-Q & Cisneros

poem: Umaymah

Romero's Shirt

poem: Jessica


Sandra Cisneros
b. 1954

Discussion Questions:

1. What is your experience studying Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima), Richard Rodriguez (Hunger of Memory), and Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street)texts that often constitute the Mexican American "canon" in the USA's literary curriculum?

1a. Any other texts or familiarity with American curriculum and Mexican American literature?

2. What strengths and limits to this canon? How do today's texts reinforce or diversify that canon?

3. How does "Barbie-Q" exemplify Cisneros's appeal?

4 How do our texts' physical or cultural references support the idea of New World Immigrants as combining immigrant and minority narratives? What observable stages of assimilation or resistance?

5. How may Mexican Americans (and perhaps other Southwesterners) be defined as a "border people" or defined by la Frontera?

Denise Chavez
b. 1948

New World Immigrants


Afro-Caribbean & other Hispanic / Latino literature

Tuesday, 28 June 2016: Afro-Caribbean & other Hispanic immigrant literature

reading assignment:

Reading Discussion leader(s):

Poetry presentation: Claude McKay, "America" & "The White City" from Harlem Shadows (McKay b. Jamaica 1889-d. Chicago 1948; McKay's Harlem Shadows often recognized as inaugural book of Harlem Renaissance.)

Poetry reader: Hanna Mak

Video Review: Latino / Hispanic Voices in American Literature

Video Reviewer:


Menu Girls

research posts


Poetry: Hanna


New World Immigration

text discussion:





Junot Diaz
b. 1968

Discussion question(s): 1. For all 3 fictions and the poems, discuss co-presence and crossing of minority & immigrant narratives, and Color Code as an operative agent between and within immigrants and minorities.

2. Junot Diaz, "How to Date a Browngirl . . . “ (IA 276-279): Diaz is from the Dominican Republic, the most African Latin American nation, so whichblack, Latino, or some new identity? Also pay attention to homeland perceptions of USA.

3. Edwidge Danticat, “Children of the Sea” (IA 98-112): Haiti is the most African of New World nations, and the one American immigration authorities repel the most systematically. Note remembrance of African gods and confusion of immigrant boat with slave ship. How does African, African American, or New World African identity relate to the American immigrant narrative or its reception by the dominant culture?

4. Paule Marshall, “To Da-Duh, in Memoriam” (IA 368-377): set in Barbadoes. Great story with many immigrant and minority themes.

5. Historical question: Why do Americans know so little about Caribbean island nations except as places to act rich and have servants?

Edwidge Danticat
b. 1969

European Immigration

th-early 20th century


Thursday, 30 June 2016: Jewish-American immigrant literature

reading assignment(s):

Discussion leader (Yekl):

Video highlights of Hester Street, 1975, based on Yekl): Jessica Myers

Web review: Jews as World Leaders; Jews in Literature & Comedy

Web Reviewer: instructor


Web: instructor

Yekl discussion:

Video: Jessica

preview Long Day's Journey



Abraham Cahan

Discussion question(s): 1. Yekl w/ Yezierska’s “Soap and Water” are our main texts of Jewish immigrant experience. How typical of the immigrant narrative or experience, and how unique?

2. Compare Jews to "model minority" immigrant groups—Asian Americans now, Jewish Americans a century ago. How much are Jewish characters assimilating (immigrant narrative) and how much creating a partly separate society, which can comport with the minority narrative, the "model minority," or the USA's dominant culture, all of which assimilate selectively.)

3. "America stresses the family": What are immigration’s effects on family and marriage?

3a. Gender shifts? How do changes occur? In Yekl, Mrs. Kavarsky & Mrs. Aaronovitz manage their husbands’ businesses and create their own network. Do they help Gitl assimilate, do they exploit her, or both?

4. Jews are known as "a people of the book," i.e. a highly literate people with multi-lingual traditions. Reconcile with dominant culture and model minority? These literate traditions appear w/ Bernstein, Rabbi Aaronovitz, and various scribes, but Yekl and Gitl are only semi-literate (ch.3).

5. What linkage between USA as a mobile immigrant culture and Jews as "a wandering people" or "people without a nation" (Jake: Russia > Boston > New York; in ch. 6 & elsewhere characters discuss further moves.)

6. Literary questions: How rate this text as literature? Impressive qualities:

  • Though written by a man, dialogue between women is frequent and apt. (A self-other test is whether a writer can imagine an other talking to anyone but the self; cf. Bechdel test.)

  • Much action occurs through extended dialogue, like a stage play or film. Note references to Jewish stage, then highly developed in New York City and other American cities.

  • Describe Yekl as a novella. What advantages / limits to a fiction of this length? (planned seminar on Novella)

Mary Antin

Monday, 4 July 2016: No class meeting—

Independence Day Holiday

Tuesday, 5 July 2016: Irish-American immigrant literature

reading assignment: Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night (complete)

Discussion assignment: Each student prepare a response to a Discussion Question below + passages from text.

Each student speak on plans for Essay 1 and / or 2 on final exam.

Web review: Irish Diaspora; Early Irish-American Literature; Eugene O'Neill; Irish-American Literature (notes from 2012 visit by Professor Gorman)

Web Reviewer: instructor

Video Review: Scenes from Long Day's Journey into Night

Video Reviewer: Liz Davis

Agenda: schedule

Irish American history and literature

LDJ discussion


[break + evaluations]

final exam


Tatum, summary

Eugene O'Neill

Discussion questions: Of all our texts, Long Day's Journey ranks highest in prestige as literary art: O'Neill the greatest American playwright, Long Day's Journey the greatest American tragedy; tragedy itself the greatest of genres.

1. As a great work of literature, how does Long Day's Journey exceed our categories or terms of study? How much is the Immigrant Narrative essential to Long Day's Journey, or how much can you study the play more generally as timeless art, as tragedy, etc.?

1a. How essential to emergent and classic American literatureis is this narrative and its corollary the American Dream? Can multicultural literary studies discuss and promote literary excellence as well as representation of competing identities, or is "excellence" just code for the old hegemonic patriarchal voice?

2. Discuss "dreams" in speeches by Tyrone, Mary, and Edmund, particularly the coincidence of Tyrone's dream with the immigrant narrative and the American Dream. Relate to recurrent rhetoric of "dream" throughout course and American identity.

3. Long Day's Journey connects the Immigrant story with America's mobile culture and its loss of "home": easily observed, but what gains from this connection? What are the implications or consequences of mobile culture on family life, gender identity, community, etc.

4. Objective 2d. How do the Tyrone family's generations exemplify the immigrant narrative: first-generation as heroic, second-generation as Americanizing (but intimately connected to first-generation ± Old Country).

5. How does Irish-American experience fulfill or exemplify the immigrant narrative? How much does Irish-American culture remain uniquely Irish? Catholic? Whether or how to discuss characters' alcoholism as a historical sign of Irish identity?

James O'Neill (Sr.)

Thursday, 7 July 2016: final exam; no regular class meeting; students may take in-class or by email; instructor holds office hours during class period.

Window for email submission of final exam and second research post: Wednesday, 6 July-Saturday noon, 9 July.

All Americans are "created equal," but everyone has their own story—and history.
Individually and in dialogue, these narratives define our larger multicultural landscape.

(Intertextuality & Historicism)

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 identities 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/Latin@ and Afro-Caribbean) constitutes a large 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 to which later immigrants assimilate. Despite their predominance and power, this group is often hardest to identify because of their "unmarked" status: often identified with whiteness but also middle-class modesty, plainness, and cleanliness. Analogous to the Exodus story, the dominant culture does not assimilate to pre-existing cultures but 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, warrior culture, evangelical religion, and resentment of elites.


These categories are far from exclusive, absolute, or definitive, but only proximate efforts to represent informal classifications that are practiced by our society and evidenced in our literature. Borders or boundaries of human identities are always more or less fluid and blendable, and social contracts are constantly renegotiated.

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


o No single text tells the whole story of immigration, but the larger narrative is always implicit.

o Most Americans are broadly conscious of the immigrant narrative’s prominent features and values.

o Examples with variations are provided by any ethnic group whose people write about move and adapting to America: Irish, Italians, Chinese, Salvadorans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Filipinos, Japanese, Ukrainians, modern Nigerians, Vietnamese, Germans, Hindu, Pakistani . . . a list too numerous and growing ever to complete!

o Two ethnic groups DO NOT FIT the immigrant story: African Americans and Native Americans. (obj. 4 on minority)


2a. Essential terms: Assimilation (& resistance), melting pot, and "minority"

Assimilation and the melting pot:

o To assimilate means to become similar. The term loosely describes a process by which immigrants "become American."

o Ethnic or cultural differences diminish or disappear through intermarriage, use of a common language, and shared institutions, opportunity, or ideology.

o Assimilation can work both ways: the dominant culture sometimes absorbs practices and products brought by immigrants or other ethnic groups, such as values, language, food, etc.

o The primary metaphor for assimilation has been "the melting pot." That is, the American experience of public schools, intermarriage, common language and ideology mix and "melt" our differences as in a great cooking vessel. The product of the melting pot is "the new American" who bears no marks of ethnic or tribal identification.


o Assimilation is suspect to many multicultural scholars and activists because it erases difference rather than celebrating difference.

o The melting pot metaphor may be limited where racial minorities are considered, leading to alternative metaphors like “the rainbow,” “quilt,” or "salad bowl."


2b. The “Model Minority” label is often applied to an ascendant immigrant group that exemplifies ideals implicit in the immigrant narrative. (Minority” is used loosely in popular speech, journalism, and government.)

o A century ago Jewish immigrants were the “model minority” immigrant group, as their children became well-educated professionals. Asian Americans now fit this pattern.

o These “ideal immigrants” take advantage of economic and educational opportunities (often associated with music, math, and medicine).

o Assimilation? Such groups may assimilate economically and educationally while maintaining ethnic identity in religion and ethnic customs (helping family stability). Such resistance to assimilation imitates the dominant culture (obj. 4).

o “Model minorities” are often contrasted with true minority groups like African and Native Americans—so-called “problem minorities”—in arguments against affirmative action. (“Model minority” concept confuses race / ethnicity with class / history.)

o An identifying distinction between immigrants and minorities is that immigrants will often resist identification with true minorities, identifying instead with the dominant culture.


2c. Stages of the Immigrant Narrative (many variations)

 Stage 1: Leave the Old World (“traditional societies” in Europe, Asia, or Latin America).

 Stage 2: Journey to the New World (here, the USA & modern culture)

 Stage 3: Shock, resistance, exploitation, and discrimination (immigrant experience here overlaps with or resembles the minority experience)

 Stage 4: Assimilation to dominant American culture and loss of ethnic identity (departs or differs from minority experience)

 Stage 5: Rediscovery or reassertion of ethnic identity (usu. only partial)

Is the immigrant narrative comparable to a conversion experience?


2d. Character by generation. What are standard identities for distinct generation? (These numbers aren’t fixed—variations occur in every family’s story)

first-generation: “heroic” but “clueless”

second-generation: “divided” between traditional identities of homeland or ethnic group and modern identity of assimilated American; bi-cultural and bi-lingual

third generation: “assimilated” (Maria becomes Kristen, Jiang becomes Kevin [most popular Chinese-American boy's name])


2e. Narrator or viewpoint: Who writes the immigrant narrative?

o First-generation? (rare, except among English-speaking peoples)

o Second-generation? (standard: children of immigrants learn English, usually in public schools, and use the language to explore conflicts between ethnic and mainstream identities)


2f. Setting(s): Where does the immigrant narrative take place?

o Homeland? Journey? America? Return to homeland?


2g. How much does the Immigrant Narrative overlap or align with the American Dream narrative? Are they one and the same, or simply co-formal? In what ways are they potentially distinct from each other? What values (such as individualism, aspiration, modernization) do they share?

Objective 3. To compare and contrast the immigrant narrative with the minority narrative—or, American Dream versus American Nightmare:

3a. Differences  between immigrants and minorities: The two least-assimilated or most enduring minority groups, African Americans and Native Americans, were NOT IMMIGRANTS.

o Native Americans were already here, and immigration was the “American Nightmare” instead of the American Dream.

o African Americans, unlike traditional immigrants, did not choose to come to America, but were forced; instead of opportunity, they found slavery.

These differences between immigrant and minority histories lead to different “social contracts.”


3b. Origins and choice:

o Since immigrants voluntarily chose to come to America, they are expected to conform to the American Dream story of freedom and opportunity.

o Minorities did not freely choose the American Dream and may speak of exploitation instead of opportunity.

o These distinct origins may form a different social contract for minorities than the immigrant contract of "work hard & get ahead" (e.g., "work hard for someone else to get ahead," or "get ahead by whatever means are available"


3c. Assimilation or resistance:

o Immigrants typically assimilate and lose their ethnic identity within 1-3 generations.

o Minorities remain distinct or maintain distinct communities.

o Immigrants sometimes measure themselves against or distance themselves from minorities as a means of assimilating to the dominant culture.

o For historical, cultural, or color-code reasons, however, some immigrants (especially New World immigrants) risk “downward assimilation”: instead of climbing the dominant culture's educational-economic ladder , any ethnic group (including whites) may assert difference by choosing separatism, tradition, male privilege, separate language, and other behaviors that resist assimilation and advancement. (These groups increasingly include alienated working-class whites.)


3d. Overlap between immigrant and minority identities:

o Immigrants may experience “minority” status in early generations.

o Immigrants may suffer discrimination and marginalization by the dominant culture on account of racial and cultural differences as long as those differences are visible or audible.

o With few exceptions, the only immigrants who are treated as minorities are those who are not yet assimilated.

o "internal migration," e.g. the "Great Migration" of African Americans from southern farms to northern cities; the American Indians' Trail of Tears; Scots-Irish migration from Appalachia to the industrial midwest

3e. (after Midterm) “New World Immigrants,” including Mexican Americans, other Latinos, and Afro-Caribbeans, may create an identity somewhere between or combining immigrant and minority patterns.

o “New World” or “Western Hemisphere” immigrants have dominated recent immigration to the U.S., altering the model implicit in the “model minorities / immigrants” developed by Jewish Americans and Asian Americans.

o In contrast to ideal immigrants’ commitment to American national identity and opportunity, New World immigrants may stay loyal to their nearby home countries and remember historical resentments or mixed feelings toward the USA.

o Mexican American immigrant experiences and identities relative to the USA are unique in ways that may make them more ambivalent regarding assimilation to the dominant American culture. Mexican immigration is unique in scale, so there's more of an alternative community. Assimilation proceeds, but maybe at a slower pace.

o Other Hispanic immigrant groups like Puerto Ricans may have similarly ambivalent attitudes toward assimilation and difference.

o For Afro-Caribbeans, immigrant experience may be compromised by association with the African American minority through the "Color Code." On the flip-side, Afro-Caribbeans' experiences as the majority on the islands may cultivate more assertive public identities and attitudes.

Objective 4. To identify the United States' “dominant culture”: “What kind of culture do immigrants assimilate to?”

This subject is so vast, historically deep, and ubiquitous that it resists identification and analysis; therefore another variation of the immigrant narrative termed National migration.”

o Unlike the normal immigration pattern of individuals or families immigrating with intentions or expectations of assimilating to their new home, some groups immigrate as communities with the intention of not assimilating.

 o These groups may be identified by religion, but religion is interwoven with other community aspects like economics (Protestant Work Ethic, community support) and ethnic relations (x-intermarriage).

 o Some of these groups may become the dominant culture of a nation or area.

Examples of national migration and dominant culture for objective 4

o Our deep historical model for “national migration” is the ancient Jews who migrated from Egypt to Canaan in the Bible’s Exodus story. Whereas the standard immigrant story concerns families and individuals who strive to adapt to the prevailing culture, the Jews moved to the Promised Land as a group and resisted assimilation and intermarriage with the Canaanites. American Jews have followed this pattern until recent generations, when intermarriage has increased.

o Our American historical model for “national migration” and the dominant culture is the “Great Migration” of English Pilgrims and Puritans to early North America, where they imitated the Jews in Canaan by refusing to intermarry with or assimilate to American Indian culture. This English culture became the basis for the USA’s dominant culture. In brief, this is the primary culture to which American immigrants assimilate.

 o A relatively recent internal example of “national migration” might be that of the Mormons in the 1800s from the Midwest to Utah, where they became the local dominant culture.

o Some elements of national migration and correspondence to Exodus may also appear in the “great migration” of African Americans from the Old South to the urban North during slavery times, in the early twentieth century, and in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

o An alternative dominant culture to the Puritans is the Scots-Irish of the Appalachian region. In contrast to the elite educations and community lifestyles developed by New England Puritans, the Scots-Irish practice rugged individualism marked by unwritten codes of family honor and armed violence. Lacking a politically correct term, popular names for this group include "hillbillies" and "rednecks" (but such terms may be resisted by suburban evangelicals descended from Scotch-Irish southerners).

Objective 5. To observe and analyze the effects of immigration and assimilation on cultural units or identities:

o family: In traditional Old World, extended families prevail. In modern New World, assimilated people live in nuclear families (often divorced) or by themselves.

o gender: Old World gender identities tend to be traditional, with clear divisions of power, labor, and expression. In New World, gender may be de-emphasized in favor of equality, merit, and other gender-neutral concepts.

o community and laws: Old World culture is often organized by traditional or family laws and a distant, autocratic state. New World culture conforms to impersonal laws and a democratic, regulated, but self-governing state.

o religion: In traditional societies of the Old World, religion and political or cultural identity are closely related. Modern cultures of the New World tend toward a secular state and private religion. (Religion is often the ethnic identity factor that resists assimilation the longest—but not necessarily forever. Catholic, Islamic, or Hindu immigrants may generally conform to mainstream dominant culture while resisting conversion to the Protestant or Evangelical Christianity of the dominant culture.)

o Population demographics: Immigrants often come from third-world, traditional, or subsistence societies that value high rates of childbearing in the face of high infant mortality and short life spans. In contrast, first-world cultures like blue-state America, Canada, western Europe, and Japan limit numbers of children for the sake of prolonging individual lives. The resulting differences in family dynamics and education and income levels fuel many of the conflicts between the dominant and immigrant cultures.

o Finally, how do immigrants change America?

Objective 6. The Immigrant Narrative and Public Education: To register the importance of public education to assimilation.

6a. Free secular education as a starting point for the American Dream of material progress. (first rung on the ladder available to all; instruction in common language; separation from household or ethnic religious traditions)

6b. Teachers of literature, language arts, and history must consider a variety of issues relative to immigrant and minority culture.

o Should we teach / practice multiculturalism or assimilation? What balance between “identity,” “tradition,” and “roots” on one hand, and “conformity,” “modernization,” and “mobility” on the other?

o How much does literature concern language instruction and formal mechanics and terminology of literature, and how much does it concern a student-friendly way to teach culture and social skills? ("socialization")

o Do home-schooling and bible academies constitute white resistance to integration, immigration, and assimilation through a secular, multicultural curriculum?

Objective 7. To distinguish fictional and non-fictional modes of the immigrant narrative

7a. How can we tell when we're reading fiction or nonfiction? What “markers” or signs of difference both in and outside the text alert the reader that the narrative is either fictional or non-fictional? Are these signs always accurate?

7b. How do narrative, viewpoint, characterization, and setting change from fiction to nonfiction, or vice-versa?

7c. How much may these two genres cross? (Genre-bending, Creative Nonfiction.)

Premises, challenges, and resolutions of American Immigrant course objectives:

This course extends to the entire multicultural landscape of American literature: minority, immigrant, and dominant cultures, all defined relative to the immigrant narrative.



o Multicultural studies are part of the USA’s educational and literary landscape, and may be expected to remain so for the foreseeable future, at least in public schools and higher education. (Bible academies and home schools may differ.)

o Most surveys of multicultural or minority literature appear not to develop formal standards for deciding which ethnic groups are read and studied or why.

o Such choices may be based on precedent, but systematic criteria for inclusion, exclusion, or grouping of ethnicities are overlooked, perhaps to avoid sensitive decisions on identities and power relations.

o Instead, such surveys “promote tolerance” and “celebrate difference.” They declare or imply platitudes like “each group is unique,” “everyone gets a turn,” or "we're all individuals." (All true enough but more tolerance than learning.)

o Different ethnic or gender identities sometimes unify in terms of common “victimization” or oppression by a dominant culture, whether white, male, or upper-class / corporate / government.



The casual inclusiveness of most multicultural surveys generates potential problems or questions. American society comprises so many ethnic groups that no survey can cover them all.

o    Which ethnic groups must be included?

o    What larger categories can ethnic groups be classified within?

o    Is it possible or desirable to move beyond “celebrating difference” and exposures of “victimization?”

o    Can different ethnic groups share common cause? (Sensitive question: Can people identify with ethnic or gender groups other than their own? If so, is such identification possible only through a shared sense of victimization?)


American Immigrant Literature “celebrates difference” by surveying texts from a wide range of American ethnic groups. Using the immigrant narrative as a “yardstick” or norm develops a unified field or standard for identifying, grouping, and evaluating different ethnic groups.

Instead of only celebrating difference and leaving each ethnic group to stand by itself, our course uses the immigrant narrative as a way . . .

o    to measure degrees of difference between immigrant, minority, and dominant cultures, and

o    to mediate shared or parallel experiences and identities as far as possible in a single "American" field or continuum.

"The American Dream" from Miss Saigon (musical)

U.S. State Dept Historian: Immigration Act of 1924