LITR 5831 Seminar in World / Multicultural Literature:
American Immigrant Literature



final exam 8-11 days from today


no obligation to follow-up and communicate, but one-on-one writing instruction is best (tutoring)


 email, phone, meet before or after class, office hours


[purpose: show instead of tell]


all in same boat, everyone might do better with more time


factored into overall session, but within those limits do all we can



examples of trans-national in Immigrant Voices


The American literary canon (or reading curriculum) has expanded and diversified to include different genders, races, and classes, and courses in Multicultural Literature and Contemporary American Literature frequently feature leading Hispanic and Mexican American Authors.

The further back in American literary history one goes, the more challenging such inclusiveness becomes. Why? What historical factors in American and Mexican literary history? What are the possibilities for including earlier Mexican American literature?

geographical separation--early American literature concentrated in East, esp. Northeast--as far as one can get from the Southwest. (And Mexican literature's centers are further south, e.g. Mexico City).

language differences

Protestantism emphasized personal literacy more than Catholicism



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?




Questions for Barbie-Q

What resemblances to "Menu Girls"?

How typical of Cisneros's style?

Assimilation or resistance?

What elements are universal and what cultural?



Sandra Cisneros, "Barbie-Q" (IA 252-253)

assimilation or resistance?

252 "Every time the same story"--the girls' make-believe is universal, not separate except by its limits in terms of acquisition--but most readers would say "they're being girls" rather than "they're being Mexicans"

"Barbie" as symbol of vanilla white America

but . . . 

253 "So what? . . . " could be a minority or multicultural identification. Accepting the water-soaked and sooty Barbies as they are rather than insisting on Barbie-perfection could be an acceptance of a different status

But maybe stretching too small a story to too big a point

Any other takes on "Barbie-Q"?

Woman Hollering Creek and other Stories

House on Mango Street

Caramelo (2003)


Cisneros's style

ability to write miniatures, teachable lengths--even poor readers can concentrate that long

evocative, impressionistic, sensory, dreamy


charming at various depths:

  • adolescent viewpoint > adolescent readership: childhood always seems fresh, recent, magical but potentially threatening

  • adult level: symbols and archetypal patterns with multiple or ambiguous resonances

can be intellectualized, thematized or not


Gilb and Chavez stories


Both stories:



young girl as future, promising but threatened



unreality of family to Gilb compared to ubiquity of family for Chavez




Dagoberto Gilb,

book title The Magic of Blood typifies exoticism American readers expect from Latin American fiction--how much a stereotype? cf. Magic Realism


"Romero's Shirt"

Why no dialogue?

narration: flat tone, detailed, omniscient depth

Gilb a fine stylist, but postmodern problem with storytelling?

That is, abandons typical satisfying conclusion, resolution for open-ended dreamland

story of old man resembles magic realism

absence of reference to citizenship


94 American Dream: have it simply through work, but

95 internam migration to city



Denise Chavez, "The Last of the Menu Girls"--originally published by Arte Publico Press

impressionistic, episodic



possible slippage b/w narrator's sophistication and teenager's viewpoint


65-66 story organized as interaction b/w bureaucratic form or bureaucracy > family stories

Eventually the modern bureaucratic state seems swallowed up or occupied by traditional extended family

67 great-Aunt Eutilia (extended family)

67 father divorced us (x-nuclear family)

67 father's books

67 naked dance

68 young girls danced . . . filled out forms (cf. Sui Sin Far, Chrystos, Erdrich)

68 swamp cooler = evaporative cooler

69 previous experience . . . This question reminds me of a story my mother told me [shift bureaucratic form to family story]

70 prayers for the dead

70 work-study aide in hospital

70 white women, whiter men with square faces grotesque

70 no skills

71 painting > 80 Florence Nightingale

71 Mr. Smith a wall-eyed hunchback grotesque

72 gruesome golem, twisted spider, gnome grotesque

72 word Jell-O

72 Mr. Franke pink-eyed, half-blind grotesque

73 the green forms

74 Our Lady of the Holy Scapular

scapular: A short cloak covering the shoulders; prescribed by the Rule of St. Benedict to be worn by monks when engaged in manual labour, and adopted by certain religious orders as a part of their ordinary costume.

An article of devotion composed of two small squares of woollen cloth, fastened together by strings passing over the shoulders, worn as a badge of affiliation to the religious order which presents it.

74 Arlene Rutschman, president of Our Lady's Sodality [religious guild or fraternity]

75 The children looked fairly normal grotesque

76 vague, disconcerting sexuality grotesque

[transition from business to family life]

76-7 family story

77 two of us in the basement world grotesque

78 lucky you can speak Spanish

78 tall Anglo man gaunt and yellowed like an old newspaper, eyes rubbed black like an old raccoon's > Jaundice grotesque

80 Florence Nightingale < 71

80 two friends, almost

80 home ec or biology, menus and frogs

80 caffeine: I would not quit the job   immigrant opportunity?

81 "Mrs. Dominguez went to bland."

81 Dairy Queen, talking place, bench, throne

82 hungry Church-of-Christ smile

83 Elizabeth Rainey, D & C, so beautiful and so alone  [contrast extended family; atomistic dominant culture]

Dilation and curettage

83 so beautiful and so alone

84 too terrible a vision

84 Dolores a nurse's aide

85 La Llorona, Ouija board

85 laundry room, feces and urine stained sheets  [physicality, gross-out]

88 [border] Nurse Luciano from Yonkers; Erminia, ward secretary + Juarez hairdo

88 an illegal alien; 89 an epidemic

89 one of those aliens

89 people sneaking across the border

89 doesn't seem human . . . ain't human 

90 they called her lover her sister. How nice

90 x-human, bite off another person's nose?   grotesque

91 He don't espeak no Engleesh!

91 Esperanza pura india  [border]

92 really Gonzalez, male, who ran the hospital

93 see you at the university [assimilation, education, upward]

95 made the awesome leap into myself

95 all those wetbacks and healthy college students are getting our hard-earned tax money


97 To remember. It seemed right.


official institutional form that reduces or erases identity

> family, ancestry, gender, age > identity

keep thinking Eutilia will go away, be forgotten, but no


dreams, daydreams: 66, 72, 82, 94

relatives 71

83 Elizabeth Rainey, D & C, so beautiful and so alone

Dilation and curettage


dialogue: excellent imitation of speech, language reborn

cf. dialogue: language reborn and refreshed by outsider

pop culture references, "dime store realism": brand names, Dairy Queen


woman's world as subculture, multiple identities unfixed by gaze of dominant culture

Woman's physicality: smells, frog entrails


outsider's perspective on dominant culture

Mr. Smith 71, Mr. Franke 72, Mr. Ellis 78, Judge Gustafson as grotesque

82 hungry Church-of-Christ smile


redemptive characterization: Arlene


rapid shifting of attention, possibly teenage perspective, maybe electronic media, American life

short sentences and paragraphs


scapular: A short cloak covering the shoulders; prescribed by the Rule of St. Benedict to be worn by monks when engaged in manual labour, and adopted by certain religious orders as a part of their ordinary costume.

An article of devotion composed of two small squares of woollen cloth, fastened together by strings passing over the shoulders, worn as a badge of affiliation to the religious order which presents it.



Santo Nino de Atocha






Cesar Chavez 1927-93

United Farm Workers

"Make a solemn promise: to enjoy our rightful part of the riches of this land, to throw off the yoke of being considered as agricultural implements or slaves. We are free men and we demand justice."

slogan "Sí, se puede" (Yes we can!)

grape boycott, 1965-70