LITR 4340 American Immigrant Literature Homepage & Syllabus

coursesite URL:

Fall 2016; Monday 7-9:50 SSB 2305

All Americans are created equal, but each distinct American identity has a unique history.
The dialogue of these stories defines our past, present, and future as a multicultural nation.
The immigrant narrative is the standard by which the American multicultural landscape is measured.

Instructor: Craig White   Office: Bayou 2529-8   

Phone: 281 283 3380     Email:

Office Hours: M 4-7, T 4-7, after class & by appointment

course music


Dr. White's


terms index

research sources

Model Assignments

Course Policies; Disabilities Provisions; Final Grade Report

Attendance policy: You are expected to attend every scheduled class meeting but are permitted one free cut without comment or penalty.

More than one absence jeopardizes your status in the course. If you continue to cut or miss, drop the course.

Even with medical or other emergency excuses, high numbers of absences or partial absences will result in a lower or failing course grade.

Attendance is taken primarily through through reading quizzes.

Required texts for purchase:

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

+ texts online, PDF emails & handouts—see schedule below


weekly reading quizzes + participation (10+%)

3 October: Midterm 1 w/ research proposal (20-30%)

31 October: Midterm 2 + start research report (20-30%)

5 Dec: final exam w/ complete research report (40-50%)

(letter grades only; final grades not calculated mathematically)

Student Presentations: Index & Overall Requirements

Discussion leader

Poetry reader

Web Review

Model Assignments Highlights

Silent Grade for presentations, participation, preparation, postings, attendance.  (10-20%).

Reading & Presentation Schedule, fall 2016

IA = Imagining America anthology

IV2 = Immigrant Voices, vol. 2 anthology

Maps of North America

Monday, 22 August: introduction, overview, immigration history, terms, readings

Students provide contact information with presentation preferences

Readings: Anzia Yezierska, excerpt from Bread Givers (1912)

Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, The African

Crevecoeur, "What is an American?" & "Description of Charles-Town: Thoughts on Slavery . . . " (1782) 

Poem: Gregory Djanikian, "In the Elementary School Choir"    Poetry reader: instructor

Agenda: introduction, website / syllabus, overview narrative, dialogue > questions

assignments, presentations, model assignments

student information, presentation preferences + roll


course framework / progression; history of immigration

sample texts of the American Immigrant Narrative / American Dream

concluding exercise

Wm Blake, Adam (early immigrants are sometimes characterized as "a new Adam" reborn in America as another garden of Eden)

Possible discussion questions: 1. Familiarity with immigrant story personally or as a student?

2. How to identify the American immigrant story? What images, symbols, or story-lines (narratives)? Past, present, future?

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

4. Are the immigrant narrative and the American Dream the same story?

Concluding exercise: 2-3 students review the immigrant narrative in the course's terms and your own, citing today's examples, personal examples (witnessed or experienced), or previous readings. What stood out for you and how did you connect it to what you already know or believe?

Default questions for every class:

1. Our course primarily studies immigrant & minority identities in terms of ethnicity, but 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

Monday, 29 August: Examples of the classic / standard American Immigrant Narrative


Anzia Yezierska, “Soap and Water”

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

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

Reading Discussion leader(s) instructor

Poem: Joseph Papaleo, “American Dream: First Report”

Poetry reader: instructor

Instructor on Jewish American literature: model minority; Jews as world leaders; Jews in film and comedy; anti-semitism

Agenda: review webpage; objectives > midterm; default questions; history or essence?


assignments (12 Sept.), presentations (email draft) + 12 Sept.

quiz 1 (ink)  >   [brief break]

discussion leader assignment > instructor models

discussion questions


Jews as immigrant literature, model minorities

poetry reading assignment > Papaleo poem

unfinished business?

Nicholasa Mohr
(b. 1938, Nuyorican Bronx)

Discussion Questions:

1. How does each story embody the immigrant story as an identifiable narrative or story-sequence? 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: "Soap & Water," "The English Lesson," and The Cooked Seed are all 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 do minority (obj. 3), "Model Minority," (2b), & New World immigrant (3e) identities appear in these stories? With what characters, positions, or symbols is the dominant culture identified (Obj. 4)?

Monday, 5 September: No class meeting: Labor Day holiday

Next 3 classes: How does the minority narrative differ from the immigrant narrative?

Monday, 12 September: African American Minority Narrative (NOT immigrant but "True Minority," except for Ihedigbo, who is African immigrant i.e., not descended from forced migration and slavery)

reading assignments: Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, The African

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

Alice Walker, “Elethia” (IA 307-309)

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

African American history as minority and immigrant

Reading Discussion leader(s): (Equiano &/or Ihedigbo) Zach Thomas; (Bambara &/or Walker) Amber Boone

Web Review: from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (7.8); article on "Great Migration" + 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

Web Reviewer: instructor

Poem: Patricia Smith, "Blonde White Women"

Poetry reader: instructor

Agenda: presentations (Jessica, Tom, assignments, midterm

web changes; course as texts + system > objectives & terms (marked and unmarked)

quiz [brief break]

discussion: Zach, Amber

[less brief break]

more on midterm

African Americans as minorities and / or immigrants? + great migration; African immigration

poetry: instructor




Toni Cade Bambara

Discussion Questions: 1. Especially in the Equiano text, contrast and compare the immigrant and minority narrative. How do the origin stories of African Americans differ from immigrant origins?

1a. When Africans arrive in America, what is different about their status compared to immigrants' status?

1b. If the immigrant narrative or American Dream constitutes the social contract for the USA's dominant culture, what different social contract applies to African America?

2. Compared to the "Melting Pot" by which immigrants become assimilated or "Americanized" after a generation or more, after centuries on the same continent Black and White America remain two somewhat distinct cultures, with comparatively little intermarriage. If the African American past differs from the immigrant past, what about the future?

2a. Should African America follow the immigrant narrative of assimilation and forgetting the past of slavery for the sake of joining a hypermodern society hurrying into the future? What would American culture overall gain or lose if African America were absorbed into the USA's dominant culture?

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

4. The Ihedigbo text is a new addition to the course. How does it exemplify the immigrant narrative instead of the African American minority narrative? In what ways may it still resemble the African American minority narrative?

Olaudah Equiano

Monday, 19 September: "Model Minority": East Asian Immigrants ("Ideal Immigrant" Narrative, not real or true minority)

reading assignment: 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); Le Ly Hayslip author page

Dr. White's "model minority" site;

Reading Discussion leader(s): Jessica Tran

Web Review: Asian Americans and affirmative action issues; declining Asian-American intermarriage; Wikipedia article on "model minority"; article on "model minority" as stereotyping; Perceptions of Migration Clash With Reality, Report Finds (2011); Since 2009, Asian Immigrants outnumber Hispanic Immigrants Web Reviewer: instructor

Model Assignments Highlights (midterm1 Essays): Tom Britt

Agenda: midterm essay, objectives 1-3

complete African American minority; Amber

African American history as minority or immigrant

Midterm1, Model Assignments: Tom

quiz grades, rationale

quiz & [break]

model minority

discussion: Jessica

compare minority & immigrant narrative

gender question?


Gish Jen, b. 1955

Discussion Questions: 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. What different attitudes toward assimilation? What opportunities for advancement or progress?

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

Monday, 26 September: American Indian minority narrative (NOT immigrant but real or true minority)

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")

American Indians as minority and / or immigrant

Reading Discussion leader(s): Tom Britt

Web Review: Trail of Tears: instructor

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

Poetry reader: Mariah Kelly

Agenda: assignments (Soto handout); New World + Reyna Grande

midterm; use links; demonstrate learning

Model Minorities as immigrant; Amerinds as minority

Trail of Tears

poem: Mariah



discussion questions & texts: Tom or instructor

American Indians as minority, plus or minus immigrant


Maps of Native America

Louise Erdrich, b. 1954

Discussion Questions:

1. In the texts today, how does American Indian culture appear as minority rather than Immigrant? Note relations to state, government, immigration, etc.

1a. Compare Handsome Lake to Olaudah Equiano as a minority origin story. Contrast with Anzia Yezierska, excerpt from Bread Givers (1912)

2. Compare and contrast today's texts 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. Compare to African American literature as opposition or resistance rather than assimilation to white society? But what differences from African American literature and culture?

3a. 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 distinct traditional-modern styles appear in today's stories?

Leslie Marmon Silko,
b. 1948

Monday, 3 October: Midterm 1: Essay on minority & immigrant narratives, Web Highlights, & Research Report Proposal (email exams due by Tuesday, 4 Oct., midnight)

Next 3 class meetings to Midterm2: New World Immigrants as mix of immigrant & minority

New World Immigrants
(Hispanic or Afro-Caribbean)
as immigrant + minority?

(Maps of Caribbean)

Monday, 10 October: Mexican Americans: Immigrant or Minority?

Web Review (instructor): Mexican Americans as immigrant, minority, or both; Personal Memoirs of John N. Seguin; The US-Mexican War, 1846-48;  Some History of Mexican Immigration: "100 Years in the Back Door, Out the Front"; Gloria Anzaldua; San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site; tradition / modernity (instructor)

Readings: Gary Soto, “Like Mexicans” (Handout + email PDF file )

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

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

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

Discussion leader: Jennifer Robles ("Barbie-Q")

Poem: Pat Mora, “Immigrants" or Gary Soto, "Mexicans Begin Jogging"

Poetry reader: Madi Coates

Agenda: midterm1 > midterm2 (research sources);

Mex Am + Seguin & US-Mexican War; border people, La Frontera mestizo

poetry: Madi

quiz + break

discussion: Jennifer

other texts


problem of evolution (50-200) to modernity (1 among millions) 

Sandra Cisneros
b. 1954

Discussion Questions:   

1. Historically and in our texts, how do Mexican Americans combine immigrant and minority cultures or narratives?

1a. How do Mexican Americans either assimilate or acculturate?—that is, either convert completely to dominant-culture institutions or values, or adapt them selectively while retaining elements of their own culture?

2. Recent  literary and cultural criticism describes Mexican Americans as a "border people" or "border culture" (Spanish frontera). How do our texts represent Mexican Americans as a people on the "border" of two cultures? (See Gloria Anzaldua.)

3. Based on the texts and broader experience, how are Mexican Americans changing (or being changed by) the USA?

4. Literary questions re genre: compare "El Patron" to a sit-com or situation comedy (e.g., Cosby ShowFriends, The Office)

4a. Coming-of-age stories (a.k.a. "initiation stories") are common to all cultures but especially prevalent in Mexican American literature. Why? What factors in Mexican American or border culture determine this focus on the transition from childhood to adulthood?

Nash Candelaria,
b. 1928

Monday, 17 October: Other Hispanic Americans: Immigrant or Minority?

Class readings:

Junot Diaz, "How to Date a Browngirl . . . “ (IA 276-279)

Oscar Hijuelos, “Visitors, 1965” (IA 310-325) (Obituary for Oscar Hijuelos, d. 12 Oct. 2013)

Judith Ortiz Cofer, "Silent Dancing" [handout / PDF via email]

New World Immigrants

Discussion leader: Alexander Leleux

Poem: Martin Espada, “Coca-Cola and Coco Frio”

Poetry reader: Dylan Putt

Model Assignments Highlights (2013 midterm2 essays and / or report starts): Trey Kibodeaux

Agenda: midterm1 samples, immigrant-minority distinctions > midterm2

Mexican Americans as immigrant, minority, or both > New World Immigrants; modern-traditional

Grande, The Distance Between Us (questions, "border people";

research reports start with midterm 2

Model Assignments: Trey

Latin American settlement, immigration

poetry: Dylan

quiz + break

discussion: Alexander + instructor (dominant culture)

race & ethnicity; Hispanic / Latino; mestizo (history, origins)


Junot Diaz
b. 1968

Discussion Questions: 1. How do today's stories reflect a cultural identity or narrative for Hispanics that combines a status as minorities and immigrants, or somewhere between? 

2. Question for "How to Date a Browngirl": How does the main character-narrator seem like an immigrant, like a minority, or something in-between?

3. Question for "Silent Dancing": As far as immigrant or minority identity, in what different directions is the family pulled? How much or they assimilating, or not? What different values, symbols, or identities are associated with assimilating to the dominant culture or staying with the ethnic culture?

4. Question for "Visitors, 1965": Cuba is very close geographically to the USA, and many Cuban immigrants regarded themselves more as "exiles" from the Communist Castro regime who would eventually return to Cuba. In the story, how do the attitudes of different Cuban immigrant generations change toward assimilation or maintenance of traditional values and identity, esp. re the family? 

Judith Ortiz Cofer
b. 1952

Monday, 24 October: Afro-Caribbean Immigrants: Minorities or Immigrants?


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

Paule Marshall, “The Making of a Writer: From the Poets in the Kitchen” [PDF email / handout]

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

Afro-Caribbean identity as immigrant and minority

Discussion leader(s): Martha Charlemagne

Web Review: "Edwidge Danticat: By the Book" (interview): Christina Maria Sapp

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:  instructor

Agenda: Sojourner Truth; New World Immigrant

Diaz: Alexander

Cofer: instructor




quiz & break

discussion: Martha

web: Christina

poetry: instructor

Paule Marshall
b. 1929; below, Benin mask, 16c.

Discussion Questions: 1. For all 3 fictions and the poems, discuss co-presence or crossing of minority & immigrant identities, and the Color Code as an operative agent for immigrants and minorities.

2. Edwidge Danticat, “Children of the Sea” (IA 98-112): Haiti is the most African of New World nations, and the one whose immigrants American authorities repel the most systematically.

Note remembrance of African gods and confusion of immigrant boat with slave ship.

How does the story evoke a minority narrative both at home in Haiti, and in terms of reception by the USA? How does this change the immigrant narrative?

3. Paule Marshall, “To Da-Duh, in Memoriam” (IA 368-377): set in Barbadoes. How does "Da-Duh" (the narrator's grandmother) accept and express minority attitudes? How does her grand-daughter express immigrant attitudes including assimilation?

4. Paule Marshall, “The Making of a Writer: From the Poets in the Kitchen”: How is the narrator pulled back and forth between assimilation to the dominant culture and connection to her African heritage? How is this mixed identity reflected in what she reads and what those readings mean to her? 

Edwidge Danticat
b. 1969

Monday, 31 October: Midterm 2: essay on New World immigrants + research report beginning (email exams due by Tuesday, 1 Nov., midnight)

Last 4 classes: America's Dominant Culture + one more "Model Minority"

Questions for immigrant studies re USA's dominant culture: What kind of culture do immigrants join or assimilate to?

Are American systems and values universal, or are they limited by racial, cultural, or ethnic descent?

Do earlier immigrant cultures trust later immigrants with their institutions?

How does immigration history shape the narratives and identities of early European settlers?

Monday, 7 November:

Reading assignments: dominant culture term-page

preview table of contents for Of Plymouth Plantation

John Winthrop, "A Model of Christian Charity" (1629)

Crevecoeur, "What is an American?" & "Description of Charles-Town: Thoughts on Slavery . . . " (1782) 

preview Notes from Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in North America (1989)

 J.D. Vance, "Introduction," Hillbilly Elegy (PDF emailed 1 & 6 November); J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy page (> Scotch-Irish)

Reading Discussion Leader:  (Crevecoeur) Umaymah Shahid, LITR MA student

Web Review: selections of U.S. Declaration of Independence & U.S. Constitution re immigration; Protestant Work Ethic; Protestantism; white flight

Web Reviewer: instructor

Agenda: midterms update; preview final exam

dominant culture website; waves of American immigration; dominant culture waves

periods > 17c / Reformation > Enlightenment

Constitution (1789) and Declaration (1776) > Crevecoeur (1782): Umaymah Shahid

quiz > break

preview "Pilgrim Fathers" & "Founding Fathers" > Weber; Puritans; Protestant Reformation

Winthrop > Pilgrim assignments

preview Scotch-Irish

discuss Hillbilly Elegy


Puritan / Pilgrim couple

re-creation of the Mayflower

Background: Today's texts describe journeys and identities of English immigrants, primarily in the 1600s & 1700s, and the different styles or ideologies they contributed to the USA's dominant culture.

Discussion Questions: 1. If these immigrants form the early American dominant culture, what kind of culture do later immigrants assimilate to? What are its principles and values?

2. How much are the dominant culture's principles and values universal? Or how much are they unique and limited to people or cultures of European descent? How adaptable or accessible are the Founders' principles to assimilation of multiple cultures or ethnicities? How much is it "rigged," and how much is it transparent, meritocratic, and open or resistant to progress?

3. What is the literary value of today's readings? Where do they line up on the Literature as entertainment and education spectrum? What moments offer reading pleasure and why? At what point does learning become pleasurable? What mix of attitudes toward using literature as a means of studying history and culture?

Questions for specific texts:

3. Winthrop: What model of society does Winthrop's sermon propose as the goal of the Puritans' immigration? What balance do the Puritans make between the individual and the community?

3b. How do the Puritans' & Pilgrims' founding of New England in the 1600s model two different aspects of the USA's dominant culture, specifically the USA as a God-blessed land with Americans as God's new chosen people, and American progressivism and liberalism? (Abolition, women's rights, Progressivism, the New Deal, the Kennedys, higher education, etc. all come from New England, though most people think of the Puritans as conservatives.)

4. Crevecoeur (with the Declaration and Constitution) in the 1700s found the USA as a "nation of many nations" founded on universal principles derived not from traditional religion but from "laws of nature." What are the appeals and limits of such principles? What controversies?

4a. For Crevecoeur, what are the scope and limits of the melting pot or assimilation to the emergent dominant culture? How does he identify different Northern and Southern identities for the USA's dominant culture?

4b. How are both Northern and Southern cultures immigrant cultures based on voluntary immigration, assimilation, and self-interested labor and ownership, and African American slaves as a minority whose origins are involuntary separation from their homeland and work for others without self-interest or profit?

5. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy is a recent expression of white or Anglo culture from the Scotch-Irish, who immigrated from Northern Britain in the later 1700s. What is the profile of these white people compared to the New England Puritans in the 1600s or the USA's Founders in the 1700s? In what ways may the Scotch-Irish resemble the USA's dominant culture and a minority culture? (Rust Belt maps)

drafting the Declaration

Jeffersonian mansion

Monday, 14 November: The Pilgrims as early model of the dominant culture

Class readings: William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (chapters I-X [1-10])

 J.D. Vance, Chapter 9, Hillbilly Elegy (PDF emailed 7 November); J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy page (> Scotch-Irish)

Discussion leader: Chandler Barton

Poem: Enid Dame, “On the Road to Damascus, Maryland"

Poetry reader: Katie Morin

Web Review (instructor): Scotch-Irish (w/ Scots-Irish Immigration); diaspora; Michael Lind, "The White South's Last Defeat" Salon 5 Feb. 2013; Joan Walsh, "What's the Matter with White People?"; "Whites earn more than three-fourths of the nation’s income"; demographic transition; plain style; Brad Plumer, "Americans still move around more than anyone else in the world" Washington Post 15 May 2013

Model Assignments Highlights (final exam essays): Austin Green

Agenda: Dominant Culture waves > meritocracy > Scotch-Irish

 Model Assignments; final exam

web review: Austin


Pilgrims and ancient Jews 3.4; Bradford & Moses

poetry: Katie

quiz + break

Pilgrims' discussion: Chandleer

Hillbilly Elegy


Sam Houston (Scotch-Irish)

Discussion Questions:

1. How does Puritanism embody Protestantism, and what does Protestantism contribute to forming the USA's dominant culture? How do the opening chapters of Plymouth Plantation describe qualities or styles that will mark the USA's dominant culture?

2. How does the Pilgrims' sojourn in the Netherlands resemble a traditional immigrant story? Why is it significant to the Dominant Culture that the Pilgrims reject that model in order to go to North America?

3. The immigrant narrative emphasizes heroic individualism, but the Pilgrims migrate as a community, and they suffer and survive together as a community. Americans today continue to emphasize individualism, but we celebrate occasions when we stand together and act as a community, as after 9/11 or after natural disasters. Compare the Pilgrims' narrative of their journey and hard beginnings in North America. How does the United States function as a "community of individuals?"

4. Questions for J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy, ch. 9: How much does Vance's story belong in Immigrant Literature? What similar crises and transformations to other immigrant narratives in this course? What is the value of learning the Scotch-Irish dimension of the USA's dominant culture?

4b. Combined with Of Plymouth Plantation, how does Hillbilly Elegy provide a composite sense of the USA's dominant culture and a sense of its strengths and limits?

Andrew Jackson, Scots-Irish ($20 Bill)

Monday, 21 November: Pilgrims & Exodus model of dominant-culture migration

Readings: William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (see Second Day's assignments) Discussion leader(s): instructor

Parallels between the Exodus story and the Pilgrims (review)

The Triumphant Decline of the WASP (WASP) (read) Discussion leader(s): Zach Thomas

Poem: Hamod (Sam), “After the Funeral of Assam Hamady”

Poetry reader:  Alexander Leleux

Model Assignments Highlights (research reports): Celina Tijerina

Agenda: Dominant culture, dominant culture waves, final exam

model exams: Austin

Declaration, Constitution > The Triumphant Decline of the WASP (WASP: Zach

 Scotch-Irish; Scotch-Irish Immigration > Hillbilly Elegy discussion



Pilgrims discussion

poem: Alexander

Moses receiving 10 Commandments

Discussion Questions: 1. How do the Pilgrims both exemplify the American immigrant story and vary from it? How do their variations make them exemplify the USA's dominant culture?

2. What are the attractions and threats of comparing the Pilgrims' experience to that of the ancient Israelites' Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land? What prestige comes from the association, but also what cultural limits? How is the USA's dominant culture comparable to or different from that of the ancient Jews or the early Christians?

3. How do the Pilgrims relate to American Indians—-i.e., the culture and population that pre-existed them in America or the Promised Land? How does the American Indians' backstory—provided mostly in annotations to Bradford's text—correspond to or call into question the Pilgrims' perception of their presence as part of the divine plan? How does the American Indians' backstory qualify as a minority identity or narrative?

3a. What is your impression of the Pilgrims' "First Thanksgiving?" (12.12) How to evaluate in light of Dominant Culture-American Indian relations?

4. How or to what extent do the Pilgrims / Puritans contribute to the creation of the USA's dominant culture? What consistencies or differences between the "Pilgrim Fathers" and the "Founding Fathers?" (literacy, Protestantism; middle-class community vs. freemarket individualism)

5. "Triumphant Decline of the WASP": Apply to question, Are American systems and values universal, or are they limited by race or ethnic descent?

Indian Corn

Monday, 28 November: More “Model Minorities”: Indian & Pakistani American Literature

Readings: Chitra Divakaruni, “Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs” (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)

Discussion leader: Christina Maria Sapp & instructor

Poem: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, “Restroom"

Poetry reader: Kim Loza

Agenda: copies of final exam

Scotch-Irish, Hillbilly Elegy

poem: Kim


break & evaluations

Model Minority

texts discussion: Christina, instructor


Orlando Patterson quote; maps of India


Chitra Divakaruni,
b. 1956

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?

Discussion question(s): 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

Monday, 5 December: final exam: essay on dominant culture & overview + complete research report (email exams due by noon, 7 December)

All Americans are created equal, but every American identity has a unique history
or background that shapes its past, present, and future.
In dialogue together, these unique stories define our multicultural landscape.

The immigrant narrative is the standard by which the American multicultural landscape is measured.

Course Objectives—organizing themes & terms for discussions, 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 to recognize its relations to "the American Dream” and other multicultural narratives or identities. Such relations 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: Voluntarily leave the Old World (“traditional societies” in Europe, Asia, or Latin America). (Minorities do not leave voluntarily)

 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)


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. (See African American history as minorities and immigrants.)

These differences between immigrant and minority histories create 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 separate communities. (ghettoes, red-lined subdivisions, reservations)

o Immigrants often 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 Midterm1) “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.
>Because immigrants often come from small, traditional communities with strong family identities, and because immigrants often immigrate with their families, immigrants reinforce America's "stress on the family" as society's main organizing unit. However, when immigrants enter a modern society like the USA (especially its cities of millions of strangers), families have difficulty adapting to rapid change and equality of genders, generations, etc.

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.





Reid Wilson, "22 Things the American Community Survey taught us about Foreign-Born Residents." Washington Post, 19 Sept. 2013.

"Still Puritan After All These Years" (2012)

Amanda Taub, interview with Michael Ignatieff re Globalism and Nationalism