LITR 4340 American Immigrant Literature

introduction & course content; student presentations; history of immigration; essential terms

 

personal intro

can look at me and guess that, whatever other shortcomings, I'm experienced

taught course about a dozen times, developed at end of 1990s, at the time a fairly unique course, but now more common on campuses, developing and dynamic field with lots of impressive writers and growing audience

Already 40 when arrived here in 1992, hired to teach American Literature generally but also Minority Literature (go to)

Minority as not immigrants--(list)--but students concerned about ethnic groups left out, like Asian Americans and central Americans besides Mexican Americans

First midterm essay topic

 

Back to us, if I'm 66 and you're in your 20s or can still feel like you're in your 20s, some significant differences between us > opportunities to learn from each other.

 

 

 

 

copy Papaleo poem

lyric poem

image

symbol

narrative

 

 

 

open

 

education in all 3 examples

but also "improve oneself"

 

literary devices: symbol?

narrative

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start with narrative > obj. 2c

dialogue, dialectic

not just immigrant lit but multicultural survey

overview narrative, dialogue

 

 

Powerful: immigration is at the heart of American identity, pro or con

"nation of immigrants"

Wide-ranging: the immigrant narrative becomes a way of thinking about the whole landscape of multicultural America (objectives 1, 3, 4)

*immigrant culture incl. "model minorities"

*minority culture

*dominant culture

+ lots of in-betweens

Potentially sensitive materials at all times, but "sensitive" means the issues matter

Literature teaches us how to discuss important issues honestly and systematically, or at least keep trying

 

 

 

 

 

 

Course methodology:

Professor / instructor organizes, provides background information, explains and reinforces objectives and outcomes (assignments)

Students lead discussions of texts, model expression of objectives

rationale:

peer learning: in modern culture, students learn better from their own age group compared to elders

student expression and modeling translates old knowledge into new forms, applications

+ bonus for professor: learning from students

 


narrative: immigrant & American Dream

action before break:

1. review terms, syllabus, & objectives on immigrant narrative

2. students briefly discuss images, associations, or episodes familiar to immigrant narrative or American Dream

 

term:

narrative = story, plot, story-line, scenario

big concept, can include many other concepts, but also familiar

"4 basic elements of literature": character, setting, viewpoint, plot

narrative a hot topic in literary studies of past generation

hard to get a handle on, but explains a lot about human motivations, desire, expectations, self-images and actions

every story we tell or imagine is full of values,

humans as storytelling creatures

stories reflect and shape reality

Narratives are not limited to "fiction." They animate our ideas about our nation or ourselves: "the story of America"; "the story of my life"

 

 

 

 

Is the immigrant story the same thing as the American Dream?

 

How do these rate as "stories" or "narratives?"

stories have beginning, middle, end

beginning either determines end, or makes changes meaningful

"middle" as some action that confirms or changes beginning > end

immigrant story's "middle" is usually a journey or change

But that physical journey or change can become a metaphor for internal or personal change

? Immigrant story as "conversion narrative"?

for example, old self > new self; metaphors of being reborn

These elements may sound more like images than stories, but since the images gain meaning by their relation to each other in a time progression, they're stories or narrative.

 

 

 

Literature and history meet in narrative or storytelling . . . .

History of immigration tells a story about the USA and other nations.

recent rises in rates of immigration

Internet Modern History Sourcebook: US Immigration

1920s restrictions on immigration by racial quotas

"National Origins" quota act of 1924

Landmarks of American Immigration History

 

political attitudes toward immigration

American values are strongly identified with immigration, hard to argue against.

Anxiety and doubts about immigration are usually balanced out by how essential the immigrant story is to American identity . . .

The vast majority of Americans are immigrants or descended from immigrants.

Past anxieties have tended to be ultimately groundless, as immigrants assimilate, work hard, learn English, and "become Americans" (who may in turn worry about immigration).

Recent positive example: Moslem-American communities have not produced significant numbers of terrorists. Most of the 9/11 terrorists had become alienated in European nations, which don't have the same level of immigrant identity.

More recent issue: overpopulation and environmental change.

Population in the USA recently passed 300 million--essentially doubled in last 50 years.

Immigration aspects: 

Nearly all U.S. population growth is immigration-fueled

Native-born Americans are basically reproducing at replacement levels

Immigrant families tend to have more children (on account of traditional gender roles, other traditional beliefs or practices)

Immigration not a national but global phenomenon

 

Useful concept for population worries:

"The Demographic Transition"

As people rise in economic status, education, and other quality-of-life measures, they have fewer children. (Religion can alter individual cases, but statistically insignificant.)

Traditional societies tend to operate at subsistence levels, which keep population stable despite high birth rates. (That is, many births, but also many deaths, including high infant mortality.)

As people from traditional cultures enter modern life (better nutrition, hygiene, medicine, etc.), they continue high birth rates for a generation or two, but more of their children survive.

As people become "modernized," they have fewer children and concentrate greater resources on them--"hot-housing," etc.

 

Questions:

Any corrections or additions to historical background?

Refocus on literary angle: the immigrant narrative

 

What is narrative? How and where have you studied it?

What is the Immigrant Narrative? What images, values, and sequences attached to it?

What is the American Dream story? What images, values, sequences?

How does the Immigrant Narrative conform to or reinforce the American Dream story?

 

 

 

 

Examples of immigrant narratives

 

historical text and model of immigration: Crevecoeur 

purpose of exercise:

1. classic text on assimilation, melting pot

2. preview contrast between immigrant and minority cultures

3. This text is an option for midterm discussion

 

Crevecoeur on immigration > new people + minorities

 

Crevecoeur biography

Crevecoeur, Notes from an American Farmer (1782)

 

1. classic text on assimilation, melting pot

Questions about Crevecoeur

 

 

2. preview contrast between immigrant and minority cultures

Is the immigrant story the same thing as the American Dream?

Yes, but . . . 

Yes, they overlap. The stages of the immigrant story parallel those of the American Dream.

Old World > New World = Rags to Riches

But . . .

American Dream can't be limited or reduced to Immigrant Story. "Rags to Riches" can happen in other contexts, plus "American Dream" can take many forms, such as home ownership, or academic / athletic success.

Overall, immigrant story and American Dream story are almost always "parallel"--that is, they share similar stages and a similar arc.

 

 

How do these rate as "stories" or "narratives?"

humans as storytelling creatures

stories reflect and shape reality

Narratives are not limited to "fiction." They animate our ideas about our nation or ourselves: "the story of America"; "the story of my life"

 

stories have beginning, middle, end

beginning either determines end, or makes changes meaningful

"middle" as some action that confirms or changes beginning > end

immigrant story's "middle" is usually a journey or change

But that physical journey or change can become a metaphor for internal or personal change

? Immigrant story as "conversion narrative"?

for example, old self > new self; metaphors of being reborn

These elements may sound more like images than stories, but since the images gain meaning by their relation to each other in a time progression, they're stories or narrative.

 

 

Overall question for discussion:

Can you isolate the same "immigrant narrative" or "American Dream" story across both texts?

What variations?

What are its attractions? What are its hidden costs?

What are the literary attractions or powers of this narrative? Why or how does it work for a reader?

 

By tomorrow night I'll compile a draft presentation schedule and email to class for review. If you find problems, email back ASAP. If no problems, print-out copies distributed next Thursday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature or purpose of course

One of two specifically multicultural courses in undergraduate Literature curriculum

LITR 4332 American Minority Literature

LITR 4333 American Immigrant Literature

premise of American Minority Literature: American Minorities are not immigrants, or differ from traditional immigrants in significant ways

American Indians--here before the immigrants came

African Americans--forced immigration; slavery, not opportunity

plus or minus Mexican Americans--most often thought of as immigrants, but some differences from traditional immigrant narrative--land bridge, distinct language communities resist assimilation, and history with dominant American culture more like a minority group, compare to American Indians

This course, LITR 4333, doesn't ignore minority groups, but expands to look at traditional immigrants and dominant culture

Across both courses, the essential background or standard is the immigrant story--ethnic groups either differ from it or follow it, more or less.

 

 

Immigrant story / American Dream narrative

If we think of immigrants as having a common story, what are some of that story's features?

 

Is the immigrant story the same thing as the American Dream?

 

How do these rate as "stories" or "narratives?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Point of exercise:

The Immigrant Story / American Dream make and define us as Americans--more or less.

We all know the story, can refer to it, or cite it as evidence for "the way things should (or shouldn't) be"

Given this base, what are the variables? How does the story change for different groups? What are the costs and benefits?

 

Instructor's comments:

If we think of immigrants as having a common story, what are some of that story's features?

Hope for a better future, represented by America

Old World at one end of the story; New World at the other

Old World as grudges, irrational limits or hatreds; New World as "open" or "new" society in which old grudges and limits are forgotten

Instructor's biggest surprise in developing course: How much the immigrant story is written by women, concerning passage from old world of gender inequality and discovery of possible opportunities for women plus or minus realization.

Women's significance in immigration also shows up in writing and speech of immigrant men, who either resist or manage changes in their women's attitudes. In many cases, women's freedom is a danger of immigration.