LITR 4340 American Immigrant Literature

2nd class meeting: Examples of the Immigrant Narrative

 

Af-Am assignments

more dramatic or oppositional than immigrant literature, more conflict between dominant and emergent identities

preview Equiano as "Founding Father" of African American prose (Phillis Wheatley, poetry)

 

 

 

discussion leader: instructor

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 the minority, New World immigrant, and "Model Minority" identities appear in these stories (Obj. 3)? How does the dominant culture appear (Obj. 4)?

 

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?

 

Question: how does education enable (or frustrate) the American Dream (or not) in today's texts?

What are the dangers or risks of public education? Why are some "traditionalist" cultures (whether Muslim fundamentalists or Christian evangelicals) wary of it?

 

 

 

Anzia Yezierska, “Soap and Water”

[2] She told me that my skin looked oily, my hair unkempt, and my finger-nails sadly neglected. She told me that I was utterly unmindful of the little niceties of the well-groomed lady. She pointed out that my collar did not set evenly; my belt was awry, and there was a lack of freshness in my dress. And she ended with: "Soap and water are cheap. Any one can be clean.”

[8] Miss Whiteside had no particular reason for hounding and persecuting me. Personally, she didn’t give a hang if I was clean or dirty. She was merely one of the agents of clean society, delegated to judge who is fit and who is unfit to teach.

16 college as new religion x 17, 18 wall, x-belong

21 Whiteside - policeman

25 college x-democracy > class distinctions

32 instructor, woman

34 Miss Van Ness

36 telling story, unutterable

a friend

39 singing

 

English Lesson

22 Mrs. Hamma travels

23 tallest person in room

idiom

24 imitate her (mimesis, model)

feeling of control

27 "admirable" > equally > 33

28 NYC ethnic groups

Question: how does education fit in or enable the American Dream (or not) in today's texts?

Compare dynamics of today's education demographics?

 

An-Chee Min, Cooked Seed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text discussion 1: Soap and Water

obj. 1 immigrant narrative + model minority

1. How does each story embody the immigrant story as an identifiable narrative? What symbols can be identified in and across both stories? (obj. 2)

assimilation?

What symbolizes assimilation? Since symbols can carry multiple meanings, what are some of the extra meanings of the symbols?

 

[2] She told me that my skin looked oily, my hair unkempt, and my finger-nails sadly neglected. She told me that I was utterly unmindful of the little niceties of the well-groomed lady. She pointed out that my collar did not set evenly; my belt was awry, and there was a lack of freshness in my dress. And she ended with: "Soap and water are cheap. Any one can be clean.”

[8] Miss Whiteside had no particular reason for hounding and persecuting me. Personally, she didn’t give a hang if I was clean or dirty. She was merely one of the agents of clean society, delegated to judge who is fit and who is unfit to teach.

[12] Often as I stood at my board at the laundry, I thought of Miss Whiteside, and her clean world, clothed in the snowy shirt-waists I had ironed. I was thinking—I, soaking in the foul vapors of the steaming laundry, I, with my dirty, tired hands, I am ironing the clean, immaculate shirt-waists of clean, immaculate society. I, the unclean one, am actually fashioning the pedestal of their cleanliness, from which they reach down, hoping to lift me to the height that I have created for them.

[17] At last I came to college. I rushed for it with the outstretched arms of youth’s aching hunger to give and take of life’s deepest and highest, and I came against the solid wall of the well-fed, well-dressed world—the frigid whitewashed wall of cleanliness.

[31] But to whom could I speak? The people in the laundry? They never understood me. They had a grudge against me because I left them when I tried to work myself up. Could I speak to the college people? What did these icebergs of convention know about the vital things of the heart?

 

 

 

 

Poetry Presentation: Papaleo, American Dream: First Report

Obj. 2: stages of immigrant narrative

immigrant generations

 

Question: Where in the poem do you see the stages of the immigrant narrative?

How do different generations react to immigration?

 

technique: symbols & images

 

 

 

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

·        Differences between immigrants and minorities:

 

Identify the immigrant narrative

 

 

Other places?

 

Where does the minority narrative appear in today's readings?

“English Lesson”

27 NYC, ethnic groups > Dutch (x-Indians)

26 conflict between immigrants

25 Diego Torres as Hispanic / Afro-Caribbean

Dominican Republic

 

 

 

 

Text discussion 1: Soap and Water

obj. 1 immigrant narrative + model minority

1. How does each story embody the immigrant story as an identifiable narrative? What symbols can be identified in and across both stories? (obj. 2)

assimilation?

What symbolizes assimilation? Since symbols can carry multiple meanings, what are some of the extra meanings of the symbols?

 

[2] She told me that my skin looked oily, my hair unkempt, and my finger-nails sadly neglected. She told me that I was utterly unmindful of the little niceties of the well-groomed lady. She pointed out that my collar did not set evenly; my belt was awry, and there was a lack of freshness in my dress. And she ended with: "Soap and water are cheap. Any one can be clean.”

[8] Miss Whiteside had no particular reason for hounding and persecuting me. Personally, she didn’t give a hang if I was clean or dirty. She was merely one of the agents of clean society, delegated to judge who is fit and who is unfit to teach.

[12] Often as I stood at my board at the laundry, I thought of Miss Whiteside, and her clean world, clothed in the snowy shirt-waists I had ironed. I was thinking—I, soaking in the foul vapors of the steaming laundry, I, with my dirty, tired hands, I am ironing the clean, immaculate shirt-waists of clean, immaculate society. I, the unclean one, am actually fashioning the pedestal of their cleanliness, from which they reach down, hoping to lift me to the height that I have created for them.

[17] At last I came to college. I rushed for it with the outstretched arms of youth’s aching hunger to give and take of life’s deepest and highest, and I came against the solid wall of the well-fed, well-dressed world—the frigid whitewashed wall of cleanliness.

[31] But to whom could I speak? The people in the laundry? They never understood me. They had a grudge against me because I left them when I tried to work myself up. Could I speak to the college people? What did these icebergs of convention know about the vital things of the heart?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

·        Differences between immigrants and minorities:

 

Identify the immigrant narrative

 

 

Other places?

 

Where does the minority narrative appear in today's readings?

“English Lesson”

27 NYC, ethnic groups > Dutch (x-Indians)

26 conflict between immigrants

25 Diego Torres as Hispanic / Afro-Caribbean

Dominican Republic

 

 

 

 

Dominant culture moment(s)

Miss Whiteside 1, 2

Soap and Water 17

34 Miss Van Ness

39 identification of "America" with its representative? No separation

 

 

Mrs. Hamma speaks inclusively, sensitive to class differences, esp. Europe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Soap and Water”

106 slavery [how true? Metaphor or fact?]

 

Summary: The immigrant narrative doesn't exist entirely independently of the minority narrative, but defines itself against the minority narrative: we-they, etc.

 

Soap and Water”

106 slavery [how true? Metaphor or fact?]

 

Summary: The immigrant narrative doesn't exist entirely independently of the minority narrative, but defines itself against the minority narrative: we-they, etc.

 

 

2 upbeat fiction narratives ("Soap and Water" & "The English Class") representing generally sunny side of Immigrant Story / American Dream

“English Lesson”

22 Mrs. Hamma < grandparents from Germany—poor immigrants, work way up

24 improve my position

25 in search of a better future

25 classroom = America

31 improving yourselves

31 [class as second immigration]

 

“Soap and Water”

107 clothed in shirtwaists I ironed—fashioning their pedestal (cf. “cleaning toilets” in “English lesson”

109 dreams of America > shattered > deathless faith

109 people in laundry, grudge against me, left them

110 tied and bound > untied, freed

 

What are attractions? What are hidden costs?

In literature you don't just learn "affirmation" but "criticism."

Therefore we don't just celebrate the immigrant narrative, but we criticize it.

To criticize doesn't mean tearing it down but continuing to learn instead of stopping at some smiley moment.

 

"Soap and Water"

109 people in laundry, grudge against me, left them

 

"English Lesson"

30 Rudi’s ambivalence re gender roles

30 x-help of man, dependent

 

 

 

Anzia Yezierska, “Soap and Water”

Wikipedia, Anzia Yezierska

 

Miss Whiteside's name as symbol

fences, walls, "gatekeeper"

clean x dirty

educated x ignorant

unmarked appearance x marked appearance

 

1 my personal appearance.

2 the little niceties of the well-groomed lady. [teacher talk; cf. Mrs. Hamma]

4 a private conference* [*dominant culture associated w/ privacy + cool impersonality & science & technology / antiseptic cleanliness]

[5] She never looked into my eyes. She never perceived that I had a soul. She did not see how I longed for beauty and cleanliness.

5 dead toil and exhaustion*  [*work ethic = essential dynamic of immigrant narrative, but new immigrants do dirty work from which previous immigrants graduate]

6 Soap and water are cheap. Any one can be clean,”

6 the suppressed wrath of all the unwashed of the earth break loose within me. My eyes blazed fire*.

6 clean, immaculate, spotless Miss Whiteside

[9] While they condemned me as unfit to be a teacher, because of my appearance, I was slaving to keep them clean. I was slaving* [*"slaving" = identification w/ stage 3 of immigrant narrative, where immigrants may be temporarily treated as "minorities" like African Americans]

11 no such things as bathtubs in the house where I lived.

12 Miss Whiteside, and her clean world, clothed in the snowy shirt-waists* I had irone

13 at sea how to fathom and voice* those feelings

14 The girl in the cigar factory, in the next block, had gone first to a preparatory school*. Why shouldn’t I find a way, too?

15 the dream* of the unattainable was the only air in which the soul could survive. [*"dreams," "dream": cf. American Dream]

[16] The ideal of going to college was like the birth of a new religion in my soul.

17 the solid wall of the well-fed, well-dressed world—the frigid whitewashed wall of cleanliness.

["frigid whitewashed wall" as symbol of USA dominant culture's coldness and exclusion]

20  I longed for the larger life, for the stimulus of intellectual associations. . . .  big fences put up against me

21 big, fat policeman with club = Miss Whiteside

23 because my wages were so low and so unsteady, I could never get the money for the clothes to make an appearance to secure a position with better pay.

24 a hidden enemy

25 college was against democracy in education, that clothes form the basis of class distinctions

[28] Inside the ruin of my thwarted life, the unlived visionary* immigrant hungered and thirsted for America.

30 find some human being . . . to begin again my insatiable search for America.

31 the people in the laundry? They never understood me. They had a grudge against me because I left them when I tried to work myself up.

31 college people = icebergs

32 an instructor, a woman, who drew me strangely . . . her dreams

34 10 years later Miss Van Ness*

35 one from the clean world human enough to be friendly

35 burst out crying in the street

36  heard myself telling her the whole story of my life

36 all so unutterable, to find one from the other side of the world who was so simply and naturally that miraculous thing—a friend

38 sunrise

39 singing a song of new life: “America! I found America.”

 

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

21 "I'm so confident that you will all do exceptionally well!"

21 everybody speaks Spanish

22 working harder and longer, if necessary

22 immigrants as legal aliens

several Chinese, two Dominicans, one Sicilian, and one Pole (4th wave)

22 working all day at those miserable, dreary, uninteresting, and often revolting jobs

My grandparents came here from Germany as poor immigrants, working their way up. I'm not one to forget . . .

23 tallest person in the room (nutrition, + contrast William)

23 an idiom!

23 same height standing as sitting, sense of equality

23 Mr. Colon

24 learn and speak and read English very good. To get a better job . . . help my mother y familia

24 get a ball rolling . . . is idiot! . .  . What I said!

24 working delivery food business and live with my rother and his family in Chinatown. . . to speak good and improve my position better in this country . . . become American citizen

24 feeling of control over the situation gve her a pleasing thrill

25 living with relatives, unskilled laborers

25 Diego Torres, young man from Dominican Republic

25 there is political. The United States control most the industry

25 I no be American citizen, go back home, Dominican and proud

25 defend your right to an opinion

26 classroom = America

26 Lali: help husband and do more for myself

26 Aldo Fabrizi > American citizen

26 Pole, business suit, briefcase, reserved but friendly [dominant culture]

27 professor of music, history of music

27 read from his notes carefully

27 Jewish parents

27 return to my position

27 she seemed unable to move

27 everybody here must be treated equally. This is America!

28 history of NYC as far back as the Dutch

28 aware of dwarfishness

 

 

 

 

 

Anchee Min (1957- ) from The Cooked Seed

novelist and memoirist

193 Red Guards, actor in propaganda films

Status reduced > apply to universities in U.S. (friend actress Joan Chen)

1960-80 Chinese immigration totals double every decade

Students and professionals

ESL

 

194 Red Azalea, The Cooked Seed

Education > acculturation + student status

American race relations

 

194 my cousin, my aunt’s son

Mandarin x Cantonese

 

155 confessed I was guilt, ready to accept punishment

> Debt, borrow more from aunt  deadpan

Takisha, my first American friend

Hot water 24 hours, a princess

Own desk and closet

Laughter, loud knock, dark-skinned person

 

196 African freedom fighter . . . breathing sculpture

A cripple, didn’t act like a handicapped person

Alabama

Don’t look at your book. Look at me.

 

197 home – motherland

Accepted me without reservation

China: hung but don’t die

 

198 Takisha studies to be doctor, cure mother

English sentence structure

 

199 couldn’t waste any time

 

200 no English, no job

English class, students from all over world

Black people looked alike, as did whites and Hispanics

To them, Oriental people all looked the same

 

201 unsatisfied by the speed of the teaching

Only one who really drilled at grammar

 

202 [free association; fnf internality]

“excuse me” very useful > friendliest looks

x-students do the teaching . . . language cripples

 

203 like a parrot ;-)

African b. Germany > France

Japan? China? > silence

 

204 her original story was lost

 

205 Kate – Esmeralda? . . . cover girl. [Esmeralda from Hunchback of Notre Dame?]

Brightest eyes, worry-free smile, trusting and child-like

 

206 x-suffered any hardship

Takisha x-Kate: “She is rich.” Room to herself + TV

 

207 real American classroom? > business marketing

Pretend you do speak English

“salad”

 

208 share my salad . . . your first American experience

Speed up learning English > TV: Mister Rogers

Withdraw from English tutorial > hour with Kate

 

209 Takisha visibly upset

Share American history: slave

 

210 no idea who Mao was

Differences between African blacks and American blacks

 

211 fight for the same freedom?

MLK > death showed American society evil

Takisha: “It is.”   [minority]

 

212 ask Takisha if Dr. King had achieved his dream

I am not a slave, but—

What it’s like to be owned, never understand

In fact, I didn’t know what it was like not to be owned.

In China . . . one never owned oneself

Takisha too provoked to come out of her own world.

 

213 government run by all colors

What that had to do with Kate

Poor and lower classes took over government

Being illiterate became glorious   

 

214 hospital operating tables

Good things about poor people being in control?

 

215 grandmother with bound feet

No difference between old and new society

 

 

 

 

Dominant culture moment(s)

Miss Whiteside 1, 2

Soap and Water 17

34 Miss Van Ness

39 identification of "America" with its representative? No separation

 

 

Mrs. Hamma speaks inclusively, sensitive to class differences, esp. Europe

 

 

 

“Soap and Water”

106 slavery [how true? Metaphor or fact?]

 

Summary: The immigrant narrative doesn't exist entirely independently of the minority narrative, but defines itself against the minority narrative: we-they, etc.

 

Soap and Water”

106 slavery [how true? Metaphor or fact?]

 

Summary: The immigrant narrative doesn't exist entirely independently of the minority narrative, but defines itself against the minority narrative: we-they, etc.

 

 

2 upbeat fiction narratives ("Soap and Water" & "The English Class") representing generally sunny side of Immigrant Story / American Dream

“English Lesson”

22 Mrs. Hamma < grandparents from Germany—poor immigrants, work way up

24 improve my position

25 in search of a better future

25 classroom = America

31 improving yourselves

31 [class as second immigration]

 

“Soap and Water”

107 clothed in shirtwaists I ironed—fashioning their pedestal (cf. “cleaning toilets” in “English lesson”

109 dreams of America > shattered > deathless faith

109 people in laundry, grudge against me, left them

110 tied and bound > untied, freed

 

What are attractions? What are hidden costs?

In literature you don't just learn "affirmation" but "criticism."

Therefore we don't just celebrate the immigrant narrative, but we criticize it.

To criticize doesn't mean tearing it down but continuing to learn instead of stopping at some smiley moment.

 

"Soap and Water"

109 people in laundry, grudge against me, left them

 

"English Lesson"

30 Rudi’s ambivalence re gender roles

30 x-help of man, dependent