LITR 4340 American Immigrant Literature

East Asian American Immigrant Literature

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

 

 

 

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.

Default questions for every class:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

o Finally, how do immigrants change America?

Jen 158 father took over the pancake house > send little sister Mona and me to college

my father started to talk about his grandfather and the village he had reigned over in China

"Like that Godfather in the movie" . . . distributed paychecks . . . sometimes two envelopes

"Your father thnks this is China" . . . back to her mending

159 "But this here is the U-S-of-A!"

supermarket, rank of manager

new ideas about herself, and about America, and about what was what in general. She had opinions now . . . .

now interested in espadrilles, and wall paper . . . town country club

"Your father doesn't believe in joining the American society . . . He wants to have his own society."

in my father's mind, a family owed its head a / degree of loyalty that left no room for dissent

165 "What I need today is a son."

 

Sui Sin Far

5 You do not know--man--

 

Moon

13 only son of his parents, and as the eldest he should provide for family

 

 

 

Model Minority

Jen 158 father took over the pancake house > send little sister Mona and me to college

166 "sponsoring them to become permanent residents?" [cf Land of Free: both work system]

168 I dug out a book I had brought.

170 "I do not take orders like a servant."

"American Society" 161 my father conceived of laws as speed bumps rather than curbs.

 

 

Sui Sin Far

5 the law of the land

"America is a system of laws, not men." (i. e., it doesn't matter who you are; the system endures and operates regardless of birth, privilege, etc. Obviously this is only more or less true, but it's true enough to remain an operative myth.)

9 just common white man . . . smiling ironically [doesn’t take personally; cf. "Law of the land"]

10 the precious paper . . . right to possession of their own child

 

Hayslip

108 spirits guarding Safeway opened door with unseen hands

117 In America I was as big as my voice

124 vision of stag at lake; Buddha compassion [cf. M H Kingston Tripmaster Monkey, imposition of old myths on new land; cf. Pilgrims]

125 good and evil lie down together and peace blooms: America

Starving now > great American banquet

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

4 Thien admired his family for their hard work. . . . preferred admiring their hard work at the shop from a distance. After all, he would be a college student soon, and every single member of family counted on his future successes. They would all dream and talk about him becoming Dr. Thien Nguyen.

10 His parents worked hard, and he knew it was all for him.

11 Every member of the family worked at the nail salon, whether they were licensed nail technicians or not. Without knowing and understanding English, they would find it difficult to work even down the street at a restaurant or fast food chain. Without college education or even completing high school, they couldn’t be considered for corporate or professional positions.

12 felt ashamed around his American friends, whose parents were teachers, lawyers, dentists, and real estate agents. . . . Thien and his entire family, his parents, three sisters, two aunts, two uncles, and four cousins shared a two-story duplex with one bathroom in each.

13 Thien’s job to successfully finish high school in the top ten and get into his dream university; go to medical school and become a doctor

18 opened his AP study books, and rummaged through his backpack for his calculator and pencils.

20 he didn’t want his father to eat alone, so they sat together talking about school and when his college applications were due.

 

 

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

160 "not just the blacks don't believe in slavery"

162 "I know just how it is. It's a secret of course, but you know, my natural father was Jewish. Can you see it? Just look at my skin."

163 "some black family's been waiting so long, they're going to sue," I said.

163 drove our head cook, Fernando, crazy

 

167 a "bash" she was throwing for a friend of hers going to Greece"

"his wife left him and his daughter doesn't speak to him, and poor Jeremy just feels so unloved"

168 Jeremy Brothers, a slim well-proportioned man, Roman nose

 

Moon 24 She [Tanya] had been a loyal employee for many years. In fact, she was the most requested technician. Everyone loved Tanya because of her attention to detail, her constant politeness, and her ability to do everything right. Even though she was the only person at the nail salon who was not a relative—or Vietnamese— Thien often felt that she was like an older sister. Tanya was African-American, with caramel skin and short, cropped hair. Her vibrant smile and soft voice made her approachable. Instead of working at her own family’s hair salon, Tanya was more interested in nails and eating Vietnamese noodles, Pho.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the immigrant narrative comparable to a conversion experience?

 

 

Hayslip 114-15 “leave them alone, or they’ll never become independent”

[use question about what learn about dominant culture]

 

Moon 16 a young girl about his age. He instantly noticed her long, blonde hair swept back into a sleek ponytail, her blue eyes intense even behind the lightly tinted sunglasses she left on indoors. [dominant culture, Linda Deemer]

 

 

 

 


Texts we're studying today are all immigrant narratives.

For example, opening of Sui Sin Far's "In the Land of the Free":

"See, Little one--the hills in the morning sun. There is thy home for years to come. It is very beautiful and thou wilt be very happy there. . . . there is where thy father is making a fortune for thee . . . "

Or opening pages of "In the American Society":

"When my father took over the pancake house, it was to send my little sister and me to college. . . . "Smart guys thinking in advance." . . . [Mother] didn't work at the supermarket, but she had made it to the rank of manager before she left, and this had giver her . . . new ideas about herself, and about America . . . ."

Certainly recognizable as the American Dream story--

 

American dream narrative

"Land of the Free"

3 See . . . hills in the morning sun, very beautiful . . . you will be happy [American Dream, orientalized?]

3 Thy father is making a fortune [American Dream]

assimilation and resistance

11 tried to hide himself in the folds of the white woman’s skirt

cf. Erdrich story on American Indian child taken by papers

but child is on way in: Christianized, identification with whites

 

5 the law of the land

"America is a system of laws, not men." (i. e., it doesn't matter who you are; the system endures and operates regardless of birth, privilege, etc. Obviously this is only more or less true, but it's true enough to remain an operative myth.)

9 just common white man . . . smiling ironically [doesn’t take personally; cf. "Law of the land"]

10 the precious paper . . . right to possession of their own child

(cf. Chrystos poem on "papers")

"American Society" 161 my father conceived of laws as speed bumps rather than curbs.

 

 

Far 5 wife cares for parents in law

Jen 165 "A restaurant is not a town," said my mother.

165 "What I need today is a son."

166 Booker and Cedric hailed [my father] as their savior, their Buddha incarnate. He was like a father to them, they said . . . .

 

 

 

 

Dominant culture moment

 

 

instructor's input:

rudeness but invulnerability of host at swimming pool

we admire the dad for keeping his composure and dignity

but the other man doesn't lose any status by losing his composure and dignity

dominant culture often remains separate, protected--and to some degree, immigrants don't mind!

 

The term “minority” is used loosely in popular speech and government. The label of a “Model Minority” is often applied to a new immigrant group that exemplifies or fulfills the ideals implicit in the immigrant narrative.

. . .

·        In terms of assimilation, such groups often assimilate economically and educationally while maintaining ethnic identity in religion and ethnic customs (which may contribute to family stability and low crime rates). This resistance to assimilation imitates a leading quality of the dominant culture (obj. 4).

 

 

 

 

Gish Jen, "In the American Society," 158-171

1. His Own Society

158 father took over the pancake house > send little sister Mona and me to college

we got rich right away

my father started to talk about his grandfather and the village he had reigned over in China

"Like that Godfather in the movie" . . . distributed paychecks . . . sometimes two envelopes

"you people"

"Your father thnks this is China" . . . back to her mending

159 "But this here is the U-S-of-A!"

supermarket, rank of manager

new ideas about herself, and about America, and about what was what in general. She had opinions now . . . .

now interested in espadrilles, and wall paper . . . town country club

dad would have to weear a jacket

how little he cared what anyone thought

"Your father doesn't believe in joining the American society . . . He wants to have his own society."

"Who cares what he thinks?" But of course we all did care

in my father's mind, a family owed its head a / degree of loyalty that left no room for dissent

160 To embrace what he embraced was to love, and to embrace something else was to betray him.

demanded a similar sort of loyalty of his workers . . . more like servants

asked them to fix radiators and trim hedges, not only at the restaurant, but at our house.

"not just the blacks don't believe in slavery"

"They want to be robots."

kept on like a horse in his ways

service was as bad as the food

an entire side of fries slaloming down a lady's massif centrale

stuffing comments box

161 Skip, a skinny busboy (fired)

Chinese guy named Booker

on the lam from deportation authorities

pro-KMT (Kuomintang, Chinese People's Nationalist Party)

phony social security card

"I do not think, anyway, that it is against law to hire me, only to be me."

my father conceived of laws as speed bumps rather than curbs.

162 My father didn't tell my mother about Booker, and my mother didn't tell my father about the country club.

"you people"

"I know just how it is. It's a secret of course, but you know, my natural father was Jewish. Can you see it? Just look at my skin."

"Chinese have a saying . . . To do nothing is better than to overdo."

Callie

163 "some black family's been waiting so long, they're going to sue," I said.

Booker . . . a model worker

reliable even in sickness

Ronald, Lynn, Dirk, and Cedric

problems with their legal status

shou hou--skinny monkeys

cigarettes

drove our head cook, Fernando, crazy

Operation Identification

164 huge tattooed fist, ass frying on grill

immigration investigator

165 refused lunch on the house

called our neighbor's law student son

illegal for aliens to work, but it wasn't to hire them

"I like to talking to the judge" (traditional society as personal, x-professional)

"This is not China"

"I'm not give him money unless he wants it."

"the province comes before the town, the town comes before the family"

"A restaurant is not a town"

"What I need today is a son."

166 judge's clerk, compliments and offers of free pancakes

"sponsoring them to become permanent residents?" [cf Land of Free: both work system]

instead of moving South, he had moved to the basement

 

2. In the American Society

167 a "bash" she was throwing for a friend of hers going to Greece"

"his wife left him and his daughter doesn't speak to him, and poor Jeremy just feels so unloved"

"a pair of little princesses"

shopping for a suit

refused to remove the price tag

168 entire cupful of Mrs. Lardner's magic punch

I dug out a book I had brought.

Jeremy Brothers, a slim well-proportioned man, Roman nose

169 "not my man, not my man at all"

"Do you speak Chinese?" x

"Who are you?"

Ralph Chang

She straightened the collar . . .

"seen drunks before. You must have them in China."

170 "never" x 5 (Lear)

"I'll help you off with your coat."

"I do not take orders like a servant."

171 hurled the coat into the pool too

"That was great, Dad" . . .

gleam of his white shirt . . .

left those keys in my jacket pocket

 

 

Sui Sin Far, "Land of the Free"

3 See . . . hills in the morning sun, very beautiful . . . you will be happy [American Dream, orientalized?]

3 Thy father is making a fortune [American Dream]

assimilation and resistance

11 tried to hide himself in the folds of the white woman’s skirt

cf. Erdrich story on American Indian child taken by papers

but child is on way in: Christianized, identification with whites

 

5 the law of the land

"America is a system of laws, not men." (i. e., it doesn't matter who you are; the system endures and operates regardless of birth, privilege, etc. Obviously this is only more or less true, but it's true enough to remain an operative myth.)

9 just common white man . . . smiling ironically [doesn’t take personally; cf. "Law of the land"]

10 the precious paper . . . right to possession of their own child

(cf. Chrystos poem on "papers")

"American Society" 161 my father conceived of laws as speed bumps rather than curbs.

 

 

Far 5 wife cares for parents in law

Jen 165 "A restaurant is not a town," said my mother.

165 "What I need today is a son."

166 Booker and Cedric hailed [my father] as their savior, their Buddha incarnate. He was like a father to them, they said . . . .

 

 

 

Asian American immigration

Chinese Immigrant Literature & Film (UCLA)

Chinese Exclusion Act

Chinese-American labor on Transcontinental Railroad

 

 

 

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

Hayslip (b. 1949)

105 farmers, village

communist lookout > arrest, torture, rape by SVN

housekeeper pregnant by employer

black market

Ed Munro > San Diego

1970s-81 Vietnamese refugees

under-educated, rural refugees

 

106 husband and extended family for acculturation

NGO > humanitarian x trauma

memoir > film by Oliver Stone

first grocery-shopping trip

 

107 stern moral upbringing

tunic worn by VN ladies since ancient times

Ed's huffy tone (fnf)

young but not stupid or without experience (fnf)

dressed for beach--or bedroom

local Safeway (nonfiction; fiction wouldn't have said "local")

 

108 housewives and schoolgirls = sleaziest nightclubs (nonfiction: direct reporting + reference to shared reality outside text)

if women = tramps, men = bums

war zone: temptation = provocation (fnf)

spirits guarding Safeway opened door with unseen hands

American markets x-smell (disease, markets)

canned, packaged, wrapped

Freon or cleanser or cardboard

"fruit hotel" as if (fnf)

108 too many choices

109 rice vs steak and potatoes, thick sandwiches

Greens, rice, noodle soup

Dozen names for rice

Uncle Ben’s = trusted friend (cf. Uncle Albert in "Elethia")

 

110 old reflexes > resale on black market; Stash, hoard, and survive (sounds somewhat like nonfiction editorializing, but more personal like fiction, almost like a physical rather than an intellectual response; cf. PTSD)

Male clerk, nasty stare = Vietnamese in Danang

Warrior’s look: hate and fear and sorrow all mixed

So fed up with the war they hated anyone who reminded them of it

110 Never really hated American soldiers fnf limited flashback

Didn’t take it personally

Americans’ funny racial differences: big noses, round eyes, long faces

 

111 take it personally . . . booby traps as 12-year-old conscript for Viet Cong

War and “real life” now opposite as night and day

War guilt (cf. Jews in Holocaust, survivors’ guilt) fnf

refugee

People can reason . . . but when condemned for their race, they react like cornered rats

Ancestral spirits, father’s spirit

More than a stranger in a strange new land . . . stranger to myself

 

112 check > how Americans eat so much

Congratulate Ed on his beautiful young wife; cf. TV or lawn mower

Pouring tea, looking pretty, caring for my children

Urchins

Wondered what these “wise” Americans new about life and living, let alone death and survival

 

113 cozy homes, bulging refrigerators, big fast cars, noisy TV sets

X back-breaking labor, bone-grinding poverty, death’s-edge starvation

TV war > imagine wailing villagers, unseen by camera

How many lifetimes we villagers crammed into our first 20 years on earth

“lovely young bride” = old lady

 

114 Erma: her dream world

Family concluded . . . a streetwalker

Working longer and harder than anyone

Handling [children] . . . to learn love and affection

 

114-15 “leave them alone, or they’ll never become independent”

[use question about what learn about dominant culture]

 

115 instant gratification and miracle conveniences

x-spontaneous show of love through labor of heart and hands

being married to “my father”

unable to communicate with anyone in the ways I knew, felt like stone in bottom of sea fnf

war news from VN fnf

 

116 TV news = ghosts of a hundred relatives, family friends, playmates

[Baby Jessica!] fnf

The enemy x one of them

Our war

But I didn’t know the words, even in Vietnamese [fnf , irony]

 

117 blood relations

Holding my little boy like a prize

Big desolate America swallowed us up

Vietnam delicate teacup > America banquet platter

Inviting hungry immigrants

Dreams > 121

Greedy Republicans

In America I was as big as my voice

 

118 episode omittable, reality pressure (nonfiction)

Las Vegas

 

119 baby sitter

 

119-20 leave my child with stranger

 

120 cf. casino and market

$10 in Danang

 

121 Vietnam Veterans; cf. Monkey Bridge

Ed’s sons fnf

See each other as people; cf. long-lost cousin fnf

[fiction dependent on family relation or courtship; memoir accepts contingency of relations]

All orphans of the same shattered dream > 117

Funny white dust

 

122 snow

It burn!

More American magic

Buddhist heaven and hell

Atone for sins of many past lives x deathbed confession

 

123 [humor]

Atoning for a lot of bad karma

 

124 vision of stag at lake

Buddha compassion [cf. M H Kingston novel, imposition of old myths on new land; cf. Pilgrims]

 

125 good and evil lie down together and peace blooms: America

Starving now > great American banquet

 

 

 

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

1 basketball and Play Station

late nights with friends and not thinking about anything else but having fun [fiction]

2 throwing his backpack on the kitchen floor [fiction]

3 his mother yelling, “Get up! Get up! Tanya not come to shop today. I need you come in.”

the family business: Lavish Nails

nail polish and toe separators [realistic detail] was embarrassing, and surely, as a man, he would feel [fnf]

4 Thien admired his family for their hard work. . . . preferred admiring their hard work at the shop from a distance. After all, he would be a college student soon, and every single member of family counted on his future successes. They would all dream and talk about him becoming Dr. Thien Nguyen.

6 his summer plans of video games and basketball disappearing, replaced by the shop.

7 helping women soak their feet, turning on the back massager, stripping off their old nail polish with acetone.

7 Thien often wondered what it would be like to do household chores for allowance like all the white kids at his school.

8 Some of his friends received money for their grades. Even his friend Brandon . . .

all the A’s received in his honors classes

They always preached to him how difficult it was to escape Vietnam as refugees and come to the United States with nothing.

9 often felt guilty for not helping more at the nail salon. Every penny his parents made meant so much to them. Even though they didn’t have much, Thien had always felt that his parents did their best to give him the things he needed without hesitation

large two-story homes with garages holding multiple cars . . . family vacations for weeks at a time

parents were able to take off work—and able to afford the expense.

10 fantasizing of what it would be like to have friends come over and eat pizza and watch a movie. He could never do that since his home barely had enough space for the people already living there

His parents worked hard, and he knew it was all for him.

11 Every member of the family worked at the nail salon, whether they were licensed nail technicians or not. Without knowing and understanding English, they would find it difficult to work even down the street at a restaurant or fast food chain. Without college education or even completing high school, they couldn’t be considered for corporate or professional positions.

12 felt ashamed around his American friends, whose parents were teachers, lawyers, dentists, and real estate agents.

Thien and his entire family, his parents, three sisters, two aunts, two uncles, and four cousins shared a two-story duplex with one bathroom in each.

13 only son of his parents, and as the eldest he should provide for family

13 Thien’s job to successfully finish high school in the top ten and get into his dream university.

go to medical school and become a doctor

As a doctor, he could medically help his family as well. His parents had gone without medical insurance for nearly twenty years.

14 Everyone looked up from their working stations and started speaking in Vietnamese all at once. His aunt Thao pointed with her rubber gloves who was next for a pedicure, and who needed a French tip manicure.

15 dialogue

16 snip away her cuticles, exfoliate her calves, and massage her feet and ankles firmly

16 a young girl about his age. He instantly noticed her long, blonde hair swept back into a sleek ponytail, her blue eyes intense even behind the lightly tinted sunglasses she left on indoors. [dominant culture, Linda Deemer]

17 background . . . everyone chattering in Vietnamese

could see his mother’s intense concentration.  His father was working the front desk

thick Vietnamese accent

18 His phone said he missed three calls from friends

His mother and sister were heading home to get dinner started for the family, while his father would go down the street to the convenience store to work the evening shift.

18 opened his AP study books, and rummaged through his backpack for his calculator and pencils.

19 said “thank you” in Vietnamese as she began to walk out. Thien looked at the three twenty dollar bills sitting on his desk. Even though it had been a long day and he could use the $60 to buy a video game, he took it back to his mother’s room and set it on her dresser.

sat down at the kitchen table with an SAT study book and waited for him to come home.

20 set the table for his father’s late dinner and looked over his sisters’ homework assignments

His small living room could barely hold all their furniture, but the pieces were all unique and separate from one another. . . . garage sales

he didn’t want his father to eat alone, so they sat together talking about school and when his college applications were due.

24 She [Tanya] had been a loyal employee for many years. In fact, she was the most requested technician. Everyone loved Tanya because of her attention to detail, her constant politeness, and her ability to do everything right. Even though she was the only person at the nail salon who was not a relative—or Vietnamese— Thien often felt that she was like an older sister. Tanya was African-American, with caramel skin and short, cropped hair. Her vibrant smile and soft voice made her approachable. Instead of working at her own family’s hair salon, Tanya was more interested in nails and eating Vietnamese noodles, Pho.

25 images from his AP study book swarmed through his head, and he joyfully thought about fun ahead with basketball and video games.