LITR 5831 Seminar in Multicultural Literature:
American Immigrant Literature



Orlando Patterson

4 Waves of Immigration

Brexit vote Thursday, 23 June

immigrants expect a higher standard of living but can't imagine giving up their culture as entirely as assimilation implies

Christopher Caldwell, "Europe’s Other Crisis"

Question: USA has fewer problems with Muslim immigration than Europe, fewer violent outbreaks. After web review . . . why?

USA as "nation of many nations," e pluribus unum, but European nations are defined more by a "folk" or "national culture"; i.e., France is defined by the French people; England by the English character or soul, etc. So what happens to such a national culture when it experiences high immigration from a different culture--a pattern to which the USA is somewhat accustomed?


2 family, community support

[4] All Western European countries have some version of this problem, which involves immigration, Islam, dissent from established European culture, and organized violence.

[6]  The grim fact is that no Western European country—not one—has managed even a marginally successful integration of its Muslim immigrants, despite half a century of vast treasury outlays, wholesale constitutional re-workings, and indefatigable excuse-making.

19-20 colonization

33 nation as governing social unit







Chitra Divakaruni

Tahira Naqvi


India maps




Asian immigrants are the "model immigrants" in the late 20th, early 21st centuries--especially South Asian immigrants

Comparable to Jewish immigrants in early 20th century

What makes these groups so outstanding or exemplary?

What are the qualities of a "model immigrant?"


What makes these groups so outstanding or exemplary?

Both groups immigrate from far away, across ocean--increases commitment (compared to New World immigrants, who may not lose connection to home country)

Both Jewish and South Asian immigrants to US often arrive with strong commitment to education and professional advancement.

South Asian immigrants are another "model immigrant group," a. k. a. "model minority"--compare East Asian groups (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans) from third class meeting.

Reprise: how do the stories exemplify the immigrant narrative?

Pay forward: how do these groups already resemble the dominant culture?

Indian-Americans (not American Indians) probably the most distinguished group of immigrant authors in our lifetime; compare Jewish-American writers a century ago.

Pulitzer Prize winners, considerable international prestige

Why? What history contributes to their prestige and quality?


Indian writers as outstanding figures in World Literature during recent generation: 

Salman Rushdie

Arundhati Roy

V. S. Naipaul

Bharati Mukherjee

Jhumpa Lahiri

Chitra Divakaruni

TV article: Why are Indian Americans so great?

language skills and literacy--compare to Jews, Puritans and Pilgrims--all highly literate peoples

Minority Literature objective: "literacy = path to empowerment"

Indian immigrant writers are extraordinary because it's not their children writing literature, but the immigrants themselves


British empire!

British empire influences or establishes Indian schools

English becomes language of convenience for multilingual India (14 major languages, 700+ dialects)

Not only do Indian writers often know English beforehand, but often with prestige of British accent.

Both Jewish and South Asian immigrants to US often arrive with strong commitment to education and professional advancement.

Divakaruni 76  imagination . . . Modern Novel class at the university


Compare to central American immigrants, who are often (not always) poor and lacking education traditions

Here's why South Asians show up in such good shape:

1. The trip is so far and long that only fairly well-off people can afford it.

2. Poor and uneducated workers of South Asia emigrate to nearer areas to sell their labor: especially oil-rich Arab countries. . . . "guest workers"



what is the dominant culture that they join?

Where did it come from? How did it start? What are its qualities?

"Thank God for the Jews"

229-30 Kamal at hospital, seeing patients [ > professional status] Model minority as math, music, medicine

232 A tall, handsome reporter, who, with his upturned coat collar and straw-colored, wind-swept hair, seemed to belong in an ad for Burberry's in The New Yorker, was saying something about "recent acts of terrorism" in a faraway voice. An Israeli School bus had been bombed. . . An Arab village in ruins. . . . An old woman cried without restraint . . . .

233 The handsome, roving reporter, unchanged in his appearance, disconnected still from his surroundings, was speaking in a crisp accent that wasn't anything like what she heard on the streets in New York or Westville . . . .

Qualities of dominant culture observable in this example:

"detached" quality--dominant culture always pulling away, heading into future

This "detached" quality can make the dominant culture elusive, hard to pin down or criticize

"Detached" can turn into a quality of "purity" or resistance to others' efforts at assimilation to it

The ethnic identity of the dominant culture is "unmarked." Compare to "Israeli school bus" and "Arab village."

What ethnicity is the reporter?

detached as unmarked?


If anything, Anglo-American or Northern European, but hard to say.

Divakaruni 70 stewardess so blond, so American

Dominant culture is "unmarked." Immigrant and minority cultures are "marked," but by assimilation they can become "unmarked."





"Thank God for the Jews"

230-1 Islamic women between tradition and modernity . . . "All this nonsense about bleeding the animal . . . It's ridiculous!"

232 "They've already forgotten their ways."

232 custom and habit gone awry in Westchester County

235 "what's kosher is okay with us"--in America, ancient rivalries (as between Muslims and Jews) get starved, washed out--everyone's thrown together as "Americans" in the great American marketplace



Chitra Divakaruni, “Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs” (70-83)

70 so blond, so American

71 Americans, I'd heard, like their privacy, x-relatives

72 so fair-skinned. [color code]

75 dark-skinned foreigners





Bharati Mukherjee, “A Wife’s Story” (IA 57-69)

60 left home, my husband, to get a Ph.D. in special ed. [model minorities]

60 We've made it. Patels must have made it.

64 more privacy than we ever had in India

64 another shopping scene! [compare "Thank God for the Jews"]

65 absolutely sure he doesn't want to see Harlem + 69 "I am not understanding these Negro people's accents."

66 I've been trained to adapt

66 Statue of Liberty

67 We have spent our life's savings to see this skyline, this statue




Conclusions indicate immigrant narrative, American Dream


Chitra Divakaruni, “Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs” (70-83)

75 But I know the sky outside is filled with strange and beautiful stars, and I am suddenly angry with him for trying to ruin it for me

77 The skyscrapers of downtown Chicago float glimmering in the distance,, enchanted towers out of an old storybook . . . makes me suddenly happy, full of hope [cf. heaven]

83 I step outside onto the balcony, drawing my breath in at the silver marvel of it. . . . now it makes sense that the beauty and the pain should be part of each other.



Bharati Mukherjee, “A Wife’s Story” (IA 57-69)

67 We have spent our life's savings to see this skyline, this statue

69 In the mirror . . . . the body's beauty amazes me

compare Whitman





Shoba Narayan, from Monsoon Diary (IV2 217-239)  [Dom Cult]

217 b. Brahmin caste near Madras

Christian schools > sister college Mount Holyoke, Foreign Fellow, 20 years old

Immigrantiona nd Naturalization Act of 1965

overwhelmingly urban and educated, nearly 40% on student or exchange visas > grad degrees > permanent residence

ethnic population 113% growth, U.S. popn 13%

After 1 year, returned to complete degree at Women's Christian College

arranged marriage to Ram, western-educated financial consultant

218 to U.S., M.A. Journalism Columbia

2000 "The God of Small Feasts" (essay)

2004 Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes.

columnist Mint Lounge Indian business daily, The National newspaper U.A.E.


218 terrifying airport shuttle: pickpockets, muggers, drug addicts


219 Quatrina Hosain

Dickinson House

Seema in hysterics: ground floor . . . stories about American muggers

Harriet . . . not used to volatile displays of emotion [Dom Cult]

lifetime of proving myself equal to any boy

room spacious, linen > warm nightgown x cotton clothes


219-20 study whatever (class: x-vocation)


220 a tabula rasa, eager to learn

American as vast, noisy metropolis

Everything new

cleaning lady drove a Cadillac (cf. 221) x Ayal, who came by foot


strangers smiled and said hello. Nobody littered, spit, or cursed. [so there is a code of manners even within freedom?]

dizzying array of food . . . overwhelmed by choices



220-1 not used to choosing something and having it lead to another choice


221 Japanese student: rice & salty muso: first lesson in globalism

host family

[mixed metaphor]

essentials I didn't realize were essential

great, sprawling shopping mall; Elizabeth Arden makeup box

Mary church and part-time work; Doug bank + Cadillac (cf. 220)


222 Margie Peace Corps

beans for me, Chicken for them

American family life, the soap and suds of it

smelled of linen and rose potpourri

classes: fantasies come true

thrill of creation


223 mine. Gloriously, totally mine

Threater class: Ayckbourn, Medea, O'Neill and Shakespeare

girl had to work hard to gain trust

professors displayed faith in our abilities without a hint of condescension


224 loved power tools

myself in a mirror . . . a space alien . . . Superman . . . Superwoman

rich, poor, or middle class?

India . . . stereotype


224-5 My ideas of beauty were different from theirs.


225 no prejudice . . . didn't know enough

x-peers > simply me . . . Shoba the student

enamored of America's newness, espansive embrace

approach total strangers

women, not girls

long dinners and lunches . . . learned aobut the country

American holidays, baseball


226 proud people, New Englanders, directness uencumbered by eons of tradition

representative of my country

working kitchen at Rockefeller cafeteria


227 let me stay away from the meat

fare from around world -- all but meat

always returned to Indian food

yogurt rice [fnf] > 228 room thinking about Uma


228 [scene > Blue Light story]

story never ended . . . we simply grew up


228-9 finished play started at WCC, accepted


229 melodramatic tragedy cf. Indian movies [Bollywood]

They thought it was satire

critical faculties underdeveloped

Fridays dorms dozens of parties


230 Natasha > frat party

nob on rampage . . . terrified


231 realized I wouldn't get assaulted

at Mount Holyoke encountered feminism for first time

Frances Perkins Scholars . . . older women

about choice and freedom

x-defer to a man [meritocracy[

I came from a society in which women deferred to men in public but ruled the roost in private

anger . . . comparing . . . women in my family


232 mother x-anger, x as free

rules and tradition, vision of herself

ought to act their age [America as youth culture, infantilism]

Was it better to question and overghrow the system as these women did or to navigate within its confines like my mother had done?

first time asking those questions

contradictions between my two cultures

India's fatalism x America's flux

Everyone was moving, searching, asking for more

changing spouses, jobs, homes, sexes

more choices, more search for something else

Turkish cabbage dolma


233 Susan Smith, sprawling wooded estate < Whitney family

father groundskeeper and manager

tea at the owner's mansion

Greek dorm mate . . . boisterous family . . . rice wrapped in grape leaves

Greek salad

Thanksgiving, colonial house, Winthrop and Muffy

[Dom Cult] menu < Pilgrims in Boston

so refined comapred to family feast in India

relatives insulted, abused went off in huff

nightly "Milk and Cookies" ritual


235 snowing, first time

New England = white Christmas

Madison Wi

Ayesha, a girl from Pakistan, burgeioning international population


236 daughter of Turkish diplomat; Carlos, Mexico; Reza, Iranian; Emilie, Cameroon; Elizabeth, Ethiopia; Todd, English; Polish professors and Russian poets, Thai sciencists, Vietnamese musicians, Indian philosophers . . . homesickness < music from home countries

[< fnf plotting >] intimacy, family, nostalgia

NYC apt > new goldfish


237 cab driver from Kerala

come to my house

Claire squirmed . . . "Tell your friend to trust me . . . family temple"


238 first time at our house, must eat something

sublime, memory of bus trips in Kerala


239 from my town . . . like a sister . . . x-$