LITR 4333: American Immigrant Literature
Sample Student Midterms 2007
Complete Long Essay
A Narrative Essay
The North American continent was founded by the first arriving immigrants who crossed the Bering Strait. America is a nation built upon migration. Just about anyone in living in America today can trace their roots back to at least one foreign country. I was able to trace mine back to five different cultures and three countries. The cultural narrative is a significant part of our history because it tells us, who we are, were, and are going to be. Although, the well assimilated members of the dominant culture today are not suffering the many hardships of the narratives we read about, it is essential for us to understand the process and difficulty immigrants undergo to become assimilated. Not only did the ancestors of the dominant culture find assimilation difficult, but there are people in America struggling with similar issues today.
The word narrative means the viewpoint in which a story is told. It is also a way to experience different cultures through a personal connection with the narrator. Objective one brings these experiences to life with the immigrant narrative and is able to distinguish America as a multicultural diverse community, where immigrants and minorities try to obtain the American Dream.
In the immigrant narrative by Anzia Yerierska, “Soap and Water” the narrator identifies two different cultures. She says, “And here was one from the clean world human enough to be friendly.” She sees the cultures being divided into the clean and unclean. She could not completely assimilate into the dominant culture, because she could never become clean from the difficulties she faced to reach the American Dream. Similarly, in the story, “In the Land of the Free” by Sui Sin Far, Hom Hing has the American dream in his hands for a brief moment on the boat. He has his family with him and is able to provide for them because he has been a merchant for many years. Hom Hing tries to use his status as a Chinese merchant to hang onto his son. What he is really trying to say is that he has earned by working, the right to be treated like the dominant culture.
Hom Hing’s son is a good example for objective 2 in which he experiences almost all the stages of a new immigrant. He leaves the old world with his mother and comes to the new world on a boat. From there he is taken with resistance from his parents and thrown into the dominant culture. The narrator says, “She told Lae Choo that little Kim, as he had been named by the school, was the pet of the place…. He had been rather difficult to manage at first and had cried much for his mother; ‘but children soon forget, and after a month he seemed quite at home and played around as bright and happy as a bird.’” He has now passed through the stage of assimilation and forgotten all the ties to his own culture. He doesn’t reach stage five of rediscovery in the story, but my guess is he will when he starts living with his family again.
The minority narrative varies from the immigrant narrative by way of migration and assimilation. Immigrants come to America in hopes of the American dream; therefore, they assimilate into the dominant culture to improve their lives and economic conditions. Minorities on the other hand, do not want to become part of the dominant culture and they feel they are being forced into it. So, minorities choose to hang on to their culture and what it represents.
In the minority narrative “No Name in the Street” by James Baldwin, the narrator expresses his views as a minority group separate from the dominant culture. He says, “I told him that Americans had no business at all in Vietnam; and that black people certainly had no business there, aiding the slave master to enslave yet more millions of dark people, and also identifying themselves with the white American crimes: we, the blacks, are going to need our allies, for the Americans…” Another example of a minority narrative is found in Patricia Smith’s poem “Blonde White Women.” The narrator tries extremely hard to fit in with the dominant culture she even tries to change her skin color using a “carnation pink Crayola,… rubbed the waxy stick / across the back of my hand until the skin broke.” Her unsuccessful tries to become a member of the dominant culture, ultimately result in her learning to accept herself as part of the minority culture. She embraces her culture by saying, “I can find no color darker, / more beautiful than I am.” Unlike immigrants, minorities feel their identity lies within their own culture.
There is another group of immigrants who fall between the immigrant and minority identities. These types of immigrants typically come to America because they have no choice. They do not want to assimilate into the dominant culture, and hope to one day return home to live. The poem by Martin Espada called, “From an Island You Cannot Name” provides a good example of a girl not wanting to be identified with the minority culture. The narrator says, “daughter of a man / from an island you cannot name, / you gasp tears / trying to explain that you’re Other, / that you’re not.” She wants to be identified by the island her father was from not by her skin color. The narrator in “How to Date a Brown…” also, identifies with his homeland, “Black people, she will say, treat me real bad. That’s why I don’t like them. You’ll wonder how she fells about Dominicans.” He doesn’t use the color code to identify himself he says Dominicans. However, he feels she might classify him with the black minority if he tells her he is from the Dominican Republic.
I have learned a lot from this class and the texts. I had no idea about what it was like to be an immigrant or minority living in America. When I thought of the USA all I could see was the dominant culture (television is partly to blame) as well as the small country sprawl where I live at and grew up. Since America is a multicultural nation, and the more I have explored the immigrant and minority narrative, the more I learn about people in general and those around me. The knowledge I have gained about immigrants from this class is definitely something I can use in my own life, as well as a future educator.
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