What does “ethnic” mean? “of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.” (Webster’s Dictionary)
Ethnic classifications Hispanics or Latinos are being classed according to language (Spanish) more so than “race.” African-Americans are being classed according to race. Asian-Americans are classed according to race, but often also according to national origin.
Ethnic classifications White Americans are usually considered ethnic only in terms of strong national or religious identifications i.e. Italian, Jewish Native Americans are usually classified by tribe, but sometimes by race as indigenous or native peoples
Ethnic Classifications There can also be regional identifications--New Yorkers, Californians, locals Both regional and national identifications can be strengthened by moving away from the group--when they are dominant they are often taken for granted.
Ethnic identifications Linguistic, and cultural identifications are weakened through exposure to a dominant alternative culture as members of ethnic groups become assimilated. The following poem by Pat Mora describes this process:
Immigrants Wrap their babies in the American flag, feed them mashed hot dogs and apple pie, name them Bill and Daisy, buy them blonde dolls that blink blue eyes or a football and tiny cleats before the baby can even walk, speak to them in thick English hallo, babee, hallo
Immigrants whisper in Spanish or Polish when the babies sleep, whisper in a dark parent bed, that dark parent fear, “Will they like our boy, our girl, our fine american boy, our fine american girl?”
What is Literature? Imaginative Writing Stories, novels Autobiography poems, song lyrics, chants plays Films
So what is ethnic literature? Literature in which the protagonists or, in the case of poetry, the speakers, are conscious of being members of a group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage. I define it by subject matter rather than the ethnic background of the author.
Who writes “ethnic” lit? Members of ethnic groups can write literature that is not “ethnic” People who are not part of a specific ethnic group can write ethnic literature about that group but this may raise difficult questions about authenticity. For the most part I try to chose works written by “insiders.”
Generic characteristics of ethnicliterature Recurrent themes (list Consciousness of a follows) double audience- Hybridization insiders from own mixture of styles and culture and outsiders genres from dominant culture mixture of traditions multi-lingual from different cultures incorporation of Presence of a culture visions, dreams or bearer-older character other supernatural who passes on elements traditions and wisdom
Themes of ethnic literature Experiences of nostalgia for or prejudice, struggle to recover discrimination, or a lost ethnic racism identity, generational pride in and conflicts-- celebration of one’s particularly heritage versus between immigrant shame and parents and their discomfort at being American-born different, children or grandchildren,
Themes of ethnic literature The feeling of being caught between two worlds. Conflicts between “American” values and “ethnic” values, The conflict and convergence of differing ethnic traditions.