Dear Professor Steven Alvarez,

Thank you for an enriching and challenging semester. Although I am an English major, I have not had much exposure to Latino literature before this and I am glad that we were able to focus on so many different authors from different Latin American countries. In particular I really enjoyed the discussions on issues facing immigrants and the struggles of living in America as an immigrant or as children on immigrants–as I am one myself. I enjoyed many of the pieces we concentrated on during this semester (particularly Anzaldua and the film Immersion). I really enjoyed the fiction and poetry pieces because it allowed me to connect with the writers in a personal way and I could see my own experiences mirroring theirs to a degree.

I was also able to learn a lot in terms of my writing and I did see a significant improvement as the semester continued–you were right, the more we practice the better our skills become! Although I was familiar with the MLA style and with analyzing and interpreting literature in my other English classes, I really found the PIE paragraph techniques, the “is” verbs exercises, and your tips for MLA citations very useful. The PIE paragraph method seemed to put analyzing literature in a more tangible light (because now I was able to see the general proportion of introduction:quote:interpretation in an essay). I found myself using the guidelines in this method in my other English classes and it greatly improved my papers. The “is” verbs exercise allowed me to make my writing more concise and eloquent (but it was definitely more time consuming and difficult at first). Another great writing tip that I took away from our course was how to write titles. Titles used to be one of the most difficult things for me to create for my papers and I really appreciated how you were able to break down the “formula” and de-mystify what goes into a good academic title.

I also enjoyed being able to review my own and my classmates’ blogs during class time because of the feedback we all received and were able to give out. This made the class more interactive and allowed us to get to know one another better (or at least their writing). The only thing that I would suggest in terms of changing the class would be to reduce the blog posts to 30-35, or perhaps give more frequent deadlines instead with less posts due at each (i.e. 5 posts due every two weeks)–but this is only a minor suggestion.

I really enjoyed the class and have a lot to take away both as a writer and as a student of literature. Thank you Professor and best of luck!

All the very best,
Michelle

I leave you with this final thought. Our children deserve to have that pride in themselves and their community that was missing from many of our own lives as youngsters. Those that follow us do not have to be outcasts in their own lands.

This is a rallying-cry in Mohr’s letter speaking of her experience growing up and how future generations could be different from her and many others’ own. She notes that her own childhood was often difficult and there was no pride in herself, her heritage, and her own community–but now as an adult she urges others who may have had the same experience growing up to make their own children’s lives different.

The shop in Havana is dust
and the Irish cotton is dust
and my father, a dusty Jew,
day after day comes home with a loaf of bread beneath his arm.
Day after day, each day alike,
[…]
Papa arrives: we eat lunch, our eyes fixed on the ceiling’s ornate
molding,
I have never seen the water come in, have seen neither fish nor
flowerpot. (1242)

The repetition of “dust” in the opening lines suggest a dullness—which we see in the scene where Kozer enjoys a meal with his family. The repetition of images and words such as “dust,” the string of things and dusty items, “day after day,” indicate that in Kozer’s life there exists an overwhelming sense of monotony. Kozer views the world as dusty, dry, and lifeless—lacking luster. The actions of his father going to work every day, coming home every day with “a loaf of bread beneath his arm,” “each day alike,” all show that nothing changes in the routine. The scenes with the father prove just as unexciting, with Kozer’s eyes “fixed” on something as arbitrary as mold during the meal (rather than having conversation)—so boring infact that the mold becomes “ornate.” Perhaps he sees the intricacies in mold because he has had so much time to ponder it. He and his parents don’t talk during the meal and that indicates that they don’t have much to say to one another and that single action becomes more telling when every single day they have nothing to say—hinting at the strain in his relationship with his parents. These descriptions and imagery directly contrast with what he has never seen (and what we can assume he wants to see). He chooses to focus on “water” and the movement of water as things he has never seen before and water embodies the opposite of dust and dryness. Water serves as a symbol for excitement in his life that he lacks. In a more literal sense, the things he wants to see, “water [coming] in,” “fish,” and “flowerpot,” things that one finds in the outside world, and his yearning to see those things act as a sign that he doesn’t get to go out and interact with nature and the world as much as he likes. The line of the father who “comes home” to Kozer and Kozer’s mother supports this idea. Kozer remains indoor, in his own house throughout the poem—not outdoors. We do not see movement from his character as opposed to the father and this further supports the suggestion that Kozer sees the excitement he lacks in his own life as a quality that can only exist in the outside world—in the unknown.

Vast differences in the human capital origins of these populations and in the way they are received in the United States translate into significant disparities in the resources available to families and ethnic communities to raise a new generation in America. (Portes and Rivas 221)

In this excerpt, Portes and Rivas suggest that “disparities in the resources available to families and ethnic communities” greatly influence acculturation and integration. What immigrant families have available to them help determine their success and their ability to be accepted into the US mainstream. Families with less resources will most likely be marginalized more, be more reliant on welfare systems that may negatively affect their ability to be upward mobile—which will also affect the children and how successful they are in their academic endeavors. Furthermore, the researchers note “the way they are received” in the U.S. affect immigrant acculturation. This puts some responsibility on the host country for whether or not immigrants in their country are receptive to adaptation. It may be that in some cases immigrants who wish to integrate into US mainstream are not allowed to because they are not given the chance to by mainstream society.

The only way to achieve acceptance and a chance to be in the mainstream of this society was to not only embrace the local American culture, but also to reject one’s own Hispanic culture. This attempt at assimilation, this frustrating struggle to fit in, was encouraged. […] All too often, the price of this success was paid by discarding our own history and never seeking the truth of our past. Anglo-American values demanded that we had to reject our parents’ language and change our way of thinking. Even our clothes and food were seen to be foreign. (Mohr 1073-4)

Her experience is similar to Joaquin’s in that they both faced similar difficulties and frustration at this transformation and assimilation process. It is often an alienating and painful one and we see these emotions in actions of having to “achieve acceptance,” “reject one’s own Hispanic culture,” in only an “attempt at assimilation,” which was a “frustrating struggle” endorsed and encouraged by school systems and the US mainstream. In order to be successful in achieving acceptance, one had to give up his or her rich ethnic history and reject half of their identity in the form of rejecting language, customs, traditions, food, and clothing. This method of assimilation was often difficult because that meant rejecting family in a sense. It meant rejecting everything they new and a part of how they identified themselves in order to prove they were worthy of their other identity.

Tart means a type of pastry shell filled with jam.
Or, acid, sour, sharp in meaning, which I love

because there were other words in English
that bit the tips of our tongues, or rendered

our mouths numb. (2342)

The poet writes of the duality of meanings in English words–for example, tart could mean pastry shell filled with jam, or acidic and sour and this duality could bring about trouble or hurt. The poet writes that these words “bit the tips of our tongues” or “rendered/our mouths numb” making them unable to communicate themselves as well. Suarez goes on to write about adolescent romances and the troubles of the label “friends” as a way of romantic rejection. I think this beginning few lines were an interesting way to begin a poem about duality in the English language and although the poet was writing of young love, it seems that this trouble of meanings in English words could also speak for those who learned English as a second language.

Momma doesn’t agree.
She dreams of American shopping carts
and bringing Abuela Isabel to America.
But Abuela Isabel reads Echeverria
and knows that “to emigrate is to die.”

The mother dreams of moving to America to have a new life–dreaming of American shopping carts–an implication of domesticity. It is ironic that Castillo specifically mentions “American shopping carts,” because it seems a bit too idealistic to think that shopping carts in America are any more special or important than shopping carts from anywhere else. This shows the mother’s idealization of America and how much she wants to immigrate there–but we see this contrasted with the grandmother’s ideas about America–that to leave her homeland for it would be “to die.” The strength of the phrase implies that the grandmother understands the hardships of immigration and living away from home and what it might mean–whereas the mother is thinking of it more as a “dream.”

In Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’s “I Am Joaquin”, we see the anger and resentment the narrator holds towards “gringo society,” a reference to white U.S. society. In the poem, the narrator speaks of the pain in deciding between identities, the difference between death and survival:

And now!

I must choose

between
the paradox of

victory of the spirit,

despite physical hunger,

or

to exist in the grasp

of American social neurosis,

sterilization of the soul

and a full stomach. (Gonzales 788)

In this excerpt, the narrator claims that he “must” choose, that there is no allowance for the hyphen in this world he lives in, and the two options are “paradox[es].” It is a struggle between the “spirit” and “existence” within the American mainstream and to have “victory of the spirit” means one must starve as a result of keeping one’s own cultural identity, or one must undergo a “sterilization of the soul,” and cleansing, in order to survive and “exist” or have a livelihood (as suggested by “a full stomach”). The use of the word “sterilization” suggests that to have an ethnic identity outside of the “American” identity is unclean and to be American one must have no ethnic identity—one must be a blank slate. Both are unappealing choices because to keep one’s ethnic identity, one will be forced to sink in this society, but to stay afloat one must be a shell. Whereas Fulano in Alfau’s story reacts with hopelessness the narrator in “I Am Joaquin” is bitter and angry about being forced to decide essentially between identifying with an ethnic heritage and as a result being shunned by society, or falsely adopting the American culture and becoming spiritually empty, but given the means to survive. It seems from Gonzales’s poem, the narrator is one who has experienced this racial discrimination that both Schildkraut and Golash-Boza wrote of, but the narrator understands to choose either identity would mean death in its own way. It seems the narrator has more affinity with identifying with his or her ethnic background, but is forced to consider an American identity due to the threat of being shunned and marginalized by society.

The finding that respondents who have experienced discrimination are less likely to self-identify as American indicates that the decision of people born in the United States not to describe themselves as American is a decision made in light of experiences of exclusion here in the United States. I have argued that this exclusion is part of racism in U.S. society, and is due to the implicit whiteness in the label American. (Golash-Boza 51)

The racism, discrimination, or “exclusion” as Golash-Boza calls it is what influences Americans born within the hyphen to identify more with their ethnic origins. Their experiences determine how they self-identify and Latino-Americans may equate their negative experiences with the American identity. By rejecting that identity, it may serve as a defense mechanism or a reaction against their abusers—much like the defense of one’s ethnic origin . They reject the pain they endured as “the other” for if mainstream “American”-ness entails such racial prejudice then this identity becomes undesirable based on personal experience.

Immigration and the United States have a long history with one another and are intricately intertwined. The United States as we know it was founded on immigration of Europeans to North America–eventually displacing many of the aboriginals that lived here. United States is often referred to as a melting pot with regards to immigration and it is never far from conversations of political discourse. In our political climate now, the issue of Latino immigration into the US is a widely debated one. But what is rarely ever addressed in the mainstream is the experience of immigrants and hyphenated Americans in this environment. Through the study of texts and videos by and of various peoples of Latino descent, I read about the often difficult experience of being an immigrant in the United States and of self-identity and how it is determined by hyphenated Americans living in this type of “border.” Despite being considered a “melting pot,” the American experience is not a light undertaking or an easy one. I found that many immigrants and hyphenated Americans are caught between assimilation and keeping strong the connections to their motherland and oftentimes they face language barriers, racism and socioeconomic issues that influence their view of America and of themselves. This is a study of the immigrant experience and self-identity through the evaluation and discussion of various texts by Latinos from a range of periods and countries. In particular we will look at Nuyorican poets, the film Immersion, Richard Rodriguez’s Aria, among many other works.

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