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American Ethnic Literature
There are so many different voices within the context of the United States. This country is one which is built on cultural differences. Yet, for generations the only voices expressed in literature or from the white majority. Contemporary American ethnic literature is important in that it reflects the multifaceted nature of life in the United States. It is not pressured by the white majority anymore, but is rather influenced by the extremely varying experiences of vastly different individuals, as seen in the works of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Gloria Anzaldua's "How to Tame a Wild Tongue," and Cathy Song's poem "Lost Sister." American ethnic literature speaks for minority voices, which have long been excluded in earlier generations of American society.
American ethnic literature has developed enormously over the last few centuries, and especially within the context of just the last few decades. In today's literary world, it now shows the different experiences of the people as they are living them. No longer are minority authors trying to win over a white audience. Rather, they are able to express their minority voices in the incredible diversity that they are seen within the context of this country. Here, the research suggests that "The issue, rather, turns upon the presiding, if erroneous, sense of their forever supposed being located at the edges of a white canonical America, a vernacular, sometimes picturesque or exotic, sub-peopling within the national realm," (Lee 2). This evolution of ethnic literature in the United States is being heavily influenced by minority voices in their purest form, not how the white majority would necessarily like to see them. This helps expose variant cultures, especially to other minority groups who are dealing with similar instances in terms of being on the fringe of a white majority. Essentially, American ethnic literature "is lived, embodied experience, as the body is both the site of oppression and the starting point for self-conscious political resistance," (Franco 127). It is the experience of those who are no longer being silenced by the white majority. They have begun to express their own individual voices in reaction political and societal norms and restrictions that have been long placed upon certain minority groups. Therefore, ethnic literature in the United States has long been communicative with other minority discourses as well, as a number of different groups are beginning to learn more both about their own identity and that of other minority groups. This is key because "Those who have incorporated other perspectives and allowed their vision to embrace other ways of looking at the world have a better chance of surviving" (Lee 1). Thus, American ethnic literature is often self-reflexive just as much as it influential on other groups in understanding the larger compilation of American identities.
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is a telling expression of the evolution of modern minority identities. The work exposes stereotypes, but also the extreme racism seen within the American context for those who may not have had to experience it first hand themselves. Here, the research suggests that "Ellison's narrator, it hardly needs stressing, speaks as the novels invented and confessional voice, and one hedged in canniest double talk and subterfuge," (Lee 21). Ellison exposes these stereotypes, and how they have impacted minority groups internally for generations-effectively molding the nature of what it is to be a minority based on externally imposed circumstances. There is a striking scene which Ellison uses the stereotypes surrounding food, often not explicitly expressed, in order to sow his points. It is true that there is a sense of identity within foods tied to ethnic experiences. The invisible man describes eating a yam, a process which had only made him extremely uncomfortable and in secure because of the stereotype associated with it. Yet he is beginning to grow out of his need to assimilate, and with that he is able to enjoy the yam unlike he ever had before. Here, Ellison writes "I no longer had to worry about who saw me or what was proper. To hell with all that, and as sweet as the yam actually was, it became like nectar with the thought," (Ellison 264). Essentially, the invisible man is no longer ashamed to embody his ethnic identity. This is an evolving representation expressed by Ellison as the invisible man continues down his journey to become his invisible self. This strategy is often used to expose the dark and negative elements of American culture in contemporary times. In this sense is breaking "our imagination of ourselves," (Lee 36). Ellison also exposes elements of how he believes technology to be a double-edged sword. This is an element that is not often explicitly stated, but is important to the creation of contemporary identity and United States.
Ellison represents a complete rejection of assimilation practices. Rather than follow the example set by figures like Booker T. Washington, "Jack the bear," or the invisible man, posits a complete isolation where minority members refuse to assimilate into a culture that is so oppressive to them (Ellison 6). Ellison exposes how this sort of strategy to assimilate into the American majority can actually cause more harm than good. When describing the statue of Booker T. Washington, he states "I am standing puzzled, unable to decide whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more firmly in place; whether I am witnessing a revelation or a more efficient blinding," (Ellison 36).Yet, the invisible man is consistently let down by white characters he encounters throughout the novel. Time and time again he is built up to believe that the white society wants to embrace him, but then as quickly shown how this is not the case. Rather, social equality will never occur because the white majority does not want to embrace minority figures without completely erasing everything that makes them archetypes of their ethnicity. The invisible man refuses to give up his dignity in order to fit into his assigned role within the majority society, and therefore must remove himself from the equation completely. One of the most disappointing characters is that of Brother Jack, the head member of the Brotherhood. This represents a failure of the ideology represented in the Brotherhood. The invisible man represents a staunch new sense of individualism, which rejects blindly following ideologies, whether they are from white or minority voices. The most important thing to the narrator is himself, not the advancement of his race of the group through some outdated or inappropriate ideology that works along the same lines as the underlining racist hegemony which aims to make the black experience a singular one without allowing for individual variation. Rather, Ellison proposes each individual to make their own decisions and to take their own political actions, which would essentially be a more effective fight against an underlying structure of racism in the United States. In this he's taking a political stance against Americanization for the welfare of African-Americans. Thus, he represents a new form of extremist American identity, a sort of Jack the Bear individualism.
Gloria Anzaldua also represents this sense of pulling away from assimilation practices for minorities. She echoes Ellison in the description of how her own ethnic traits were despised by the rest of the majority society, which tried to Americanize her and read her of her ethnicity. Here, she discusses how she was punished and spoken down to when trying to express herself within her minority context. Anzaldua writes of how a teacher once told her, "If you want to be American, speak American. If you don't like it, go back to Mexico where you belong," (Anzaldua 2947). This breeds resentment within minority groups, because they are unable to express themselves within the context of minority culture. Thus, Anzaldua's work is example of a rejection of this forced Americanization. Thus she is taking a political stand in the expression of her own unique identity within the context of her ethnicity. Instead, what she is pursuing "is a collective identity with the goal of protecting and propagating the culture through a politics of cultural rights and recognition," (Franco 126). Her work focuses on freeing the individuals within the minority group to embrace a more multicultural identity, rather than being tied down to one specific minority by the underlying political hegemony of American society. Essentially, "the term Chicana is a self-conscious political gesture of resistance to binary identities, signaling the dispossession from both Mexican and U.S. national heritages, yet the possibility of claiming both," (Franco 124). She is expressing her minority status, just as Ellison had in his work -- showing the trend for self-expression in modern American ethnic literature rather than self restraint. Yet at the same time, Anzaldua shows how the minority group was also oppressive in refusing to allow members to assimilate into greater American society. She explains how her narrator was called a cultural traitor by speaking the language of English, which was associated with an oppressive force. The concept of Chicano and Chicano were a form…[continue]
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