Immigration and Ethnicity in America: the Urban Crucible

January 26, 2001

Spring 1999
History 232/American Studies 244
Office Hours: Tues./ Thurs. 2:40-4

Our immigrant society has been described as a melting pot, a mosaic, a salad bowl, as well as other less attractive metaphors. Through lectures, class discussions, readings, outside speakers and panels, films, and a community learning project, this course looks at various topics in immigration history, and explores how ethnicity and the city both played a role in the experiences of the immigrants and in the minds of those citizens who received them.

The questions raised by this course have confused and divided scholars, politicians, journalists, and citizens. I don't expect us to have any clearer answers, nor to agree with each other. What I do expect is for us to go at these tough questions with energy and an open mind. Therefore, I expect each of you to participate actively in class. Present your ideas. Speak your mind openly, and contribute towards the portion of your grade allotted to class participation (20 percent). As participation is crucial, please come to class prepared. More than two absences will affect your final grade.

This course is also linked to the year-long "Migrations , Diasporic Communities and Transnational Identities" program. Periodically we will be attending those events in place of regular class meetings. Your attendance is required, as it is for regular classes. If you cannot attend the session you must view the videotape of it before the next class meeting. Because the symposium for the Diaspora series, March 12 and 13, is also required, we will meet for one fewer class periods, as noted on the syllabus.

The course is divided thematically rather than chronologically or geographically. We begin with Latino/a immigration as emblematic of the themes of the course: simultaneously many communities and one community, negotiating their place in the U.S. along lines of race, culture and nationality, and reshaping notions of identity in the process. We turn then to the variety of interpretations of immigration, this time based on European immigration streams. Finally, we will explore the problem of culture, assimilation and identity for immigrants, taking examples from Latino, European and Asian immigrant experiences.

Please write an analytical review paper of no more than five pages on each of these themes. Due dates are marked on the syllabus. Your review must cover all the books in that themes as well as other relevant information from class. Each analytical review essay should take up a significant issue raised in common by the books. First lay out the issue you've chosen, and discuss how each book contributes to the discussion. Place the books (and other class material, whether films, panels, lectures or discussions) in dialogue with each other. Conclude with your assessment of the issue in question. These essays must include both serious analysis and specific detail (rather than general observations) in support of it. The first two papers cumulatively count for 30 percent of your final grade; the third theme is taken up by the final paper (see below).

In order to assess the immigrant experience more directly, we will be hearing from faculty who have immigrated from a variety of countries and cultures at a variety of ages. We will also be doing a community learning project in which each of you will be paired with a new immigrant. Your obligation is to speak in English to this immigrant for approximately one to two hours a week and by the end of the course, create with that immigrant a way of telling his or her story. You will be helping a new immigrant learn his or her new language and giving voice to his or her experience. In return, you will be learning about the immigration experience not from a theoretical or historical perspective, but rather as it is actually lived.

The T. A. and I will help pair you with an immigrant and facilitate transportation and other details. Begin simply by getting to know this person. You are there to help him or her learn English, so to speak simply and slowly as you gauge your informant's ability to understand. Make arrangements to meet every week so there is continuity to the relationship. Please keep a log of your visits.

As the semester proceeds, try to learn what you can of the immigrant's experiences. What made her leave? What did she find when she arrived? How has her experience been? How has life changed from the old country to the new? What are her dreams for the future? Keep notes on this in your log as you go.

Over time you and your informant will get a sense of a particularly powerful or important story to tell. Figure out – together – what story your informant wishes to tell, and how to do it. It can be a written narrative with photographs, a short video, an oral history, or anything else you devise. (The community learning office can make tape and video recorders available to you, or other supplies as needed.) That project, due at the end of the semester, will be put on display at our end-of-semester celebration party for our class and our immigrant informants. Come celebrate what we've accomplished! The log, the project and your contributions to class discussions on your experiences will count towards 25 percent of your course grade.

The final for this course is a paper on culture and identity worth 25 percent of your final grade. Using the last thematic section of the course as the springboard, this paper should discuss the ways in which the experiences of immigration and the encounters immigrants have with Americans affect immigrants' sense of their identity. What is the primary determiner of that identity, in your opinion? Culture? Race? Nationality? Religion? Politics? Are there consistent patterns or does immigrant identity differ among different groups? If there are differences, can they be attributed to time of arrival, reception by citizens, pattern of settlement, or some other external force? Do generational divisions play out similarly or differently among these different immigrant communities? You may consider any of these questions, or any others, but your focus must be on the experience of immigration and the factors contributing to ethnic identity among those immigrants. Remember to use specific facts and examples, taken from the readings, class discussions, panels, the symposium, films, or the Migrations series, to provide concrete evidence for your claims. Do not rely on generalities. This paper should be no longer than ten pages and is due at the time the registrar scheduled our final exam (which this paper replaces.)


Books: All books are in the bookstore and on reserve in the library. Note also, especially for more expensive books, that if you purchase them online at they are usually discounted, and arrive within two to three days.

Roberto Suro, Strangers Among Us: How Latino Immigration is Transforming America. Dianne Hart, Undocumented in L.A.: An Immigrant's Story
Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives
Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted
John Bodnar, The Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Robert Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem 1880-1950
Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures
Eric Liu, Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker

Classes: (All class events outside regularly scheduled class periods are marked with an asterisk)

Latino immigration:

Jan. 19: Intro

Jan. 21 Latino Identity Reading: Suzanne Oboler, "So Far from God, So Close to the United States," from Challenging Fronteras, 1997 (distributed in class)

Jan. 26 Migrations and Diasporas panel ** Rather than coming to class on Jan 26, we will be attending the Migrations panel at 7 pm in Rittenberg. If you cannot attend you MUST view the videotape of the session.

Jan. 28 Discussion of panel and reading Reading: Strangers Among Us, Parts 1 and 2.

Feb. 2 Film: "El Norte" ** This film will be screened in McCook Auditorium at 7pm**

Feb.4: Discussion with Guillermo Gomez-Pena Reading: Strangers Among Us, Part 3, Gomez-Pena, Warrior for Gringostroika, chap. 1 (distributed in class)

Feb. 9: Immigration panel: Professor Dario Euraque, Professor Lise Waxer, Ann Plato Fellow Rosa Carrasquillo

Feb. 11: Discussion of panel and reading Reading: Strangers Among Us, part 4.

Feb. 16: Undocumented Aliense, a policy discussion Reading: Undocumented in L.A.

Feb 18: Film: "Tales from Arab Detroit" (in class)

Reading Week

Interpretations of European Immigration:

March 2: Immigration panel: Professor Michael Niemann, Professor Brigitte Schulz, Professor King-fai Tam, First synthesis paper due: Latino / a immigration

March 4: Progressive era photojournalism Reading: How the Other Half Lives.

March 9: Film "Hester Street" (in class)

March 11: Discussion: The "plant" metaphor, or immigration as loss. Reading: The Uprooted.

**Symposium March 12-13** Attendance at academic panels is mandatory. If you cannot attend you MUST view the videotape of the sessions.

March 16: No class (replaced by symposium)

March 18: Discussion: The "plant" metaphor revisited or immigration as garden. Reading: The Transplanted.

March 23: Discussion of tutoring experiences

March 25: Film: "My America (or Honk if You Love the Buddha)" (in class) Second synthesis paper due: America views its immigrants.

Spring Break

Culture and Identity:

April 6: Discussion: Dominican? Latina? American girl? Reading: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

April 8: Immigration panel: Director of International Programs Maryam Elahi, Professor Manijeh Zavarrei, Graduate Fellow Cheikh Ndiaye, Professor Pablo Delano

April 13: Film: "America America" **This film will be screened in McCook Auditorium at 7pm.

April 15: Discussion: Italian Catholics confront their faith Reading: Madonna of 115th Street.

April 20: Migrations and Diasporas panel **Rather than coming to class on April 20, we will be attending the Migrations panel at 7pm in Rittenberg. If you cannot attend you MUST view the videotape of the session.**

April 22: Discussion: The Hmong Meet Western Medicine Reading: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

April 27: Film: "Dim Sum" (in class)

April 29: Discussion: What does it mean to be "Asian"? Reading: Accidental Asian.

Celebration/ reception for class, panelists, and immigrant informants May 2 from 3-4??? (details TBA) All immigrant story projects on display.

Final paper on culture and identity due at the time of the scheduled final exam.

School: Trinity College
Professor: Greenberg
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