Immigrant literature as referred to in this unit is a depiction of the personal experiences of people who are immigrants to the United States. These stories are told through various genre including fiction and memoir. Teaching literacy through literature and including multicultural literature in curriculums has recently become a more common practice. Chinese, Latin American, Irish, and Indian authors appear in required reading lists for elementary through post secondary school students. Educators look to choose books and stories that focus on common human themes to dispel the prejudices and stereotypes of the past and to form a sense of connection among differing cultures and groups. (http://findarticles.com).
For the educator, making careful selections of immigrant literature is important. Often students have been exposed to literature and mass media that propagates stereotypes and misconceptions about various immigrant groups. People of Asian and Middle Eastern decent are often quite vulnerable to these prejudices. It is important to teach children to compare and contrast values held by different cultural groups as well as the political, historical and sociological background of the literature presented in the classroom. (http://findarticles.com).
Several literary pieces featured in McDougal Littel will be taught in this unit. These are a mixture of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The authors of these works come from immigrant families or they have had life experience in immigrant and ethnic communities.
Biography of Gary Soto
In April 1952, Gary Soto was born to working-class Mexican-American parents in Fresno, California. He began working in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley as a child. He was not motivated to do well in school, but in high school he began to love reading and writing poetry. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Soto).
In 1976 he earned his MFA from the University of California, Irvine where he studied poetry and he won the United States award of the International Poetry forum for his first collection of poems, The Elements of San Joaquin which was honored by The New York Times Book Review where six of the poems from the book were reprinted. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Soto).
Soto's work is a reflection of life in the Latino culture of California and the influence of well known poets such as Pablo Neruda, Edward Field and others. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Soto).
Gary Soto lives in northern California where he has written three novels and several books of poetry. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Soto).
"Born Worker" by Gary Soto
This work of fiction is a reflection of the childhood experiences of Gary Soto. The protagonist, José, is a Mexican American immigrant, in his early teens, living in California. Soto begins by describing how hard work permeates José's life:
"They said that José was born with a ring of dirt around his neck, with grime under his fingernails, and skin calloused from the grainy twist of a shovel. They said his palms were already rough by the time he was three, and soon after he learned his primary colors, his squint was the squint of an aged laborer. They said he was a born worker." (Applebee, et al, p.84).
Both his mother and his father have taught him through example that life is about hard work and José has taken that to heart. He seems to feel most at home when he is deep into strenuous, physical labor. The conflict occurs when José's spoiled middle class cousin, Arnie, appears. Arnie is seeking to exploit José's work ethic by finding jobs for him, watching him work and then splitting the pay with him. José is suspicious of the plan but does it anyway. José is hard at work one day for an elderly white man, Mr. Clemens, while Arnie is lounging, when the plot takes an interesting twist. Mr. Clemens, trying to retrieve his hearing aid as it rolls into an empty pool, falls and injures himself. Arnie wants to run but José is moved with compassion and calls 911. When help arrives Arnie is back to spinning his version of the story to the police. José walks away, contemplating what he has learned about the difference in his integrity and character and that of his cousin.
The story illustrates an example of poor immigrants working hard to simply survive. José and his parents don't complain. They feel good about their ability to work and the independence and dignity they maintain. There is also a contrast between Arnie and José. Each is ambitious, yet the essence of each one's character causes ambition to manifest in two very different ways; Arnie as the dishonest, lazy, conniver and José as the hard working honest young man.
After reading this story students will be assigned an essay which addresses the CMT Strand A-Making Reader/Text connections:
Are you more like Arnie or more like José? Explain, giving examples from the
text and from your own life.
Biography of Laurence Yep
Laurence Michael Yep was born in 1948 in San Francisco, California to a Chinese American family. Living in San Francisco, he was exposed to a variety of cultures and ethnicities. He attended high school that was predominately white and he lived in a neighborhood that included African Americans, Chinese Americans and other diverse groups. This gave him firsthand experience of what it felt like to be an outsider which became a major theme in many of his future writings. (http://eolit.hrw.com/hlla/authorbios/index2.jsp?author=8laurenceyep).
Yep has written in a variety of genre for adults, young adults and children. His work includes dozens of novels, plays, science fiction, fantasy, mystery and historical novels. He won the Newbery Honor Book award in 1975 for Dragonwings. (http://eolit.hrw.com/hlla/authorbios/index2.jsp?author=8laurenceyep).
"The Great Rat Hunt" by Laurence Yep
In this memoir, Laurence Yep relates his experience of having childhood asthma and the disappointment he felt at not being able to excel at sports as his father and brother did. This was especially difficult for him because sports had been the vehicle through which his father had found acceptance as an immigrant to America. Yep felt that he could never really be approved of or close to his father if he was always indoors struggling to breathe, while his brother was outdoors tossing a baseball with his father. His opportunity to prove his "manliness" and to bond with his father comes when evidence of a rat appears in the family grocery store. The elusive rodent survives poison pellets, traps and a store wide fumigation. Yep's father, fed up and desperate, borrows a rifle from Henry Loo to shoot the rat. Despite his mother's obvious disapproval, Laurence seizes this opportunity for bonding and he and his father set out on the rat hunt. Father and son do engage in conversation and get to know each other while they build a makeshift barricade by the rat hole. When Laurence believes he sees the rat, he and his father never get to shooting it because they run away in a panic. This presents them with another chance to relate honestly. They talk about how they ran away and they share their experiences of feeling afraid. Through this conversation Laurence sees a gentle, approachable side of his father. Later, when the rat seems to have mysteriously disappeared, his mother claims, "That rat laughed itself to death."
Yep's story presents the theme of parent/child relationships between first and second generation immigrants in a way that all students can relate to. Whether they are immigrants or not, the problem of a child feeling misunderstood by and wanting to connect with a parent is universal. To making reader/text connections after reading this story students will answer the following questions in an essay:
Have you ever felt like you didn't fit in? What did you do to try to fit in? How was
your experience like or unlike a character from "The Great Rat Hunt" experi-
ence? Explain, using examples from the text and from your own life.
Biography of Julia Alvarez
Although Julia Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950, she spent her early childhood in the Dominican Republic, moving back to New York when she was ten years old because her father's involvement in a plot to overthrow Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the ruling dictator, was discovered. (http://www.notablebiographies.com/A-An/Alvarez-Julia.html).
Having been exposed to many American customs and learning to speak English at American schools, Julia felt like an American when she lived in the Dominican Republic, so she was surprised by the culture shock she felt when her family returned to the United States. (http://www.notablebiographies.com/A-An/Alvarez-Julia.html).
In the Dominican Republic, her family and extended family were upper class and well respected. Her father was a doctor who ran a hospital near their home. Julia and her parents, sisters, aunts and cousins spent long vacations at their second home on the seashore in Boca Chica. Moving to New York meant being crowded into a cramped apartment in Brooklyn in a neighborhood where she felt misunderstood. Alvarez explains in the short story Names/Nombres that she felt very un-American due to her extensive name. Julia Altagracia Maria Teresa Alvarez Tavares Perello Espaillat Julia Perez Rochet Gonzalez is her full name which includes the names of several relatives. She felt even less able to fit in when her peers could not pronounce her name correctly, the best they could do was call her "Judy." She found solace in reading books and, eventually, writing. (http://www.notablebiographies.com/A-An/Alvarez-Julia.html).
She graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1971 and earned a master's degree in creative writing from Syracuse University in 1975. Eventually she became a professor at Middlebury College where she began to write poetry and stories. In 1984 her collection of poems titled Homecoming, was published. She gave up teaching in 1997 to devote all of her time to writing. (http://www.notablebiographies.com/A-An/Alvarez-Julia.html).
"Something to Declare" by Julia Alvarez
The story of leaving her home in the Dominican Republic is told in this memoir, published in 1998, by Julia Alvarez. She describes in beautiful detail the joys of her carefree, privileged childhood on this tropical island and how the escalating dangers of a dictatorship took that away from her. Every night a black Volkswagen sat at the end of their driveway preventing them from leaving because her father's involvement with a plot to overthrow the dictator was discovered. In a contrived tone, an aunt tells her and her sisters that they are going on a vacation to the United States, "Wouldn't you love to go…and see the snow?" trying to convince them that they were lucky. As Alvarez and her family arrive in New York City, she contemplates the papers that made them "free" as she wistfully remembers her beach vacations that she may never have again, at Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic.
Although it is also a memoir, "Something to Declare" differs from The Great Rat Hunt in that it is a direct experience of immigration. The urgency of the Alvarez family to leave their beautiful and beloved home to save their lives is softened by the love and care of the female adults who don't want to communicate their fears to the children.
Students will be asked to write essays that make Reader/Text connections as well as Text/Text connections since this is the third story related to immigration that they have read.
How would you describe your home or a place that you visit with family where
you feel relaxed and happy like Julia did as a child? Imagine how would you feel
about leaving if you were in the same situation as she was? How would your
relatives react? Use examples from the text and from your own life to explain.
How is "Something to Declare" like or unlike either "The Great Rat Hunt" or "Born
Worker?" Use evidence from each text to explain.
Biography of Amy Tan
Amy Ruth Tan was born on February 19
, 1952 in Oakland, California to parents who were immigrants from China. Before meeting her father, Amy's mother, Daisy Tan, had been married and the mother of three daughters whom she was forced to leave behind in 1949 when she fled China just before the Communists seized control of Shanghai. While working for the United States Information Service after World War II, Amy's father, John Tan, immigrated to the United States in 1947. (www.amytan.net).
Amy spent her childhood in California living in Berkeley, Oakland, Fresno and other suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area. Tragedy struck when she was fourteen, her father and her older brother both died from brain tumors. Amy, her mother and younger brother then moved to Montreaux, Switzerland where she eventually graduated from high school in 1969. (www.amytan.net).
While attending Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon she met her husband, Lou DeMattei. She attended four other colleges, graduating from San Jose University with a B.A. in English and Linguistics. (www.amytan.net).
Before she became a writer of fiction, Tan worked in several fields. She was a language development consultant for developmentally disabled children, and a freelance business writer for several computer and communication companies. (www.amytan.net).
While attending a writing workshop in 1985 she wrote "Rules of the Game," which later became part of the award winning The Joy Luck Club in 1989. She went on to write several more works of fiction which are acclaimed worldwide, translated into over 35 different languages. Many of her stories are assigned as required reading for students in middle schools, high schools and colleges. (www.amytan.net).
"Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan
Amy Tan opens the tale with an example of old world wisdom that Waverly Jong's mother imparts to her that she is able to apply to many things in life including the game of Chess. "Wise guy, he not go against wind. In Chinese we say, Come from South, blow with wind--poom!--North will follow. Strongest wind cannot be seen." Then she takes the reader on a tour of Chinatown in San Francisco in the 1950s describing the foods and how the people eat them, "…old country people sat cracking roasted watermelon seeds with their golden teeth and scattering the husks…" and tells stories of their family interactions.
Waverly, affectionately called Meimei, which means "little sister" is not a shy girl, whether she is teasing a white photographer about what food is served in Hong Sing's Diner, "Guts and duck feet and octopus gizzards!" or asking her mother, "What is Chinese torture?" or begging her brothers to let her play with the used chess set they received from a charity event at a local protestant church. Her initial curiosity turns into a quest to learn more about this mysterious American game. After her brother tells her to stop asking stupid questions she researches in the library, combs through dictionaries and discovers a world of strategy, logic, secrets and etiquette. She soon moves from playing with her brothers to joining tournaments in the park with the men who are experienced players.
It is her success in playing chess that causes a rift between her and her mother. Her mother is proud of her daughter's achievements and Meimei becomes angry at her mother's constant bragging which leads to a dramatic argument in public. Meimei is upset temporarily but not dismayed and the story ends without any resolution between her and her mother, but Meimei ponders her next move in life as if it were a chess game.
"Rules of the Game," which Amy Tan wrote at the beginning of her writing career and later, in 1989 included in the novel, The Joy Luck Club is based upon many of the experiences that Tan had growing up in various cities in the San Francisco Bay Area as a second generation Chinese immigrant. Although the "rules" appear to be about the game of chess, the story opens and closes with Meimei learning rules about life through interactions with her mother. Unlike, "The Great Rat Hunt," the main character does not come to feel closeness with a parent in "Rules of the Game." Instead she seems to become motivated to continue on despite their differences. There is no forgiveness and reconciliation at the close of the story.
Students will now have read four stories about immigrants in both fiction and nonfiction genres. Written assignments will be expanded to include: Self/Text Connection, Text/Text Connection, Compare and Contrast, and Synthesis.
How are Laurence (The Great Rat Hunt) and Waverly (Rules of the Game) alike
and how are they different? How would you compare their relationships with their
parents? Use examples from both texts to support your answers.
Of the four stories read: "Born Worker," "The Great Rat Hunt," "Something to
Declare," and "Rules of the Game," which main character do you most identify
with? Who do you least identify with? Use examples from your life and from the
texts to support your answer.
Imagine that two of the main characters from any of the four stories met each
other. How would they relate to each other? What would they do together? Use
examples from the texts to support your answer.
"The Other Pioneers" by Roberto Felix Salazar
In this poem Salazar is stating that the common belief about people in the United States, who are from Spanish speaking countries, is that they are more recent immigrants than those whose ancestors came from English speaking countries. However, he points out that much of the western part of the U.S. was settled by people from Spain long before, "…the Saxon and the Irish came…" He mentions, "…the towns soft-woven Spanish names." And fathers named, "…Salinas, de la Garza, Sanchez, Garcia…" (Applebee, et al, p.84).
After reading aloud "The Other Pioneers," students will be led by teachers in a discussion about immigrants and immigration. Some lead in questions would be:
Who really is an immigrant to The United States? Does that include people who
walked across the Beringia land bridge? Does someone who has a longer line
of ancestors born in the U.S. deserve to have more rights? What can people do
to work out differences between different groups? How can groups of people
from different backgrounds and cultures get to know each other better?
Next, students will choose an immigrant group to research and write a poem about them, imitating the style of Salazar.