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American Ethnic Literature - Essay Example

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American Ethnic Literature

The relationship between the ethnic and the mainstream is not a static one. Especially in a multiethnic nation like the US, this relationship is continually changing. The relationship between the mainstream and ethnic communities, as well as their literary utterances, always goes through a process of mutual commentary and refashioning. We can apply Trivedi's formulation in defining the phenomenon as a 'transactionas an interactive, dialogic, two-way process rather than a simple active-passive one; as a process involving complex negotiation and exchange'. (Trivedi,1993 p.125)
The question of language and literary production is integrally linked to the issue of power and political control and domination. Noted Spanish American author Richard Rodriguez' 'Hunger of Memory' foregrounds this association of language with the centralization of power structure. For Rodriguez, language is a conduit of social power, and the notion of 'public identity' is largely dependant on one's mastery of academic English. Similarly with literature, political domination is closely connected with canon formation. As a result, literature produced by the 'mainstream', following codes of European aesthetics, comes to be accepted as the 'mainstream' literature, or simply 'literature' of America. On the other hand, literary works produced outside the scope of this central literary corpus is designated as 'ethnic literature': the 'margin' to the American 'center'.

Long relegated only to the second ranks of literary practice, ethnic literature at present takes a much appreciable position vis--vis what is usually considered to be mainstream literature. An interest towards an understanding of 'ethnic' voices in literature and relocating them within the range of mainstream academic practice has also been observed in the present times. However, this attempt has attracted a certain degree of hostility: a kind of academic hostility that is not an uncommon reaction to the center's attention towards ethnography and ethnic literature. The Chicana/o communities have been prominent in their conflictual engagement with the role and function of 'ethnic' intellectual/ academic identities, as defined by the 'academic' center. Angie Chabran has been particular suspicious of this whole enterprise of 'Chicana/o' studies - stating that it uncritically assists in the anthropoligation of the Chicana/o people. (Chabran 228-47) This attitude is now gaining currency, that ethnic study, in the form of literature or sociology, or within any other academic discipline, is basically a kind of re-instatement of categories rather than an attempt to obliteration.
However, on the flip side of hostility, there have also been attempts towards reaching a cultural middle point, towards 'hybridization'. This hybridization has also been brought about by a dynamic relationship between the mainstream and the ethnic literary practices. The aesthetic and the consequent economic dictates of mainstream literary practice has influenced the narrative style and aesthetic stylizations of the ethnic forms. They have retained some of the literary forms that have ethnic roots, but have been adopted to fit the more linear and accepted forms of mainstream li ...Show more


In the US, 'ethnic' is generally understood as a blanket term to include all communities and races that lie outside the ambit of the founding European communities of the country, mainly the Anglo-Protestants and the French Catholics. Since a strand of racial identity is integral to an understanding of this group, it is also primarily the 'non-white' communities in the US…
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American Ethnic Literature essay example
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