Archive for November, 2009

Book review: ‘Becoming Americans’
November 22, 2009
Source: The Dallas Morning News

This ambitious anthology brings together 85 writings by American immigrants from 45 countries. Arranged chronologically, the letters, stories, articles and poems extend from 1623 to the present.

The earliest ones, by Phyllis Wheatley, John James Audubon and St. John Crèvecoeur, often have a schoolbook feel, like a reading assignment for an American history class from primary sources. Later pieces, by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Frank McCourt, Edwidge Danticat, Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Díaz showcase some of the liveliest writing of our time.

Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and a frequent editor of anthologies, made the selections for this hefty volume. They include a revealing autobiographical essay by Stavans, a Polish-Ukrainian Jew born in Mexico City. He describes the moment when he first knew his identity: “I would perfect my English and thus become a New York Jew, an intellectual animal … In just a single moment I understood who I could be.”

Many of the writers deal with issues of identity, too. Not so many see the answer as clearly as Stavans or pursue it as effectively.

The Norwegian novelist O.E. Rolvaag (1876-1931) describes the alienation that sets in when one loses his Fatherland, “for it can never be regained,” and “neither can you get another in its place, no matter what you do.”

Julia Alvarez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, writes in “Something to Declare” about this pain of loss of place. “For weeks that soon became months and years, I would think … What was going on right this moment back home?”

Other immigrant writers repeatedly address the need to reinvent one’s self, so as to fit the new land. In a selection from Henry Roth’s classic 1934 novel Call It Sleep, a husband from Ukraine finds his wife and child an embarrassment when they finally join him in New York. Life here for him had been a disappointment – and he was angry at everyone.

A much earlier writer, Gottlieb Mittelberger (1715-79), a German, had suggested that his countrymen who came to America believing that “roasted pigeons are going to fly into their mouths without their having to work for them” were fools.

Anzia Yezierska (1885-1970) from Belarus shows in a short story from Children of Loneliness how the younger generation assimilates more readily than its progenitors, producing terrible tensions within a family. In the end, the daughter slams the door in her mother’s face and tells herself: “I owe them nothing, nothing, nothing.” (Sound familiar? Clearly she has assimilated as an American teenager.)

Sometimes children assimilate, but parents cannot follow. In “Dying in a Strange Country,” Tahira Naqvi, a Pakistani-American born in 1952, tells the touching story of an aged mother who reluctantly visits her grown son in Connecticut but desperately fears she will die while outside her native land.

Eva Hoffman, who emigrated from Poland to Canada with her parents and earned a scholarship to Rice University, discusses in an essay how language shapes her perceptions and enlarges her identity.

Becoming Americans leaves out American Indians, who were already here, and gives only moderate attention to Mexican-Americans, despite their growing role in this country. The book is not an attempt to represent evenly every immigrant group. Rather, Stavans showcases good writing that shows how individuals, famous or obscure, felt coming to America, working to fit in.


Say it ain’t so…can it be the marketers have lost all connection with consumers?

Last week were at a conference and this video – Bring Back the Love – was shown to us.

It may be a bit of an exaggeration. But, I’m sure many can relate as marketers try to lump people into herds – can you say moo – and try to tell us we are all the same.

Some will argue that all people have certain commonalities but the debate continues. Will this relationship survive given the fact that there seems to be only one active participant?

This is up for discussion…why don’t you tell us what you think.

Stereotypes and humor go back like spinal cords and car seats.

Last week G-Lo opened his foray into late-night comedy with an impressive 3.2 million viewers. However, some didn’t find George Lopez all that funny. The use of comedy to play up or disarm stereotypes is a double edged sword that “Lopez Tonight” wields voraciously.

The ability to laugh at oneself is an admirable trait, especially if you’re bi-cultural and enduring the struggle of assimilating and/or acculturating into the mainstream. But is there a line between reinforcing the same stereotypes that seem to perpetuate negativity and using them simply for laughs?

For many, comedy is just what it is – entertainment. People have to realize that no matter what a comedian says, one has to undoubtedly always maintain respect for all races, cultures and viewpoints. This is a basic trait that many are taught by our elders…and it should never be compromised.

Honestly, comedy can be used for many different purposes but it shouldn’t be used as the main vehicle for changing stereotypes. We should never be too quick to take entertainers so seriously.  The ones that do most likely take themselves too seriously and my only advice to this uncomfortable group of individuals is a quote by Woody Allen: “Comedy just pokes at problems, rarely confronts them squarely. Drama is like a plate of meat and potatoes, comedy is rather the dessert, a bit like meringue.”

Arrests of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S. border have decreased by 23 percent from 2008 to 2009, a trend many attest to the faltering U.S. economy as well as the billions of dollars spent in “securing” the border since September 11th. The 10% unemployment rate and erosion of construction jobs that once lured many Latinos has certainly put downward pressure on immigration, but there is more to the story.

Interestingly enough, the current and expected growth amongst Latinos isn’t due to immigration; it’s due to natural birth in the country.

The post-recession economy could be a tremendous opportunity for Latinos, if only the financial doors were open. However, the current financial crisis poses new challenges to immigrants and natives alike, particularly when it comes to entrepreneurship and the accessibility of credit/funds to create new business ventures.  Everyone knows that credit is tight, but it is even tighter for Latinos.

Like trying to fit into the sweater you wore in the 1st grade tight.

Less than a tenth of 1 percent of available credit goes to Latino business men and women. A staggeringly low number considering Latinos will comprise a majority of the U.S. labor force within the next 20 to 30 years. If you want to grow an economy, why not put money into the hands of those bi-cultural Latinos who have the flexibility to navigate and manage the increasingly multicultural U.S. economy.

So how about we take some of the $10.9 billion we spent last year building fences trying to keep Latinos out, and open up the financial doors to the Latino business men and women who will be the harbingers of growth in the post-recession economy.

No jobs? No problem.

We’ll do what we’ve always managed to do…

Create opportunity.

Fence along the US-Mexico border.

Fence along the US-Mexico border, borders arrests have declined 23% from 2008 to 2009.