Sample Overviews – ENG620

Instructor – Kim Dougherty

Module 5: Early Immigrants

Module 5 Overview


For the next two modules we’ll take a step back in time from our recent contemporary snapshot of Sherman Alexie’s America, resuming our study of various waves of immigration. To re-orient yourselves, you may want to look at the Timeline in Course Resources; we’ll be focusing on the Postbellum section of the timeline, roughly 1865-1915.  

The second wave of immigration in the late 19th century brought many Europeans and Jews to America. They were fleeing political and religious persecution and had high expectations for their new life in America. The American Dream beckoned, but what they found in America were low wages, horrid living conditions, and intense pressure to assimilate to the new culture. These readings address the hardships that the new immigrants faced and their reaction to the assimilation process. 

Image By Unknown photographer (Illus. in: Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper, 1887 July 2, pp. 324-325.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Module 9 – Latin Americans

Similar to American Indians, many Chicanas/ Chicanos–Mexican Americans– who became citizens when borders shifted, were not immigrants, although many who’ve entered the country more recently are.  Like other cultures we’ve explored, when faced with the expectations of acculturation, they feared the loss of language, heritage and identity as well as homesickness and nostalgia for the past.

We’ll be discussing Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street this week.  This is a short novel which is a quick and easy read but whose power becomes apparent as we develop our analysis.  To contextualize the novel, make sure you read the historical and cultural context in American Mosaic, view Cisneros’s website, and read the encyclopedia entry about the author.  The latter is important because it summarizes the literary criticism about the novel, allowing you to approach it from various points of view. 

This week we’ll be concluding our 9-week Reading Journal activity, as you complete and submit Part 3 of your journals.  Remember, your grade is also dependent on reading and replying to two of your classmates’ journals.  This is all about sharing, so make sure that you interact with your peers’ writing. 

Feeling down?  I know some of the reading we’ve been doing can give us a very negative view of America, immigration, and race relations.  To counter this feeling, I’ve included a success story about Grammy-winning Latina/ Latino musicians La Santa Cecilia.  Watching these two short videos and reading the attached article provides a nice contemporary counter to our reading of The House on Mango Street.  The novel was written in 1984, over thirty years ago, while the Grammy award was last year.  Is this an indication that times are, indeed, changing?

Learning Outcomes:

  • Compare and contrast the traditions, belief systems, and customs of several co-cultures as represented in works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
  • Compare and contrast the various waves of immigration into the U.S. and draw from literary accounts to evaluate societal and institutional responses to them.
  • Realign their understanding of in- and out-groups, define ethnocentrism, analyze the roots of racial, ethnic, class, and cultural biases, and debunk cultural stereotypes. 
  • Debate the benefits and losses related to cultural assimilation for selected characters in literature.

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