Being Ethnic, Becoming American: Struggles, Successes, Symbols

Fall 1998

We all know the image of melting-pot America—the land of the free and home of the brave that welcomes persons of all heritages to hitch their wagons to the stars and stripes. We all are part of it. The very food we eat, clothes we wear, homes and neighborhoods we live in, family life and traditions all mark us as Americans—and as something else. For in addition to being American, we are very separate groups of peoples, made different by our ethnic heritages, by what we and our families were before. Understanding these differences and examing them through literature can bring an awareness of ourselves and an appreciation of those Americans whose ethnic values are not the same as our own.

The Center for the Study of Childhood and the Family Through Film and Literature at Oklahoma City University invites you to read works on these intriguing issues in a four-part series. At each session, a Humanities scholar will make a 30-40 minute presentation on the readings. Small group discussion will follow. At the end, everyone comes together for a brief wrap-up. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to pre-register and borrow the reading selections by calling Harbour Winn at 521-5472. A brochure describing the series theme is also available.

The series will be held in Walker Center, Room 151 on the OCU campus from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, beginning September 22 and continuing on alternate Tuesdays through November 3. The discussion series is part of the statewide “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” project of the Oklahoma Library Association. Services, books, and other materials for these programs are provided by “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma,” which is funded, in part, by the Oklahoma Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a state appropriation administered by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

READINGS AND DATES

September 22, 1998 Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

In this spellbinding novel, Antonio, a young Hispanic boy, learns all too quickly that there are conflicts he must resolve as the son of a Márez and a Luna, as a Hispanic living in an Anglo society, and as a human being coming of age. What will the boy gain in this process, and what will he lose?

October 6, 1998 Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

Set in the streets of Harlem in the 1930’s, this novel chronicles the coming of age of John Grimes, the son of a storefront preacher. Although he has the Gospel, he is confused by what he sees with his own eyes: the hypocrisy of his father, the poverty of Harlem, the baubles of the city beyond, and the injustice of the white powers that be. But in a journey that takes him above the earthly, John makes his first, purposeful steps toward self-discovery.

October 20, 1998 The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momadays

The story begins with the birth of Momaday’s Kiowa Indian people in what is now western Montana, then follows their migration to the southern Plains of Oklahoma, their brief but glorious existence there, and their spiritual death with the depletion of the buffalo herds and the settling of the land. “What remains,” Momaday writes, “is fragmentary: mythology, legend, lore, and hearsay—and of course the idea itself, as crucial and complete as it ever was. That is the miracle.”

November 3, 1998 Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

To Kingston, a Chinese American growing up in San Francisco, ethnic identity is paradox. How else is she to explain the Chinese idea of female subordination juxtaposed beside the obvious strength and force of her own mother, a native-born Chinese? Or the presence of a Chinese American tradition that is suffocating in its demands and yet incomprehensible to those who would obey it? Or the inability of Kingston’s family to accept either the China of their past or the America of their present? Such questions, puzzling as they may be, might inspire, however, rich contemplation and discussion of Kingston’s absorbing autobiography.