Study Guide

Ethnic Studies Texts

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  • The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)

    Edgar Allan Poe's novel is an adventure tale filled with shipwreck and mutiny. Arthur Gordon Pym, the hero of the novel, suffers through a lot.

    1. This is a novel by a white author, but ethnic identity is central to the text. How does the novel's symbolism suggest issues of race and ethnicity?
    2. How does Poe represent the interaction between white characters and non-white characters? What kind of racial and ethnic hierarchies can you find in the novel?
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)

    Sorry to disappoint you sci-fi fans, but no, the narrator of this novel isn't actually invisible. White people just don't see him, because he's black.

    1. What does the metaphor of invisibility tell us about the experience of African Americans? Why do you think Ellison uses this metaphor?
    2. The book is narrated in the first person. What's the significance of using a first-person narrative voice here? Think of the history of African Americans and the way in which they have been silenced and marginalized politically, economically, and socially. How does the narrative voice here comment on those issues?
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1984)

    This novel is written as a series of short chapters, which tell the story of funny, cool, sassy Esperanza, a Chicana girl growing up in Chicago.

    1. What are the various types of borders that Esperanza has to navigate in this novel? Are they just literal borders, or are there also linguistic borders, cultural borders, and gender borders? What do these borders tell us about the Chicano/a experience?
    2. What are some of the strategies that Esperanza uses to deal with the challenges she faces as a Chicana? What does this suggest about how Chicano/as survive in the U.S.?
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (1989)

    Here's a multi-generational family saga that moves back and forth between China and the U.S., telling the stories of four women and their daughters.

    1. What narrative devices does the novel use? What's the significance of the using of so many different narrators and narrative voices?
    2. In what ways are Asian American women forced to conform to identities that don't fit them in the novel?
  • Fire Water World by Adrian C. Louis (1989)

    Hey, let's not leave out the poetry, right? In this book, Adrian C. Louis gives us a ton of powerful imagery and reflection about the Native American experience.

    1. How does Louis relate to Native American culture as opposed to mainstream American culture in this book of poems?
    2. How does Louis represent the land, and Native Americans' relationship to their land, in his poetry?
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois (1903)

    Du Bois was way ahead of the game when he wrote this book in 1903. It's one of the first texts by an ethnic minority theorist explaining the experience African Americans.

    1. Is Du Bois's notion of "double-consciousness" only applicable to African Americans? Or can it be extended to include other ethnic minority groups such as Latino/as or Asian Americans? Is "double-consciousness" applicable to ethnic groups that are not racial minorities—for instance, Irish Americans?
    2. Du Bois says in The Souls of Black Folk that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." What does he mean by this statement? Do you agree or disagree?
  • "Internal Colonialism and Ghetto Revolt" by Robert Blauner (1969)

    In this article, Blauner explains how and why the concept of colonialism is so central to American history and society.

    1. What are the links between racism and colonialism, according to Blauner?
    2. How does Blauner define "internal colonialism," and what's the difference between that and regular old colonialism?
  • Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr. (1969)

    One of the founding texts of Native American Studies, Deloria's book corrects all kinds of misconceptions about Native Americans. Deloria's also got a sense of humor, which is not something we can say about your average theorist.

    1. In what ways are Native Americans trapped by stereotypes made up by mainstream America? According to Deloria, how do those stereotypes oppress Native Americans?
    2. According to Deloria, what are some of the problems inherent in the way that anthropologists study Native Americans?
  • Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua (1987)

    Anzaldua mixes Spanish and English, poetry and theory, autobiography and history in this text, which challenges all kinds of borders.

    1. This book does not fit easily into any genre. It's a theoretical text, sure, but it's also a lot more than that. Why do you think Anzaldua mixes so many genres in writing about the U.S.-Mexico border? What's she trying to achieve by blurring the line between poetry and theory, for example, or between autobiography and history?
    2. According to Anzaldua, what other types of borders (besides the physical border between Mexico and the U.S.) exist for Chicano/as? Think of language, culture and economics.
  • Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans by Ronald Takaki (1989)

    Takaki's classic history tells the story of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other Asian Americans' struggle in the U.S. It's a chill intro to Asian American history.

    1. How does the experience of immigration transform Asian American identity? What does Takaki's book teach us about this transformation?
    2. What are some of the problems in the traditional historical narratives about America, according to Takaki?
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison (1992)

    In this book, Toni Morrison looks at writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Ernest Hemingway to show how important race is in the work of white American authors. According to her, race and ethnicity are just built in to our experiences and perspectives, so we can't ignore these issues, even if they don't seem to be obviously present.

    1. According to Morrison, what are some of the problems in the approach of literary critics to the study American literature?
    2. Why does Morrison think it's so important to study and understand the "Africanist presence" in American literature?
  • Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis by Renato Rosaldo (1993)

    In this book, anthropologist Renato Rosaldo questions the whole idea of "objective" truth in humanities and social sciences and argues that truth is always relative. Whoa.

    1. Why, according to Rosaldo, is it important to broaden our idea of "truth"?
    2. In what ways can we include more marginalized (ethnic, social, economic) perspectives in mainstream academic disciplines?
  • Ethnic Studies: Issues and Approaches by Philip Q. Yang (2000)

    Here's a nifty overview of the history of Ethnic Studies, issues in the field. If you think Ethnic Studies might float your boat, dive on in here first.

    1. Ethnic Studies, as Yang states in the book, is made up of loads of different subfields. What are some of the issues and themes that are common to the various subfields? Can we talk about Ethnic Studies as a coherent field, even if it's made up of all sorts of different cultural, racial, and ethnic perspectives?
    2. Do you agree with Yang's point that "racial groups" are also "ethnic groups"? What are some of the problems of equating race with ethnicity? How do these two concepts overlap and how do they differ?
  • "Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth" by Tara J. Yosso (2006)

    In this article, Yosso's all about showing how ethnic minority groups have tons of ways of staying strong and making it in the U.S. despite the obstacles they have to face.

    1. How does the idea of "community cultural wealth" relate to, and revise, the idea of "cultural capital"?
    2. In what ways does "community cultural wealth" help ethnic minorities survive in mainstream culture?
  • "American Indian Studies: Intellectual Navel Gazing or Academic Discipline?" by Clara Sue Kidwell (2009)

    What's up in Native American Studies these days? Take a look right here for an overview.

    1. According to Kidwell, how have "political forces" shaped the field of Native American Studies?
    2. Which "key terms," according to Kidwell, are closely associated with the field?

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