Courses on ethnic American literature can unintentionally reinscribe students' preconceptions and stereotypes about ethnic American subgroups or create the false impression that each ethnic group is homogeneous. A student with limited experience with people of color might think she now understands an ethnic group after reading an ethnic American novel, for example. By using fiction and non-fiction film, teachers can destabilize students' oversimplified views of ethnic groups and of the concepts of race and ethnicity themselves. The course described here started with Toni Morrison's short story, “Recitatif,” which ingeniously leads readers to examine their own racial preconceptions. Then, novels (Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, Sent for You Yesterday by John Wideman, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen) are paired with films to demonstrate that greater diversity exists within any ethnic group than between any two. Students also engage a few key articles about canon formation so they can understand ethnic literature in the context of American literary traditions. By the end of the course, students have a healthy uncertainty regarding race and ethnicity, their oversimplifications having been undermined by their work with diverse texts.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.