While researching the immigrant experience and theories of immigration, I came across an excellent book called Cultural Psychology of Immigrants, edited by Ramaswami Mahalingam with a chapter by Silvia Pedraza on the immigrant experience in America. Pedraza deals with the major question concerning immigrant research that is what factors impel immigration and what can be attained from it? (34). Pedraza questions how to describe this process, whether it is “assimilation, adaptation, integration, incorporation and diasporic citizenship?” (34)
Pedraza also mentions the internal colonialism model that is a major challenge to assimilation theory. The theoretical aim of this model is to delineate the ways in which the experiences of racial minorities like the indigenous people such as Native Americans and the oldest immigrants such as Mexicans, Blacks and Puerto Ricans differentiate from White European immigrants’ experiences at the turn of the century.
The internal colonization model proposes that the experiences of the two groups differed significantly from white European immigrants because their race and colour determined their place and role in the production system they occupied (Pedraza 36; Blauner 400). Proponents of the theory believe this is a result of voluntary and involuntary migration and forced and unforced adoption of cultural values.
The internal colonisation model is relevant to my thesis topic research because I wish to examine how the traumatic effects of colonisation impacts upon Native American identity and culture.
Blauner, Robert. “Internal Colonialism and Ghetto Revolt.” Social Problems 16.4 (1969): 393-408. JSTOR. Web. 07 Oct. 2010.
Pedraza, Silvia. “Assimilation or Transnationalism?: Conceptual Models of the Immigrant Experience in America.” Cultural Psychology of Immigrants. Ed. Ramaswami Mahalingam. New Jersey: Erlbraum, 2007. Print.
“The longer we captivate someone and make them think about what they are seeing, the better chance we have of them understanding what it is we’re trying to say with the photography.” (Nighswander qtd. in Horton 223)
Figure 1: Kidnapping scene. The Black Hand (1906). 2011.
Early American films, photography and immigration from the Progressive era were the topics of discussion in today’s class. One of the silent films from what is known as the “primitive era” or “early cinema period” we examined is The Black Hand (1906). It is classed as the first gangster film and this is apparent from its titular connotations. The signing of the appellation “Black Hand” to a letter is associated with the Italian mafia’s means of communicating the significance of a threat, which will only conclude with death if requests are not fulfilled. The threat anxiety gangsters inflicted on society is symptomatic of a national xenophobia concerning the then-present mistrust of foreigners in the US. America’s treatment of white European immigrants in comparison to the treatment of blacks and Native Americans is a topic I am interested in because it exposes the racial inequalities of America’s race relations.
The film also differentiates between America’s perception of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrant by juxtaposing the non-assimilated, gang affiliated criminal with the hard-working, partially assimilated, butcher.
The moral bifurcation of immigrants is also evident from Jacob Riis’s photography. Riis was one of the first photojournalists of America who later became known as “the great Emancipator of the slums” (qtd. in Quirke 561). Photography was the most important propagandist tool of the Progressive era because it could be utilised to reinforce social ideologies.
Figure 2: Jacob Riis’s “Bandits’ Roost” (1888). Web. 2011
The title of this photograph is “Bandit’s Roost” (1888) (see figure 2) which is the name of an alleyway in Manhattan’s Five Points neighbourhood, which is also the setting of the Scorsese’s film, Gangs of New York (2002).
The criminality of the immigrants is conveyed through their body language, the light and dark contrasts of the background and the weaponry in the foreground of the photograph. Riis is particularly interested in the concept of illumination, which conveys connotations of revelation and religion. His photography is illuminating their situation, while the photographic usage of light and its absence suggests the divine intervention he intends from social reformation.
There is also a sense of community apparent from the tight knit, proximity of the immigrants’ residency, which is sustained by the loyalty-at-all-costs ethos cementing their social unity. Martin Scorsese’s films emphasize the importance of group morality and intergroup loyalty in his microcosmic depiction of the mafia ethos.
Consequently, early American film and photography capture the social issues concerning immigrants, occupying America’s social consciousness.
Horton, Brian. Associated Press Guide to Photojournalism. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001. Print.
Quirke, Carol. “Picturing the Poor: Jacob Riis Reform Photography.” Reviews in American History 36.4 (2008): 557-565. Project Muse. Web. 05 Oct. 2010.
Posted in American Photography, American Society and Ethnicity, Film Studies, Films, Immigration, Jacob Riis, Martin Scorsese, Race, Task 3-American Society and Immigrant Experience
Tagged American Film, Bandit's Roost, Black, Black Hand, Film, Gangs of New York, gangster, Italian Mafia, Italian-American, Jacob Riis, Martin Scorsese, Native American, Progressive Era, Race
Immigration, Jewish American culture and literature were the topics of discussion in the first class of the Strand A section of our course. Photographs of immigrants, immigrant conditions on board the ships and immigrants passing through Ellis Island’s quarantine provided a starting point for our discussion.
Figure 2 & 3: Photograph of immigrants on board ship and Ellis Island quarantine. Blackboard Lecture Slides.
The photographs in Figure 2 & 3 visually convey the hardship and degradation of immigration that is conveyed verbally through the words of Anzia Yezierska in Bread Givers.
Although Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky is classed as the primary Yiddish novel in America, I think Yezierska’s masterpiece is more deserving of the title. This is not simply because it provides a first-hand, personal observation of an immigrants lifestyle in the Lower East Side of New York from a semi-autobiographical, Jewish perspective, but also because of the reciprocal interplay of language. The languages shift from Yiddish to English is symptomatic of the process of progressive assimilation. The language in the novel is profoundly Jewish, even though it is written in English. Yezierska’s ability to express the rhythms of Yiddish syntax surpasses Jewish American novelists such as Bernard Malamud and Henry Roth. Yezierska’s first generation English is apparent from the domination of her mame-loshn (mother tongue) on her English sentence structure.
The characters in Bread Givers give the reader a taste of the language from the Yiddish inflection they speak with, but the narrative voice is also at times expressed with a Yiddish lilt. One example of this is when Sara says “exchange with them my thoughts, break with them bread at their tables” (…). Yezierska’s positioning of “with them” prior to the noun instead of after it may not only lead to syntactic ambiguity, but it also demonstrates the interaction of bilingualism on her writing.
Consequently, despite the numerous typographical errors littering the novel that the publishers claim have been amended, Bread Givers is a superb text recounting the immigrant experience with an emotionally, evocative style. It immerses its reader in the world of Sara’s struggles and her acclimatization to her harsh, foreign milieu.
Lazarus, Emma. “The New Colossus.” Xerox.
Yezierska, Anna. Bread Givers. New York: Peresa Books, 1999. Print.
Progressive Era (1890-1920)
Posted in American Society and Ethnicity, Ethnic Passing, Immigration, Jewish-American Literature and Culture, Task 3-American Society and Immigrant Experience
Tagged Abraham Cahan, Bread Givers, Ellis Island, English, Henry Roth, immigrants, Jewish, Jewish-American, New York, Novel, photographys, The Rise of David Levinsky, Yiddish