Emerging voices in the Arab American community
American literature is unique in the number of voices and cultures it conveys, giving it the power to transform opinions and challenge stereotypes in both obvious and subtle ways. Christa Smith Anderson explains that Arab Americans and South Asians are speaking up in new American writing, reflecting changing waves of immigrants.
American literature, and the voices and languages it encompasses, expands as the United States becomes home to an ever-greater number of ethnic minorities. Hamod (Sam) and Lisa Suhair Majaj are (among others) bringing Arab-American voices to literature. Dying with the Wrong Name, a poem by Hamod (Sam), is dedicated to “all the immigrants who lost their names at Ellis Island.” The poem reclaims their original names:
Na'aim Jazeeny, Sine Hussein, Im’a Brahim, Hussein Hamode Subh’, all lost when “A man in a
dark blue suit at Ellis Island says, with
tiredness and authority, ‘You only need two
names in America’ and suddenly - as cleanly
as the air, you've lost
Latha Viswanathan is among a growing number of writers incorporating language from India into American literature. Viswanathan’s short story Cool Wedding appears in the 2003 edition of the anthology, New Stories from the South.
“Dear Lakshmi,” the story begins. “In the summer, this place is like
India: Bombay, Madras, only fancy name Houston-Pouston, America,” Shoba
writes in her letter. She goes on to tell Lakshmi of “putting kumkum
tikka on forehead,” an
impressive festival lunch in a house with “real kolam design at
the entrance,” making
“condensed milk payasam for desert,”
and telling Lakshmi's brother-in-law, “‘Arre baba, do some
sit-ups, some exercise...’”
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni offers historical perspective on Indian immigrants in America with her poem, “The Brides Come to Yuba City,” which includes the following description:
the black wedding trunks, sharp-edged
shiny, stenciled with strange men-names
our bodies do not fit into: Mrs. Baldev Johl, Mrs. Kanwal Bains
A footnote explains the history behind the scene presented in the
poem, which places, early in the 20th century, a young woman
in Yuba City, an area “settled largely by Indian railroad workers” who
were confined by immigration restrictions that prevented them from
bringing families to the United States or from returning to India to
Christa Smith Anderson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University and received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia. After several years producing and writing television news, she is now a federal government employee by day and a fiction writer the rest of the time. She received the 2002 Cynthia Wynn Herman Scholarship from George Mason University and has published non-fiction in So to Speak, a Feminist Journal of Language and Arts.
William and Flora Hewlett
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