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National (Be)Longing: American Imperialism and Identity Formation in Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
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In this project, I examine narrative strategies used by writers of the American West to create, discuss and critique "American" identities. The work of contemporary multi-ethnic US authors including Jessica Hagedorn's <italic>Dogeaters</italic> and <italic>Dream Jungle</italic>, Nina Revoyr's <italic>Southland</italic>, and Manuel Muñoz's <italic>What You See in the Dark</italic>, I argue, should not be considered as a separate category of American literature, but rather a part of an on-going conversation within twentieth and twenty-first century American literatures. These texts are a part of a crucial and often overlooked component of American literatures. They reveal a legacy of denied belonging that supports cycles of structural, cultural, and personal violences against marginalized subjects. Since multi-ethnic literature of the US and multi- ethnic US subjects are diverse and shifting, and do not rely solely on geographical, national, or physical limitations, they are thus difficult to define. Yet the authors included in this project use that very ambiguity as a potential for interrogating the concepts of "America," "American subject" and "American literature" to reveal how American experiences, ideologies, and rhetorics challenge, complicate, allow, or deny belonging in America, and contributions to American narratives. These authors - Hagedorn, Revoyr, and Muñoz - I suggest, take on the challenge of representing minority experiences while also seeking to define an America that envisions the multiplicity which is foundational in narratives of America, but which is so often excluded in practices of national belonging. In order to make this argument, I investigate the relationships between national identity and transnational affiliation, between visibility and violence, between subjectivity and identity, and between kinship and affiliation. My project draws on recent critical conversations on identity in US multi-ethnic literature, and I build upon work by scholars including Lisa Lowe and David Eng that foregrounds the fluidity of identity in order to examine the effect of racializing processes that are built into cultural discourses on people and communities of different levels - local, national, transnational and global. These conversations also reveal a central concern of US multi- ethnic literature and scholarship to be the deconstruction of essentialism, and what Yen Le Espiritu calls the "emergent quality" of panethnicity present for ethnic Americans and ethnic American scholars. Multi-ethnic literature of the US presents opportunities to identify and counteract discourses of power that produce and are obscured by essentialist concepts of ethnic identities. However, such deconstructions, while they reveal unequal power structures, might also be seen to limit the possibilities for minority empowerment through political mobilization. Together, <italic>Dogeaters</italic>, Southland</italic>, <italic>What You See in the Dark</italic>, and <italic>Dream Jungle</italic> posit different models through which individuals' experiences can be represented, alternative methods of national belonging can be expressed, and new constructions of identity can account for multiple - and often conflicting - alliances. Occasionally, these novels suggest that important aspects of identity must be ignored in order to gain community alliance. I argue that those aspects of identity which the state, popular culture, or dominant ideology erase or "forget" in order to gain strategic support for or visibility of minority groups in America are many times the very aspects that are the most marginalized. The novels also then frame an argument about American identity both by creating the possibility of an American identity for native and ethnic American minorities and by revealing the ways in which US popular culture and global capitalism both structure and disrupt possible ethnic and multi-ethnic American identities.