The poem’s italicized epigram consists of two place names, Ciudad Trujillo (now known as Santo Domingo, a port city in the Dominican Republic) and New York City, along with the date 1960. This important information sets the stage for the exile experience in terms of time and place. It becomes apparent, then, that the poem will consist of adult recollections of childhood memories, and the use of direct address to the persona’s father, who never speaks, reveals the close relationship that the two share. His name, Papi, is repeated six times in the poem, reinforcing his importance in the persona’s life as well as his preeminence in the family, thus evoking a great sense of loss as the poem develops to reveal his metamorphosis into an uncertain outsider in his chosen land of exile.
Dramatic contrasts such as the images of the family’s homeland compared with New York City, the father’s fall from knowledge to uncertainty, and the expectation of the vacation at the beach that is promised compared with the false beach scene that awaits the persona and her father in the reality of New York all demonstrate the conflicting nature of culture shock and its unnerving effects on newly arrived immigrants. The inner conflicts faced by those in exile from their homelands are further developed by the repeated use of water imagery to reinforce the struggle of the immigrants to resist submersion in their new culture. They must adapt and learn to navigate the deep,...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Unit of Study
Frances M. McClellan
The Ever Present Cultural Conflict: Immigrant students and the struggle to fit into American high school society
The following unit of study is geared toward high school students who are more often dealing with the issues associated with immigrant cultural differences amongst their peers.
This unit includes material relevant to both first generation immigrant students as well as recent immigrant students. The unit will have a specific focus on the cultural value changes or conflicts between parents and their student children or within the students themselves.
It has become increasingly difficult to inspire students to read and write. As more and more students rely on texting with cell phones or email through social networks for their communication needs, they do not understand the necessity to learn proper grammar, nor how to write clearly and concisely. Critical thinking has become even harder to instill in the high school student and many are not able to neither form an opinion nor support it through well-written examples.
Tapping into the Reality TV genre, where reality takes center stage for students, this unit will bring in not only solid literature, but also the element of drama that will allow for “teachable” moments within the class providing many instances to share cultural differences as well as to guide the learning of tolerance, patience and respect for elders and outsiders with differences.
Launching the Unit
A) The unit opens with the narrative poem “Exile” by Julia Alvarez. This poem describes the departure from the Dominican Republic of a young girl and her family under critical circumstances. The poem ends well with the family making it safely to New York City.
The night we fled the country, Papi,
You told me we were going to the beach,
Hurried me to get dressed along with the others,
While posted at a window you looked out
at a curfew-darkened Ciudad Trujillo,
Speaking in worried whispers to your brothers,
Which car to take, who’d be willing to drive it,
What explanation to give should we be discovered . . .
On the way to the beach, you added, eyeing me.
The uncles fell in, chuckling phony chuckles,
What a good time she’ll have learning to swim!
Back in my sisters room Mami was packing
A hurried bag, allowing one toy apiece,
Her red eye’s belying her explination:
A week at the beach so Papi can get some rest.
She dressed us in our best dresses, party shoes.
Something was off, I knew, but I was young
And didn’t think adult things could go wrong.
So as we quietly filed out of the house
We wouldn’t see again for another decade,
I let myself lie back in deep waters,
My arms out like Jesus’ on his cross,
And instead of sinking down like I’d always done,
Magically, that night, I could stay up,
Floating out past the driveway, past the gates,
In the black Ford, Papi grim at the wheel,
Winding through the back roads, stroke by difficult stroke,
Out on the highway, heading toward the coast.
Past the checkpoint, we raced toward the airport,
My sisters crying when we turned before
the family beach house, Mami consoling,
there was a better surprise for us!
She couldn’t tell, though, until . . . until we got there.
But I had already swum ahead and guessed
Some loss much larger than I understood,
More danger than the deep end of the pool.
At the dark, deserted airport we waited.
All night in a fitful sleep, I swam.
At dawn the plane arrived, and as we boarded,
Papi, you turned, your eyes scanned the horizon
As if you were trying to sight a distant swimmer,
Your and frantically waving her back in,
For you knew as we stepped inside the cabin
That part of both of us had been set adrift.
Weeks later, wandering our new city, hand in hand,
You tried to explain the wonders: escalators
As moving belts; elevators: pulleys and rope;
Blonde hair and blue eyes: a genetic code.
We stopped before a summary display window
At Macy’s, The Worlds Largest Department Store,
To admire a family outfitted for the beach:
The handsome father, slim and sure of himself,
So unlike you, Papi, with your thick mustache,
Your three-piece suit, your fedora hat, your accent.
And by his side a girl; that looked like Heidi
In my story book waded in colored plastic.
We stood awhile, marveling at America,
Both of us trying hard to feel luckier
Than we felt, both of us pointing out
The beach pails, the shovels, the sand castles
No wave would ever topple, the red and blue boats.
And when we backed away, we saw our reflections
Superimposed, big eyed, dressed to formally
With all due respect with visitors to this country.
Or like, Papi, two swimmers looking down
At the quite surface of our island waters,
Seeing there faces right before plunging in,
Eager, afraid, not yet sure of the outcome.
Students will read the poem, answer a half sheet of questions, then do group work on the two main parts of this poem. Part one is set in the Dominican Republic and part two in the United States. Students will prepare a paper discussing, symbolism, narrative poetry or conflict as they relate to this poem.
B) Watch the movie: “Amreeka” which chronicles the adventures of Muna, an Arab single mother who leaves the West Bank in Israel with Fadi, her teenage son. They arrive in Illinois with dreams of an exciting future.
Discuss as a class the difficulties Fadi has fitting into a Middle America high school. Class discussion will be driven by a series of questions. Students will take notes and will be graded on an SSW based on this movie.
In groups, create a poster describing the main conflicts in the movie. Include those between parents and children and cultural differences between the country of origin and the US. Choose one conflict and individually develop and 500 word paper describing the apparent reasons for the conflict. Be prepared to present your findings to the class. This paper will include a self-assessment section.
The class discussion on the movie will set the stage for the corner stone literary analysis to come.
C) Read the classic My Antonia by Willa Cather. This is the centerpiece work. This story is set in Nebraska at the turn of the last century, during a time of great immigration from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The study of this book will bring in American history of that time (railroads and the impact on the US economy, land grants, etc) as well as social studies (immigration) in an effort to tie in the historical significance of this novel for the students.
The story will be read over a 5-7 class periods and will include activities to reinforce vocabulary, critical thinking, support of opinion, understanding, reflection, and writing. There will be daily writing requirements based on the day’s reading of the book. SSW will be based on Dr Mary Warner’s in class requirement and practice for her classes at San Jose State University.
This section will have the students do research and choose 1 of three topics associated with the book its characters, author or setting answering the following questions as they go:
A) How do the immigrant characters differ from a typical American?
B) What is the relationship like, between the young kids and the parents?
C) How has education changed in American since the time described in the book?
D) What has changed in the landscape of the region from then until now?
E) Describe a typical day in Antonia’s life and how is it different from yours?
Grading would include a vocabulary quiz in the matching format with 15 possible matches. In addition, the quiz would involve multiple choice, 10 questions and an short essay answer for 25 points.
D) Finally, the student should also read a newspaper article, such as “Abroad at Home: An American Story” by Anthony Lewis. Newspaper articles should be used for two reasons, they are current news stories and they support our journalists.
Extending the unit
This would allow the students will choose one a novel to read on their own ending with a written a 3 page literary analysis paper, or an in class presentation.
Books on the list for the students to consider are:
Lupita Mañana, by Patricia Beatty
Following their father’s accidental death, Lupita and her brother cross the border to the US looking for work in order to support their family.
Desert Exile, by Yoshiko Uchida
This is an autobiographical account of the internment of the author's Japanese American family in 1942.
Seeing Emily by Joyce Wong
Emily Wu a freshman, describes her daily life in the US as the proper daughter of Chinese immigrants.
A Step from Heaven by An Na
Describes the life of Young Ju who emigrates from Korea to the US with her family. The novel presents some very difficult situations with Youngs’ family and father.
Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska
The author writes about an early twentieth-century American immigrant Jewish family, a family without a son.
Shadow of the Dragon by Sherry Garland
The story of Danny Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant who startles a classic Vietnamese home life with a modern American high school one.
House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
This is a coming of age tale if a girl in the Hispanic quarter in Chicago, which uses poems and stories to express the protagonists feelings.
For extra credit, students will be asked to provide music they consider have lyrics which touch on the conflict issues immigrants, the students or their peers face.
Concluding the Unit
Students will research their own immigration story. They will be asked to interview a family member, or a friend of the family for a first hand account of the difficulties faced by those who choose to immigrate to the US from a foreign land. They will then create a paper, a skit, an in class presentation, a song or poem with the purpose of providing understanding to key cultural differences.
Through this project, the class and teacher must be able to discern 5 key differences in culture, attitude, and expectation from those who came to the US. An analysis of the outcome of the move should be included .That is, does the person they have interviewed feel the choice to move to the US was a good one or not?
If the student happens to be a Native American, he or she will be allowed to do a paper on the cultural differences between the tribe and a typical teen in the US.
A) Alvarez, Julia “Exile” Holt Literature High School Text, original publishing date 1995. Print
B) Dabis, Cherien “Amreeka” (2009) Movie
C) Cather, Willa (1918) My Antoniá. New York: Simon and Schuster
D) Lewis, Anthony “Abroad at Home: An American Story”. The New York Times November 26, 1993. Print
E) Beaty, Patricia (1991). Lupita Mañana. Vintage, division of Knoff Press. Print
F) Uchida, Yoshiko (1984). Desert Exile. University of Washington Press. Print
G) Wong , Joyce Lee (2005) Seeing Emily. New York: Amulet Books, Inc. Print
H) Na, An (2001). A Step from Heaven New York: Amulet Books, Inc. Print.
I) Yezierska , Aniza (1925). Bread Givers New York: Doubleday & Co, Inc. Print
J) Garland, Sherry (1993) Shadow of the Dragon. Orlando Florida: Harcourt Brace and Co. Print
K) Cisneros, Sandra (1991) New York: Vintage later printing. Print