English 111: America

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History of the Caribbean

Map of the Caribbean


The Black Jacobins, Haiti, and America as a Keyword

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is an island nation that forms the eastern half of the island Hispaniola, sharing it with Haiti to the west. It was inhabited by indigenous people before being reached by Christopher Columbus in 1492, when the first permanent European settlement in the New World was set up. From then on, it was under Spanish rule with brief periods of French and Haitian leadership. In 1821, it became independent but was promptly taken over by Haiti, after which it became free through the Dominican War of Independence. Afterwards, however, it fell into political turmoil and Spanish rule resumed for 72 years, after which the country was occupied by the United States for several years followed by a dictatorship. In 1965 the Dominican Republic had a civil war that was ended by a U.S. led intervention, after which the country formed a representative democracy until the present day.


Jamaica was first explored by the Europeans in 1494 when Columbus set foot on the island, where he found over 200 villages of the Arawak and Taino indigenous people. They were still present when the English took control of the island. The Spanish had a small presence on the island when the English arrived, and it was not until 1655 that the English took the last Spanish fort on the island. When the Spanish left, the left a large number of slaves that then escaped into the hills, later becoming known as the "Jamaican Maroons," fought the British in the 18th century. By the 19th century, the heavy reliance on slave labor led Africans to outnumber whites by a ratio of almost 20 to 1. In 1838, slavery was abolished and all slaves became free. Jamaica slowly gained independence from England when in 1958 it became a province in the Federation of the West Indies, and it became fully indepedent in 1962 when it left that federation. The beginnings of independence were followed by strong economic growth, but as time continued, that growth slowed and began to decline, causing debt in the country to increase and resulting in the International Monetary Fund coming in and attempting to help stabilize the Jamaican economy. Despite the presence of the IMF, economic deterioration continued into the 1980's.

==America as a Keyword== by Kristen Silva Gruesz America as a Keyword

==No Telephone to Heaven== by Michelle Cliff

No Telephone to Heaven explores the life of the courageous young Clare Savage as she struggles with her true identity paralleled by Jamaica's struggle for its identity with the ultimate collision between these two being their solution


Author Michelle Cliff, a Jamaican American, forms a social critique with her novel, No Telephone to Heaven

Upon their arrival in America, Boy tries to check in at a segregated motel for the night but the innkeeper exclaims, “Niggers!...Because you’re niggers you can’t stay here. You ain’t welcome. It ain’t legal…It don’t matter where you come from. Mars. Venus. Timbuktu” (Cliff 55). To redeem himself, Boy tries to pass as white by proclaiming his British heritage and portrays himself as being a wealthy white man. The juxtaposition between Boy and the innkeeper shows the significance of the scene; before Boy responds to the innkeeper, he mentally goes through the 128 categories of racial mixtures he learned in high school to decide how to name himself. Yet, in the United States this naming system does not exist. Americans only knows of one definition of identity, either people are wholesomely white or they are black regardless of how many generations have past. From this incident, Cliff shows how hopeless Boy is in his desire to be white. He acknowledges the fact that Americans are racist against, but instead of challenging it, he pretends it does not exist. His state of denial leads him to neglect his cultural identity to uphold an identity that would best fit into the dominant culture, being a white male. Boy upholds this idea through the way whites are being portrayed. As illustrative of this in Henry Yu’s Ethnicity essay suggests that immigrants can be part of the dominant culture by “‘whiten[ing] themselves by embracing cosmopolitan ideas… [which] offer[s] a way of becoming elite” (Yu 107). From each of his interactions, Boy continuously invents new identity. Through this action, he never allows himself to mature and accept the fact that he cannot take on two identities as both Jamaican and American. His dual identity is problematic since he obviously chooses to be “American,” which Cliff implicitly takes issues with. She states that the problem arises because for Boy, becoming an American means not to challenge the society but rather assimilating into it.


Assimilation: people of different backgrounds come to see themselves as part of a larger national family

Through detailed and strong imagery, the novel No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff tells a story of Clare’s epic journey in search of herself. The author introduces Clare’s family as a dynamic family that is happy and lively, living in Jamaica. However, the father, Boy Savage, decides that they need a better life; the family moves to the United States. With the new found life, the Savages experience racism first hand as they pursued the American dream. While traveling through Georgia, the father attempts to stay at a segregated motel. However, the innkeeper suspects that he is black, he says; “Because if you’re niggers you can’t stay here. You ain’t welcome. It aint legal” (Cliff 55). However, Boy is able to convince the innkeeper that he is white by telling him that his ancestors owned plantations. To the innkeeper, Boy is black. But Boy is sticking to the race he knows he is. Through detailed imagery of Boy Savage, No Telephone to Heaven shares a vivid description of how being white is seen as superior compared to other races.


Through her use of structure and incorporation of many different forms of media, Michelle Cliff challenges the role of modern fiction. No Telephone to Heaven depicts scenes from the main character, Clare Savage’s life in order to make a broader claim about the process of social reformation. Through the process of “resetting the stage” of Jamaican history, depicting the true setting of the country, with the use of abstract literary techniques, and using Clare as a figure to represent a countries need for revolution, Cliff is able to achieve this claim about social reformation, one outside everyday literature. To convey messages outside the norms of everyday literature, Cliff enhances her literary dialogue to include more abstract sentence structure and unique chapter introductions and titles, to challenge the basis of literature to include ideas and themes not yet discussed in a novel. Found in the chapter titled No Telephone to Heaven the following quote best illustrated Cliff’s use of abstract sentence structure. “Depression. Downpression, Oppression. Recession. Intercession. Commission. Omission. Missionaries.” (17) This sentence read like pieces of a prayer, or chant, the quote uses the words to evoke the corresponding feelings. Read as a progression, but ultimately going nowhere, Cliff is referencing again, a need for social reformation, one that will help Jamaica break away from the monotonous “depression, downpression, oppression...” of history. Excerpts read more like poetry, allowing the reader to create their own emotion to the text. The following quote captures this mix between literature and poetry in a highly visual way. “The hot rain ran in sheets across the screen, creating a strange effect, as the fires of General Sherman raged, unquenched. The rain retreated during intermission and the audience settles down.”(58)


Michelle Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven is able to make the statement about Jamaica’s need for reformation by restructuring ‘the novel’ to incorporate ideas and techniques from all different mediums, from film to poetry, to music. This is done by first resetting the stage through the use of abstract literary techniques, then using these techniques to convey messages outside everyday literature while expanding of the life of Clare, and then finally placing Clare within her own milieu, one that is true to her life experiences. All of three of these component, essential to convey Jamaica and some may say the worlds need for reformation, whether that is through literature, film, music or our culture as a whole. In order to make the claim about social reformation Cliff is making, she must first reset the stage or rewrite the history of Jamaica, one that is more true to the country and not one conceived by ‘America’ and the United States. Working to expresses a more honest depiction of culture and history, especially that of Jamaica, Cliff challenges the ideas put to stage. Seen throughout the novel, bold text along with references to true culture, opposed to popular culture, from movies, authors, music, and dialects plays a crucial role in ‘resetting the stage’ of not only the culture of Jamaica but also that of America and the England.

==Krik? Krak!== by Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat's Kirk? Krak!

Missing Peace

The short story “Missing Peace” by Edwidge Danticat explains the similarities and differences of a tourist who’s in search of peace and a young, friendly girl that guides and helps the tourist find peace and in the end peace finds her. Helping each other every step of the way, the lost friends find peace in the wake of the turmoil they faced as they trekked across a dangerous field at night. The story plays with the idea of happiness and what it takes to reach true happiness. In the end they find peace through the experience of loss and exile. Both characters represent some type of exile, which is the prolonged separation from one's country or home, as by force of circumstances. Emilie, the tourist, leaves America to find her dead mother in Haiti. Emilie chooses to go exile to find peace. However, Lamort (which means death), the young, friendly girl, lives in the exile. Life conditions for Lamort do not fit the “ideal” home. She is living in a nation that is going through a regime change; therefore, nationalism, which an assertion of belonging in and to place, a people, a heritage, does not exist. According to Edward Said’s “Reflections on Exile,” Lamort is living through an idea “created by humans for other humans; and that, like death but without death’s ultimate mercy, it has torn millions of people from the nourishment of tradition, family and geography” (Said 174). Through the exchange of ideas and culture and the different experiences of exile, the author suggests that experiences faced by exiles are different for each individual and are based off one’s experiences. The different experiences with exile by the two dynamic characters shows how exile is experienced differently from one individual to the next. Learning from each other and using experiences from the past, the two exiles find their lost peaces. The harsh conditions of the country are one of the many hurdles that they have to clear to find their lost peace, but with perseverance and the dedication to the mission the lost exiles find happiness with their new-found peace.

Within A Family: The Importance of Social Bonds in Caroline's Wedding"

Many immigrants live in a type of diaspora through their immigration to a new country. Such movement leads to the dilemma of deciding which culture they belong to and how to embrace their native culture as well as their new culture. Edwidge Danticat explores the Azile family’s struggle to adjust into the new culture by focusing on the differences in cultural perspectives from the generational viewpoint but also the resolution of diaspora that strengthens the family’s relationship among each other. The older generation, Ma, strongly believes in her Haitian culture and values whereas the new generation, her daughter Caroline was born in the United States and has not been or seen Haiti before. Caroline’s American perspective raises tension between her and Ma because of the lack of understanding about the other culture. Ma and Caroline’s cross-cultural conflict heightens, especially when Caroline falls in love with a non-Haitian and Ma thinks Caroline is too Americanized. With the tension between Caroline and Ma, Danticat tries to find a balance between the two cultures by introducing Caroline’s sister, Grace, into the story. Grace represents the intermediate in the family from her identity as a Haitian-American, as she understands both cultures and knows how to live in the American culture but also honors her Haitian traditions, which presents a huge challenge for both Ma and Caroline. Ma struggles to let go of her Haitian culture because she is the only one in the family who has the most knowledge about Haitian culture since their father is not present. Ma is afraid that if she becomes Americanized, her daughters will not know about the Haitian culture and so it is dependent on her to expose them and preserve the acknowledgement of their ancestral culture. To Ma, she'd rather be the outsider than conform to the American society than to jeopardize her daughter’s mindfulness of where their culture is from. For this reason, Ma tends to hold on to Caroline because she states that “we’re not like birds….We don’t just kick our children out of our nests.” (Danticat 164) This reinforces the mother’s role of wanting to hold on to her children despite the fact that they are mature and are capable of taking care of themselves. Ma and Caroline’s tension further escalates when Eric, Caroline’s Bahamian fiancé, comes into the picture. She worries that Caroline will forget her Haitian culture and that she will lose her daughter. With Ma’s traditional beliefs, she wants Caroline to have an elaborate wedding as well as a Haitian husband in order to stay in touch with her Haitian heritage. But instead, Caroline is marrying a non-Haitian man; Ma exclaimed that “no one in our family has ever married outside.” (Danticat 161) From this passage, Danticat accentuates the Haitian mother’s role in passing down the traditions to her daughter. Ma feels obligated to pass down her roles and duties as a Haitian woman to Caroline so the family’s culture continues to pass on to the next generation despite that fact that they are no longer in Haiti.

==Drown== a collection of short stories by Junot Diaz

The cover of Junot Diaz's Drown

An American Ad Nauseam: Diagnosing Junot Diaz’s “Fiesta 1980” and “Aguantando”

We can see this same theme of exile within the characters of Junot Diaz’s two short stories. But, this theme of exile is not what creates the tone, the sense of hope an exile feels drives the story along. Hope for a better life in America, hope for Papi’s love, hope for a whole family again, one where the mother and children are not exiles, hope that Yunior will not get sick. This idea of hope, no matter how impossible it may be is still pursued. Exile and its formation of hope says more than just what seems to be driving the characters in the two short stories, it highlights the United States's immigration and the cultural ties the process of immigration has on other countries in the Americas. We can see this view on the United States start to be expressed through Yunior’s words. “None of us spoke until we were inside Papi’s Volkswagen van. Brand new, lime green and bought to impress. Oh, we were impressed, but me, every time I was in the VW and Papi went above twenty miles per hour, I vomited. I’d never had trouble with cars before - that van was like my curse. Mami suspected it was the upholstery. In her mind, American things - applianced, mouthwash, funny-looking upholstery - all seemed to have an intrinsic badness about them.”(Diaz 27) Yunior’s constant car sickness and its occurrence in the American-made Volkswagen van can be seen as a metaphor for the "American Dream" for several reasons. “American” things, such as the Volkswagen van are seen with high social standing and a claim to wealth. It is also the time in the United States where culture was defined by increased amount of freedom, and what better way to symbolize this culture then with the Volkswagen van. Yunior even says “Oh, we were impressed...” reinforcing the power the United States has on the culture of San Domingo. But we begin to see something new with this quote; Mami is said to see an “intrinsic badness” in all “American” things. The concept of hope comes up again, but this time the reader can begin to experience it. For a family so tied to the promise of freedom the United States claims to offer, Mami begins to doubts the goodness of it all. The quote itself even has a flaw; the Volkswagen van is not an “American” car, it is an import from Germany. The view Mami has on “America” starts to reflect the notion that even though they are in the process of immigrating to the United States for what ever reasons, the family and particularly the character of Mami starts to see that the United States as not all good as they originally thought.

The application of the "America" keyword when reading through and analyzing Junot Diaz's short stories offers a unique insight. By using the keyword in conjuction with looking at all three stories as a whole, it can be seen that Diaz is presenting a difference, a gap between what is portrayed as the "American Dream" and what that dream actually entails. All three of his stories provide different points of view during different times that help to shape this resounding difference. In "Aguantando," Diaz shows the life of Mami and her two sons as they wait for the father to come back to the Dominican Republic and bring them to America. In Spanish, "Aguantando" means to endure, and that is what the family did--endured life in the Dominican Republic as best they could with the only thing keeping them going was the thought that the father would return and save them. However, the father didn't show up when he said, and the mother became so depressed that she left the children for a while. In "Negocios," Diaz presents the father's experiences in America. After being in America for a short time, the father realizes that is is not as the family had predicted or anticipated, and so he must "negotiate" between those differences as he exists in the gap between the "dream" and the reality. Finally, in "Fiesta 1980," the family has been reunited and they live a relatively good life, with a new car and house. However, their life isn't what they always wanted, as Yunior gets sick in the car and his relationship with his father is not the best. The difference they face shows what Diaz was setting up as the difference between the "American Dream" and what actually occurs, and in the end, Yunior and his family has to "negotiate" the differences between those two states.

==Diaspora and Cultural Identity== by Stuart Hall

File:CI & diaspora.jpg
The cover of Stuart Hall's Cultural Identity and Diaspora
Stuart Hall

In Cultural Identity and Diaspora, Stuart Hall discusses the ways Afro-Caribbean is represented through the cinemas. Hall questions identity, cultural practices, and cultural production to negotiate two ways to think about cultural identity. The first is through the traditional view in terms of one shared culture and commonality, the second is by acknowledging the process of identity formation and transformations that occurs. He analyzes these two different views in depth in order to “think of identity as a ‘production’ which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation” (234). Hall believes instead of understanding identity as “what we are,” people should think of it as “what we have become” through its “positioning” which he sees as more important in understanding cultural identity. These two distinct ways of viewing cultural identity are illustrated by Hall’s use of Jacques Derrida’s theory of diferance and the three influential presences. The first presence is the Africaine, which he described as “the site of repressed” (240). This presence’s philosophy affects many Jamaican people both at home and abroad. The second presence, the Europeene presence, “is about exclusion, imposition, and expropriation” (242). Hall associates this presence with possessing “power” and having a great influence on the Caribbean culture. Hall’s last presence, the Americaine presence, represents “the ‘empty’ land where strangers from every other part of the globe collide” (243). This presence is important in understanding cultural identity and diaspora together.

Further Reading / Media Links

NPR - article calls attention to music as a sorce of revolution/cultural change http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123919440

NPR - tourism relief in Haiti http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122716579

NPR - New World Music http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4117476

National Geographic - Calypso music http://worldmusic.nationalgeographic.com/view/page.basic/genre/content.genre/calypso_701/en_US

Creolization in America http://www.tamu.edu/upress/BOOKS/2000/buissere.htm

The Black Jacobins, Haiti, and America as a Keyword

New York Times- Haiti Earthquake Breaking News http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/haiti/index.html

Works Cited

Cliff, Michelle. No Telephone to Heaven. New York: Plume, 1996.

Danticat, Edwidge. Krik? Krak? New York: Vintage Books, 1995. 1-224. Print.

Diaz, Junot. Drown. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Edwards, Brent Hayes. Diaspora Keywords for American Cultural Studies. Ed. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler. New York: NYU Press, 2008.

Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Identity and Diaspora." In Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. Eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.

Silva Gruesz, Kirsten. "America." Keywords for American Cultural Studies. Ed. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler. New York: NYU Press, 2008.

Yu, Henry. "Ethnicity." Keywords for American Cultural Studies. Ed. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler. New York: NYU Press, 2008.

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