Tie Us Together: Ethnic Literature

Both Tayo and Crowe begin their journeys wandering between two worlds. Both are aware of their wandering and are constantly searching for an identity that will allow them to find the world and identity in which they are most suitable for inclusion. Similarly, both Crowe and Tayo experience a traumatic event that leaves them haunted not only by their pasts, but also guilty about their own actions in the past and sure that these actions have caused others pain. Additionally, these hauntings result in both Tayo and Crowe pushing away the ones they love. For Crowe it is his wife and for Tayo, his family. The similarities between the characters of Tayo and Crowe, therefore, suggest the truth of Saez and Winsbros claims. Ethnic writers Shyamalan and Silko certainly employ a common theme of exclusion and inclusion, a theme that is encompassed by the larger theme of the presence of the past.

The similarities between the works do not end with the simple presence of a common thematic vein, however. In fact, the result of both Crowe and Tayos hauntings suggests that not only are the plots themes similar, but they are also used to convey similar meanings. Just as Crowe uses the manifestation of his haunting through his work with Cole and the ghosts they encounter to discover how to overcome his own haunting regarding Grey, so to must Tayo confront his own haunting through a lengthy ceremony before it can be overcome. Most prominently, Tayo faces his own haunting when he is forced to watch Harvey tortured and killed before he can complete his ceremony, suggesting that pain is an important part in assimilating into a new culture. For Crowe, the confrontation comes most blatantly when he is forced to recall the pain of his own death and remember the true evens of the night he was visited by Vincent Grey. Through these confrontations, both Crowe and Tayo find their identities. Crowe is able to leave the world of the living for the world of the dead and Tayo is able to understand that his identity is with his Native American family and village, despite his ancestry, which seemed to align him with the whites that caused the village so much pain.

In using the themes of a search for identity and the presence of the past to suggest that confrontation of ones past is the only method of finding ones true identity and place, both Shyamalan and Silko make important implications for readers, especially ethnic readers or those readers who hope to understand ethnic studies. Shyamalan and Silko establish that while it is common to be haunted by the past and assimilation, or finding ones identity, can be painful, this haunting and wandering is neither advisable nor acceptable. Instead, strong ethnic characters must confront their ghosts and both their pasts and the pasts of their people, a step that will allow them to find peace and inclusion in one world or the other.

Using similar themes and implications, the works of both Shyamalan and Silko employ the supernatural and the mystic to embody the struggles of their main characters. In Esmerelda Santiagos Americas Dream, however, ghosts and mysticism are not necessary to make America Gonzalezs life seem frightening. While Ceremony and “The Sixth Sense,” introduce the reader to the hauntings of the main characters past through flashbacks and dreams, Americas Dream opens to Americas mother screaming. Despite a few references to Christian theology, Santiagos novel is devoid of mysticism, of the “dead people” in Shyamalans film and the Native American spirits of Silkos novel. This does not, however, make Americas haunting any less real once she decides to move to New York, escaping abusive boyfriend and father of her child Correa, her drunk mother, and her dead-end career cleaning hotel rooms on a Puerto Rican island. In fact, Esters shrill scream “bouncing off” the walls, disrupting guests, and causing her to hyperventilate as communicates that Americas fourteen-year-old daughter has run away is enough to make the Americas haunting much more real than ghosts or spirits for both the main character and the reader (Santiago 2).

Like Crowe and Tayo, America walks a line between two worlds — Puerto Rico and the United States or her past and her future. Her ties to the island off Puerto Rico include both her family and Correa and the horror she experienced there. Living a new life in the United States as a nanny for a wealthy couple, America is not simply haunted by the faces of those she may have wronged, as in the case of Crowe, or those who have died, like Tayo, but also she is haunted by the very real image of Correa, knowing that he will one day come after her. Like Tayo and Crowe, America not only experiences a haunting of her past, but also a haunting involving the guilt she feels toward not raising her daughter to learn from her own mistakes.

Struggling with her haunting, guilt, and the line she walks between two identities, America must confront her past in a similar fashion to the way both Crowe and Tayo confronted theirs. In fact, Americas confrontation is much more violent than Crowes or Tayos. Only when America stands up to her past is she able to stop the living haunting that frightened her even in the United States. Similarly, by standing up to Correa, America is able to assume an identity that is her own instead of as diluted and submissive identity given to her by her abusive boyfriend.

While M. Night Shyaamalan, Leslie Marie Silko, and Esmeralda Santiago are three ethnic writers from very diverse backgrounds, a common thread ties all of their stories together. All three main characters walk a line between two worlds. For Crowe, that line divided the living from the dead; for Tayo, it divided the Native American culture from the culture of the white people; and for America, it divided her life in Puerto Rico from her life in the United States. Similarly, all three characters face a haunting that manifests itself as the presence of their pasts. For Crowe, that haunting is the most literal as he is exposed to ghosts, eventually learning he is one, while simultaneously being haunted psychologically by Vincent Greys traumatic attack. Tayos haunting still savors of mysticism in that it is flavored by the medicine mans often-mystic ceremony and the presence of Native American spirits, although he is haunted by the memories of WWII and his uncle and cousin, though not necessarily their ghosts. Americas haunting is the most recent, raw, and frightening, though the least supernatural, as she is haunted by a past involving immeasurable abuse and the constant threat of her boyfriends re-emerging. In addition to their hauntings, each character similarly experiences guilt over their past actions, believing something they did caused harm to another person. This guilt forces all three main characters to push away those they love — Crowes wife, Tayos family, and Americas daughter.

Finally, all three main characters not only suffer hauntings regarding their pasts, but they also must face those pasts in order to establish an identity and move on with their lives. By using common themes and symbols to embody those themes, the three authors suggest that an important part of contemporary ethnic living is establishing an identity where one can feel included and defeating the ghosts of ones past.

The three works discussed in this comparison allow readers and students of ethnic literature to understand not only the issues that are significant to ethnic writers, but also the issues that are significant to all humans in todays contemporary culture. By including these elements, the three authors suggest that not only is ethnic literature extremely relevant for social and historical purposes, but also it is relevant for personal discovery, whether or not the reader is of an ethnic background.

While ethnic fiction has been a part of the American literary tradition since the United States colonial days, contemporary ethnic fiction has established a unique and relevant position in the cannon of American literature. Although ethnic literature is praised and enjoyed because of its uniqueness and originality, similar themes exist among ethnic novels and films. By studying these themes, students of literature and film can not only learn about a culture, but they can also find a more important overarching theme — the themes that tie all people together. While the United States melting pot culture has encouraged all from African-Americans to Hispanics to Asians to contribute to the cannon of literature, ethnic authors are beginning to realize the importance their work has on the library and the classroom across the nation. As students find common threads in ethnic literature and films like the three discussed above, they will begin to compare and contrast the literature and film with other major literature and film publications, thus promoting an ultimate blending of cultures. While much has been done.


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