English 166AC

Special Topics in American Cultures: American Hustle: Immigration, Ethnicity, and the American Dream; Or, Capitalism Kills

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
1 Summer 2021 Saha, Poulomi
TWTh 4-6:30 D


This course, which constitutes a survey of ethnic American literature, asks about the desires, imagination, and labor that go into the American dream. What is the relationship between immigration and dreams of upward mobility in America? This course will examine films, novels, and short stories in which the American dream comes apart at the seams to think about the fantasies of belonging and prosperity that fuel immigration and its effect on how we think about race, ethnicity, class, and citizenship.
This term, more than any other perhaps, we will approach the material of this course through the vantage of contemporary life in America. We will read the racial, economic, social, cultural and political life of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections, as we live through them together. We will keep to the fore of our consideration the calls for racial and economic justice, Black Lives Matter, immigration reform, and indigenous climate activism. Though this course offers a long historical durée of American race, ethnicity, and immigration, it is also a critical and ongoing engagement with this historical moment.

We will examine the ways in which people negotiate relationships to the state and to a sense of Americanness through fantasies of economic prosperity and increased possibility—how do some communities come to be figured as “model minorities” and others burdens on the state? In this class, we are going to do and to talk about work: getting work, making it work, working the system. We will study narratives of struggle, belonging, becoming, and coming undone across a variety of immigrant and ethnic American communities. There is no singular America that we will seek to depict in this class: its fractures, failures, and violences are of as much interest to us as its bounty, promise, and welcome. For this reason, we will engage a range of historical, sociological, and theoretical material to understand how ethnic and racial categories have been formed and produced in America. Students will develop a critical vocabulary for race, gender, and class in contemporary America and an understanding of their historical antecedents. This course will require you to demonstrate skill in researching, planning and writing papers, incorporating an analytical understanding of key concepts in the course, and the capacity to engage scholarly debates in the field of Ethnic American literature.

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