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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

12. Migrant

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Unit Overview: Glossary

American Dream - The belief that a better life is possible for anyone in the United States. Because of its near mythic status, the "American Dream" means different things to different people. One component of the American Dream is seen in the rags-to-riches tales of Benjamin Franklin and the nineteenth-century "Ragged Dick" stories. Another component is the notion of America as the "Gold Mountain," put forth by Chinese immigrants who came to the western United States in the 1850s, during the Gold Rush years, to make their fortunes. Sadly, few of them earned enough to pay for passage home and instead became miners, railroad builders, fishermen, service workers, and menial laborers.

blacklist - A list of persons or organizations that have incurred disapproval or suspicion and are to be denied employment or otherwise penalized. Suspicions of communism led to many Hollywood writers and producers/directors being blacklisted in the 1950s.

Chicano/Chicana - A Mexican American man or woman. Originally a derogatory term, it has been reclaimed as an acceptable, indeed proud, designation.

Chicano movement - A Mexican American movement to obtain civil rights and better wages and working conditions, improve educational opportunities, and increase appreciation for Chicano/a fine arts.

Dust Bowl - The area in the Midwest affected by a four-year drought (1935-39) that destroyed all cash crops and caused much of the topsoil to be stripped away by the wind in terrible dust storms.

eco-literature - Writing that explores our relationship to the environment and the land around us; nature writing. Eco-literature often combines stories of the land with tales of social injustice.

Great Depression - The period of great economic downturn in the United States and the world from 1929 to the early 1940s.

Hispanic - See Latino/Latina.

jeremiad - A literary work prophesying doom or a sermon strongly recommending an immediate change in behavior or practices.

Latino/Latina - A person of Latin American descent, often living in the United States. The American Heritage Dictionary notes that, although "Hispanic" and "Latino" are often used interchangeably, they are not identical. "Hispanic" is more global, referring to Spanish-speaking peoples around the world. But for some segments of the Spanish-speaking population, "Hispanic" can be offensive, bearing a stamp of Anglo labeling, whereas "Latino/Latina" is more a term of ethnic pride and distinct associations with a Latin American background.

magical realism - A primarily Latin American literary movement that arose in the 1960s. The Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier first applied the term to Latin American fiction in 1949. Works of magical realism combine realistic portrayals of ordinary events with elements of fantasy and myth, creating a fictional world both familiar and dreamlike. The best-known practitioner of magical realism is Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, who has used the technique in such novels as One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).

marginalize - To relegate or confine to a lower social standing or to proscribe as an outsider.

migrant workers - Workers who must travel to find employment. The term is often associated with agricultural workers on the West Coast and in the South.

modernism - A literary movement that reached its peak in the 1920s, modernism developed in two rather different strands. American modernism, as practiced by Williams and Hughes, is characterized by an interest in portraying ordinary subject matter by using concrete, vernacular language. Modernist poetry written in Europe, as characterized by Eliot, tends to be highly allusive. The poems are nonlinear and often refer to the modern condition, particularly the city, in a deeply critical manner. This strand of modernism tends to use a disembodied voice and a collage-like method.

testimonio - A form of collective autobiographical witnessing that provides a voice to oppressed peoples. It generally plays an important role in developing and supporting international human rights, solidarity movements, and liberation struggles.

trade union - An association of laborers in a particular trade, mostly created to help lobby for higher wages, benefits, and improved working conditions.

Un-American Activities Committee - A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, created in 1938 to investigate disloyalty and subversive organizations. It is associated today with the excesses of the Cold War and the unwarranted national fear of a communist takeover.

WPA - The Works Progress Administration, created in 1935 by the Roosevelt administration to provide millions of people with work and sustaining wages by employing them to build roads, beautify buildings, play concerts, and write histories, along with a wide range of other activities.

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