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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 1: Engagement and Dialogue
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Julia Alverez
Biography
Work
Gish Jen
Biography
Work
Tina Lee
Biography
Work
Khot T. Luu
Biography
Work
James McBride
Biography
Work
Lensey Namioka
Biography
Work
Lensey Namioka
Biography
Work
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
"I Want to Be Miss América"

The Miss America pageant has been one of America's most enduring rituals. Mid-century, in the golden age of the Bert Parks years, the country looked on breathlessly as 50 poised, yet nervous teenage girls vied for the crown in an Atlantic City hall, bringing high drama to the dying days of summer. Every year on Miss America night, millions of girls across the land watched and dreamed of their own chance to be on the runway. In their New York City apartment, the four Dominican American Alvarez girls watched and dreamed too. But for them, it wasn't quite the same.

There they stood, fifty puzzle pieces forming the pretty face of America, so we thought, though most of the color had been left out, except for one, or possibly two, light-skinned black girls.

There they sat, four onlookers who knew that no matter how hard they might try to iron their dark, curly hair and to cover their olive skin with foundation, they would never be able to "translate our looks into English ... mold them ... into Made-in-the-U.S.A. beauty."

In her essay, Julia Alvarez conveys the isolation she and her three sisters felt -- their sense of apartness from the rest of America. Even though they were "glad to be here" and had immersed themselves in their new culture, this yearly drama of the beauty pageant accentuated the feeling of foreignness they couldn't shake.

In this bittersweet memory, the sweet part is family togetherness. "Once a year, we all plopped down in our parents' bedroom, with Mami and Papi presiding from their bed." The Alvarez family did not swallow the spectacle uncritically. "There were homely girls with cross-eyed smiles or chipmunk cheeks. My mother would inevitably shake her head and say, 'The truth is, these Americans believe in democracy -- even in looks.'" Their father joined in too: "He would offer insights into what he thought made a winner. 'Personality, Mami... Personality is the key.'" But his daughters noticed his choice in contestants reflected a different standard. "'Ay, Papi,' we would groan, rolling our eyes at each other."

Alvarez reflects on a later time that would be more inclusive of immigrants, but says it came "too late. We had already acquired the habit of doubting ourselves as well as the place we came from. To this day, after three decades of living in America, I feel like a stranger in what I now consider my own country... There she is, Miss America, but even in my up-to-date, enlightened dream, she never wears my face."

back to top Next: Gish Jen: Biography


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