Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Ylce Irizarry, Ph.D.
Aisha Durham, Ph.D.
Quynh Nhu Le, Ph.D.
Gary L. Lemons, Ph.D.
Afrofuturism, Chicana feminism, labor, testimonio, trauma
In Diversity in Families, sociologists Maxine Baca Zinn, D. Stanley Eitzen, and Barbara Wells assert, “At a very personal level, families are crucial shapers of who we are and what our opportunities have been and will be” (xvii). The novels in this dissertation—Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979), Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange (1997), and Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita’s Lunar Braceros 2125-2148 (2009)—examine the role of family in the development of individual identity and the practice of social justice. These authors foreground characters from various ethnic backgrounds and depict how the characters form new, multiethnic families. My dissertation explores the following questions: How do contemporary multiethnic U.S. American novelists conceptualize ‘family’? How does family shape individual identity? How have conceptions of family changed over time, as portrayed in literature?
Contemporary literature by multiethnic U.S. Americans often reveals common topics of concern, especially acculturation to life within the continental United States. By offering a comparative analysis of texts by African American, Japanese American, and Mexican American (Chicana) authors, I illustrate how multiethnic conceptions of family have evolved. Investigating the effects of time and space on the families in these novels reveals these authors’ efforts to liberate their characters from oppressive constructs of space-time.
This work is important and timely for several reasons. First, the historic and continuing publication of multiethnic literature offers significant opportunities for building upon critical discussions started in the post-1960s Civil Rights and multiculturalism eras. Though scholarship exists on the literature of these ethnic groups, it is uneven and has limited foci. Of these three novels, the most scholarship appears on Kindred; however, the specific links between family, time, and trauma in the novel require more critical attention. Fewer articles have examined Tropic of Orange and Lunar Braceros. I have found no critical research directly comparing all three novels—despite their marked similarities—which makes uniting them in analysis such a rewarding project. Building upon the foundational work previous scholars have performed will contribute to readers’ understanding of others and increase empathy for difference. This is especially important in a time when our country feels particularly divided. A few days after I defended this dissertation, the 46th President and Vice President-Elect of the United States were announced. The excitement and historical significance of the election of Kamala Harris, a Black Asian woman of immigrant descent cannot be overestimated. Nonetheless, novels whose themes include social justice, family creation, and coalition-building are urgently relevant, if not more important, for the understanding of how the United States arrived at this terrific moment.
Because questions of family, racialization, and space-time are inherently interdisciplinary, this dissertation engages the methodologies of multiple disciplines including literature, sociology, history, and political science. I also employ several critical theories, including Afrofuturism and Chicana feminism. This comparative, interdisciplinary study of the novels demonstrates similarities between the authors’ concerns and narrative strategies. Ultimately, I show that all three novels challenge the conception of family as biological; these novels emphasize the formation of ‘chosen’ families made up of people with a shared purpose.
Scholar Commons Citation
Wiggs, Kimber L., "“We developed solidarity”: Family, Race, Identity, and Space-Time in Recent Multiethnic U.S. American Fiction" (2020). USF Tampa Graduate Theses and Dissertations.