Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Emery, Mary Lou
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Migrant women use life writing not only to share pieces of their own lives, but also to write powerful narratives which confront racism, patriarchal oppression, and US imperialism. The four texts I have selected represent skillful negotiation between drastically different languages, cultures, and social systems, evinced both through the experiences the authors represent within the text and through their careful rhetorical and narrative strategies, which are tailored for particular audiences. As these narratives demonstrate, migrant women can use life writing to contest and destabilize dominant narratives of history and race.
In I’ve Come a Long Way (1942), Chinese author Helena Kuo demonstrates the worth, dignity, and superiority of Chinese culture in order to convince US readers to ally with China in their fight against Japan. Kuo’s work was intended not only to garner military support for China, but also to create a more positive view of the Chinese people. Rosario Morales and Aurora Levins Morales, a mother and daughter born in New York City and Puerto Rico, respectively, write together in Getting Home Alive (1986), layering stories from the mainland United States and the island of Puerto Rico while protesting US imperialism and US military presence on the island. By enacting resistance from a variety of subject positions, the authors are able to share pieces of their life stories while also creating an alternate history of Puerto Rico, one that reveals the violence and imperial domination of the US government. In When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (1989), former Vietcong collaborator Le Ly Hayslip tells the story of the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Vietnamese villager, explaining why some Vietnamese resisted US forces. Through her narrative, Hayslip transforms herself from a Vietcong enemy into a reliable narrator for US readers, detailing her own suffering, empathizing with her US readership, and encouraging peace and forgiveness between nations, while still questioning the ethics of US involvement in the war. By retelling stories from her childhood on the US-Mexico border in Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera (1995), Mexican author Norma Elia Cantú challenges the impermeability of borders, both between fact and fiction and between nations. By simultaneously retelling and fictionalizing her past, Cantú is able to preserve and reclaim her childhood while creating a subversive counternarrative of border life which contests dominant governmental and patriarchal narratives.
All of these authors use life writing in an innovative way, tailoring their texts to the political and social context in which they were publishing and striving to build a relationship with readers at a particular time in US history. By challenging conventional, governmental, and media representations of events and contesting existing social structures, these authors provide a more comprehensive understanding of US history and society.
Comparing four autobiographical narratives written by women from different cultures, nations, and decades who migrated to the United States reveals how migrant women use life writing to combat social injustice. In I’ve Come a Long Way (1942), Chinese author Helena Kuo tries to convince her US audience to join China’s fight against Japan in World War II, while also attempting to combat stereotypes and create a more positive view of the Chinese people. Rosario Morales and Aurora Levins Morales, a mother and daughter born in New York City and Puerto Rico, respectively, write together in Getting Home Alive (1986), layering stories from the mainland United States and the island of Puerto Rico while protesting US imperialism and US military presence on the island. In When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (1989), Vietnamese author Le Ly Hayslip, a former collaborator with the Vietcong, explains why some Vietnamese villagers remained loyal to the Vietcong and questions the ethics of US involvement in Vietnam. Mexican author Norma Elia Cantú depicts her childhood on the border between the United States and Mexico in Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera (1995). Through her depictions of a border childhood, Cantú plays with the boundaries between fact and fiction, highlighting the constructed nature of both autobiographical narratives and national borders. By reading these four narratives together, we are able to appreciate how migrant women use life writing not only to tell the stories of their lives, but also to combat racism, oppression, and US imperialism.
Autobiography, Life writing, Migration, Transnational
vi, 242 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 229-242).
Copyright © 2016 Jacquelynn Kleist Griffiths
Griffiths, Jacquelynn Kleist. "Persuasion and resistance: how migrant women use life writing." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2016.