When reflecting back on the themes of the George Washington Gomez, one moment in particular stood out to me because it addressed so many aspects of the novel at once—El Colorado’s speech to Gualinto (250-252) after the knife fight in which he insists that Gualinto goes to college. In this single speech, Paredes addresses the role of masculinity in Mexi-Texan culture, the realities of immigrant (or at least borderland) life, the American Dream and its potential fallacy, and draws in connections to the previsioning of Gualinto’s life.
I think one of the most immediately apparent aspects of this passage is its sort of frank and dismal portrayal of El Colorado’s life—which could then potentially be used as an example of what life is like for immigrants in his situation. In this speech, he discusses very real and visceral moments of his life. For example, he mentions times when he needed to support his mother and sister, his family’s frequent hunger and their lack of access to food, and when he needed to learn how to delouse himself in order to go to school. Once these harsh conditions are established, Colorado goes on to talk about how he kept working and going to school despite the challenges present in his personal life. I found this moment in his speech particularly interesting because it seems to follow the quintessential narrative of the “American Dream”. Here, Colorado must go to school and try as hard as he can to succeed, and although he hasn’t yet achieved great success, he’s on the path of achieving that dream. The presence of the American Dream narrative becomes strikingly clear when he outlines his future plans to Gualinto—”I’m gonna get my high school by studying nights. And then I’ll go to the Jonesville business college and become a real accountant, not just an assistant bookkeeper.” Thus, as Colorado expresses this deep desire to fulfill the American Dream, Paredes establishes a quintessential narrative that follows our society’s notions of what is possible for people.
What I then thought was kind of odd about this speech is the fact that it begins with Colorado telling Gualinto to go to school because Gualinto is the one who will be successful and help the town. This point stood out to me at first because it’s a reiteration of the theme that Gualinto will grow up to be an important person who will help his people—but this time it is coming from someone outside of his family. However, the more I thought about this ending, the more I pondered Colorado’s understandings of his own personal goals. To me, it seems that if he has these grand ideas of becoming an important and successful person, wouldn’t he want to be the person to lead the people and help the town? He even states that Gualinto needs to be their “point person.” Perhaps there is a connection between Gualinto’s access to resources vs. Colorado’s lack of access to resources. Perhaps there’s no connection and he just isn’t interested in leading the town. But I couldn’t help but make a connection between Colorado’s establishment of his dream and his vision of the future leadership of the town.
Throughout parts one and two of the novel, there is a major shift in the characterization of Feliciano, which takes place within the short time frame of his brother-in-law Gurmersindo’s death. At first, one could argue that Feliciano is depicted as Gumersindo’s “fringe” or “extremist” counterpart. In response to Gumerdinso’s decision to name his newborn son after a “great Gringo” Feliciano states, “They are all great…Great thieves, great liars, great sons-of-bitches. Show me a man of them who isn’t money-mad and one of their women who is not a harlot” (Pg. 16). This fanatical and intolerant characterization is situated in contrast to Gumersindo’s, which is one of absolute tolerance and acceptance. However these character portrayals are ephemeral, and a major shift in Feliciano’s character takes place after Gumersindo is murdered and obliges Feliciano to never tell his son why he was murdered, out of fear it would inspire hate in him. Shortly after, it seems that Feliciano inhabits many of his brother-in-law’s qualities.
What is constant throughout this shift is the employment of sympathetic character portrayals to the characters who inhabit first Gumersindo’s characteristics, and then eventually Feliciano’s. Paredes seems to be indicating that these are favorable qualities for an immigrant to occupy. That being said (according to a reading of the text that is incomplete), neither of these characters has truly achieved success. While more overtly Gurmersindo suffers a tragic death almost immediately after choosing to give the Rangers and/or Gringos the benefit of the doubt and remain put, Feliciano who becomes financially successful has not yet succeeded in what is presented as the ultimate immigrant accomplishment, for Gualinto “…to be a learned man and help his people” (Pg. 49) (which Feliciano admits to lacking a clear vision of what that would entail). Thus, there seems to be multiple and perhaps contradictory forces taking place within the text. While Paredes seems to elevate the immigrant characters in the novel that are sympathetic, he does not necessarily seem to be making the argument that these are the characters who will ultimately succeed. I am curious to see how the narrative ensues and to see whether Gualinto is eventually able to “help his people” and therefore attain greatness.
First of all, what do we think about the title? I haven’t finished the story (I’m almost done), but I have no idea what to make of it. I noticed throughout the story the use of the same sentences, “Wong Wan-Lee was working in his laundry. While he was working, he was thinking of Pearl Chang” and “Pearl Chang didn’t come”. Why do we think the author purposely repeated these sentences throughout the text/what does the repetition do?
When the old Chinese man comes into the laundry place and begins to converse with Wong he states, “America is an evil land and once you sink in you can never get out” (p 55). At what point in the story does Wong perhaps begin to agree with this statement? It isn’t until later on he states, “I, Wong Wan-Lee—the descendant of the first Emperor, the great Huang Ti, the great- greatgrandson of the Han Dynasty, the great-grandson of the T’ang Dynasty, the grandson of the Sung Dynasty and the son of the Ming Dynasty—was exiled to a savage land, first as a waiter and then as a laundryman” (p 99). What do we think about this?
I can’t help but laugh at Pearl Chang and her almost naive-like behavior towards Wan- Lee Wong at times. She is convinced at one point that Wong was a prince; her prince. “And she was thoroughly convinced that Wong Wan-Lee was a prince of certain validity, and she wished that she had a Five-and-Ten grandfather, for then she would be able to buy ponies for Prince Wong Wan-Lee as a wedding present so that he might ride them in polo games” (p 99). What can we take from this passage?
Another thing I found to be interesting was when Pearl Chang lost her job in the Chinese restaurant in Chinatown because she was not purely Chinese, but she got a job in the cafeteria because ‘the owner thought that as long as Pearl Chang looked like a Chinese, that the Americans would not know whether she was genuine or not’ (145). Also, I find it ironic that when Wan-Lee Wong and Pearl Chang went to the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown that they saw more Americans than Chinese (73). I find it rather comical that Pearl Chang is Chinese (and would you say, proud to be it?) when she can’t even read the language, doesn’t know how to use chopsticks, and thinks Chow Mein and Chop Suey are authentic Chinese dishes. Lastly, what can we take from the passage where she takes a look at herself in her pocket mirror, is glad she is Chinese and then throws away a small picture of a white movie actress? (97). I think the character of Pearl Chang definitely adds a lot of depth to this narrative and creates an important dynamic between Chinese immigrants and American-born Chinese.
One might suspect that in an immigrant novel, it is clear who the immigrant is and which immigrant experience is being narrated. In My Antonia, these lines are blurred as multiple experiences of relocation are conveyed and ideas of what constitutes an immigrant, and by extension an immigrant novel, are explored. Jimmy states, “She often reminded me, when she was preparing for the return of the hungry men, that this country was not like Virginia,” (pg. 85) effectively referring to Nebraska as a different country than Virginia, and entering into conventions of what is typically considered immigration. Furthermore he says, “I read ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ aloud…and I felt that the Swiss family had no advantages over us in the way of an adventurous life. I was convinced that man’s strongest antagonist is the cold” (pg. 85). In this passage, the author is pulling from common themes of struggle and hardship that immigrants encounter when settling in a new land. On the other hand, the narrator acknowledges that in addition to the aforementioned hardship that Jimmy and the Shimerdas alike are exposed to, they must also cope with other challenges of cultural and linguistic assimilation. Jimmy states, “We were willing to believe that Mrs. Shimerda was a good housewife in her own country, but she managed poorly under new conditions” (pg. 66).
Based on this seemingly double-layered immigrant narrative, to what extent can My Antonia be considered a first person immigrant novel and to what extent does it qualify as a third person immigrant novel? Although Jimmy considers himself an arrival to a “new country,” he also refers to many of the other characters, including the Shimerdas and the Russians, as foreigners. Can Jimmy refer to others as foreigners (in contrast to himself) while also making genuine claims of being an immigrant?