How this novel is effective as regards to the latino immigrant expericence in the United States?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Junot Diaz says he wanted to make his readers feel like immigrants in Oscar Wao.  He does this by using Spanglish, pop culture references, sci-fi fantasy allusions, esoteric references to nerd-culture, role playing games, history of the DR, hip hop, footnotes, and a non-linear multiple-narrator story.  It's a post-modern tour de force, an eclectic mix tape of culture, race, gender, and class.  Wao is the New World Immigrant Story.  Everyone's an immigrant.  Doesn't that make no one an immigrant?

The novel is a kind of parody of the traditional and minority immigrant story.  These stories are formulaic propaganda (see the bulleted notes below).  The traditional immigrant story's exposition is set in the oppressive foreign country; the conflict takes place on the difficult voyage to America; the climax comes in America as the immigrant is duped or victimized by a native; the falling actions leads us to believe the immigrant will return home; the resolution enables the immigrant to find a good job and home.  The American Dream becomes the Deus ex Machina.

Wao is radically different.  We have a very bright protagonist who, despite his family history, decides to return to his immigrant status.  Why does he do this?  To find love?  To end the curse?  To secure a permanent separation between homeland and America?

According to my notes:

•Oscar Wao thrilled American readers when it appeared in 2007 on the heels of a century of endless repetitions of the same immigrant narrative. The book was recognizably an immigrant story, yet it turned the tropes on their ears. Far from pandering to a non-Spanish-speaking readership expecting its exotica to be translated, Oscar Wao spoke the college-educated, ghetto-inflected Spang-nerd-glish its macho, comic-book-reading Dominican narrator spoke. Its metaphors came from Tolkien and The Silver Surfer. Its plot didn't follow the arc-de-triomphe of the traditional immigrant tale, but rather the melodramatic twists of a generation-spanning curse.
  • The standard immigrant story of escaping the Old World and assimilating to the New World and its dominant culture: Eastern and central Europeans and Jews (late 1800s). Asian Americans (late 21st century) Sometimes called “model minorities” for conformity to American economics.
  • The minority narrative (African Americans, Native Americans) is not an immigrant story of voluntary participation and assimilation but of involuntary contact and exploitation, resisting assimilation, and creating an identity more less separate from the mainstream.
  • The New World immigrant (Hispanic/Latino/and Afro-Caribbean), which constitutes the largest wave of contemporary immigration, combines immigrant and minority narratives, voluntarily immigrating from the Caribbean/West Indies but often with experiences of involuntary contact and exploitation by the US in other countries, or identification with minorities through the color code.
Read the study guide:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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