Translating Eastern European Identities into the American National Narrative

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Moscaliuc, Mihaela Diana
Ray, Sangeeta
The purpose of this study is two-fold: to examine the absence from current cultural studies on immigration and ethnicity of the Eastern European American as a conceptual entity, and to propose and implement a new methodology of reading immigrant autobiographical narratives that seeks to make transparent the cultural and linguistic processes of translation through which immigrants negotiate their identities in America. Part I provides the methodology and contextual framework I employ in the re-examinations of Mary Antin's The Promised Land (1912) and Eva Hoffman's Lost in Translation (1989). The historical contextualization focuses on two periods that determined conceptual shifts-- the two decades of anti-immigration sentiment that led to the Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924, and the decades following World War II, when post-Holocaust consciousness opened the door to the institutionalization of a Jewish identity that both encompassed and effaced the Eastern European one at the same time that Cold War politics hindered the development of an Eastern European immigrant space of articulation. A brief analysis of Flannery O'Connor's story "The Displaced Person" (1954) will underscore the dominant culture's difficulty in conceptualizing Eastern European difference and its place in the American national narrative. After arguing for the need that we differentiate between immigrant and ethnic narratives, I introduce the concept of "palimpsestic translation" and develop a critical paradigm that weds translation theory to the genre of immigrant autobiography and to narratives of immigration at large. Parts II and III contribute to the reconceptualization and partial reconstitution of the Eastern European immigrant American space through a close re-examination of Antin's and Hoffman's immigrant narratives as "palimpsestic translations." The two analyses address issues of historicity, literary and historical visibility, and translatability, as they pertain to and illuminate each text. The conclusion briefly assesses the status of Eastern European American studies and outlines the contribution of my proposed reading paradigm to the resuscitation of a critical and theoretical interest in Eastern European American identities. Finally, I situate my study within the larger call for a reconsideration of the relationship between Translation Studies, American and Cultural Studies, and Ethnic Studies.