Assimilating into the transnational: Examining transnational identity in global cities through immigrant narratives
Walker, Callie T.
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As cities become more globalized due to technological advances and increasingly interconnected flows of humans, capital, and goods, movement of people into new spaces has raised questions about belonging and identity within a global system of national boundaries. Ideas about immigration and assimilation have fluctuated throughout modern history, often on a scale between liberal ideas of cosmopolitanism and modes of belonging that favor national identity as a defining characteristic of community. This thesis explores immigrant narratives written by transnational individuals in the late 20th and early 21st century for the purpose of reconceptualizing belonging, identity, and assimilation in increasingly transnational urban spaces. By establishing a framework within which postcolonial theories of hybridized identity such as those put forth by Homi Bhabha and Gloria Anzaldúa are applied to the work of urban theorists like Michael Peter Smith and Sassia Sasken, this thesis pushes against the notion of assimilation as working toward “sameness,” and asks readers to consider the ways in which transnationality and globalization complicate notions of belonging and community-building. Rather than thinking of assimilation as a process of acquiring national membership, I argue that membership in the transnational world should be considered locally within the communities in which individuals live and operate as a mode of the sort of civic citizenship described by urban theorist Benjamin Barber. Within the following chapters, the city provides a locus for the argument that true belonging and “assimilation” are achieved through engaging transnational identity and adaptability as a mode of moving through the transnational urban. Chapter one focuses on the transnational flexibility of individuals in the works of Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. Chapter two challenges the notion of assimilation as developing a fixed identity based on cultural background through Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker. Chapters three and four look at hybridized identity within There There by Tommy Orange and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. These chapters explore transnational spaces more broadly by applying Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of smooth and striated space to describe the impacts of hegemonic systems on individuals who resist assimilation into the socioeconomic systems imposed on them by the nations in which they move.