What cultural work do ethnic upward mobility narratives perform? In this talk, Román will present work from her book Race and Upward Mobility (Stanford UP, 2017), which analyzes African American and Mexican American cultural production from the 1940s-2000s. Turning to literature, television, and film, she reveals how comparative ethnic studies allows us to understand why particular narratives have arisen to make sense of and to render conflicts in a stratified society, and why the two largest racialized ethnic groups in the U.S. share as well as differ in their narrative strategies. As a genre, the ethnic upward mobility narrative includes sincere portrayals of desires for financial solvency and social incorporation, satiric critiques of or ambivalence toward material accumulation in a society with a severe racial wealth gap, and varied interpretations of what the end goal of socioeconomic mobility should be. Román will discuss the ways in which these narratives give form to otherwise abstract ideas and social patterns and how they participate in shaping the way we think about socioeconomic hierarchies.


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