Becoming the Hyphen: The Evolution of English-Language Ukrainian-Canadian Literature

By Ledohowski, Lindy | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Spring-Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Becoming the Hyphen: The Evolution of English-Language Ukrainian-Canadian Literature


Ledohowski, Lindy, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


Abstract

This article explores the evolution of Ukrainian-Canadian literature written in English over the last fifty years. It begins by outlining how early Ukrainian-Canadian English-language literature posits a sense of ethnicity that is multiple as part of a marginalized Canadian underclass. I then argue that post-1980 there is a shift in the representation of ethnicity to depend upon identifiable Ukrainian elements. I advance this argument, first, through an analysis of pre-1980 literature by Vera Lysenko, Maara Haas, George Ryga, and Andrew Suknaski in contrast to post-1980 works by Haas, Ryga, and Suknaski. I include an analysis of other post-1980 Ukrainian-Canadian writers to show a shift away from representing ethnicity as undifferentiated and class-based to codifying Ukrainianness as a specific kind of ethnicity focusing on the nation. I conclude by attributing this shift in focus to the growing rhetoric of Canadian multiculturalism. While my analysis focuses on Ukrainian-Canadian literature, the dynamics are those common to other ethnic literatures in Canada.

Resume

Cet article explore l'evolution de la litterature canadienne ukrainienne ecrite en anglais au cours des dernieres cinquante annees. II s'agit d'abord de souligner que cette litterature postule le sens d'une ethnicite multiple comme faisant partie d'une sous-classe marginalisee de Canadiens. Je montre qu'apres les annees 1980, la representation de I'ethnicite s'est modifiee a partir d'elements identifiables comme ukrainiens. Je m'appuie en premier lieu sur une analyse de la litterature d'avant cette periode, par Vera Lysenko, Maara Haas, George Ryga et Andrew Suknaski en opposition au oeuvres publiees apres 1980 par Haas, Ryga et Suknaski. Ensuite, j'inclue une analyse d'autres auteurs post-1980 pour montrer comment la representation de I'ethnicite s'eloigne alors d'un critere non-differencie et base sur la classe sociale, vers une codification de I'ukrainite comme un caractere specifique ethnique oriente vers la nation. Je conclue en attribuant cette mutation a I'attention portee a la theorie grandissante du multiculturalisme canadien. Bien que mon analyse se concentre sur la litterature canadienne ukrainienne, la dynamique etudiee ici est commune aux autres litteratures ethniques au Canada.

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Werner Sollors identifies literature as "codes for socialization into ethnic groups"; he writes that "the belief is widespread among critics who stress descent at the expense of consent that only biological insiders can understand and explicate the literature of race and ethnicity" (1986, 11). His study stresses the idea of consent over descent, foregrounding a constructivist notion of ethnic identity. In taking such a view as a starting point, it is a truism to note that the categories of what constitutes "ethnic" continually shift. Literature that was not mainstream yesterday finds itself speaking for the establishment today. For instance, Canadian writers of Ukrainian descent, writing in English, have transformed themselves and been transformed by critics from being ethnic "strangers" and "foreigners," similar to all other non-English speaking immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, to "living in the hyphen" (Wah 1996, 53) of contemporary Ukrainian-Canadianness. Both J. S. Woodsworth's Strangers within Our Gates (1909) and Ralph Connor's The Foreigner (1909) outline mainstream Canada's fear of these "strangers" and "foreigners," who came to Canada from places other than the British Isles. Those immigrating to Canada speaking Ukrainian dialects were simply one group among the mass of ethnic "strangers" and "foreigners." By the end of the twentieth century, however, their descendents who no longer spoke a "foreign" language and were born on Canadian soil, ceased being "strangers" and became caught in the complexity of being Ukrainian-hyphen-Canadian, grappling with all "its hyphenation, its ambivalence, its confrontation, and its restless exploration of the possibility of belonging" (Kostash 2000, 9). …

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