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What Defines an Ethnic Story?

Updated on January 20, 2016
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

When you read any story that has a large amount of a particular culture in it, you are reading an ethnic story. It is a story that reveals much about a culture though the story usually through trials that particular ethnic group faces. Typically they are written by minorities about their trials and tribulations. Ethnic literature gives the world a glimpse into sub-cultures.

Understanding Ethnic

You could say that every story is an ethnic story. Every story takes a reader into some culture, real or imagined. There could be a very valid argument about that, but a true ethnic genre story is one that is immersed in the culture, specifically in the culture of a minority group.

Let’s say that I am reading a story that is about the struggles of a young girl trying to make it on her own after college. Sounds like it could be a chick lit, but what if I put it in Spanish Harlem? Now, it is more than a chick lit. It is now an ethnic story. Everything about the story exposes the reader to more than just the story of a girl standing on her own two feet. Now, it shows me the culture from gender relations, family relations, and more. I get a peek into a society I do not belong to.

A story about a couple struggling to stay married can be an ethnic story when it goes outside mainstream America and explores more of cultures that most aren’t familiar with. Ethnic stories explore cultures and the people that live in them. It talks about their struggles and how they fit in the bigger picture of the world around them.

Ethnic Literature

Ethnic literature is basically works that center on the life of people from specific ethnic groups. It doesn't just have ethnic characters. The work goes into their homes and their culture. It explores the challenges they face, the trials they endure, and the successes they achieve.

It all began in the mid-1800s when American minority groups began to produce their own literature. With more educated minorities voicing their thoughts and dreams, a new world was opened up to the public. A former slave writing of his experiences was popular in all areas of society. People wanted to read these narratives. They might not be accepting the person in society as an equal, but they wanted to read of their experiences. The minority voice was being heard for the first time.

Former slaves and others began to write actual novels that were not stories from their lives. Native Americans even produced their first works. Mexicans penned their stories. And as immigrants from Europe, such as the Irish, arrived, they produced works that added to the number of ethnic literatures available.

The hidden world of other ethnic groups became open to the general population. The stereotypes were found to be fictional in many cases. So much was learned about other cultures.

Crossing Genres

You rarely find a section in a book store that is labeled ‘Ethnic'; I have seen a few, but they are rare. To compose an entire section of ethnic literature would be difficult considering it would include any ethnic story from Chicano to Russian to Indonesian. It seems more appropriate to classify an ethnic piece by format first- Pablo Neruda goes in poetry although his work is immersed in Latino culture, and Michael Chabon, an author whose works largely involve the Jewish community, would go in fiction. They are more a of sub-genre as the ethnic story doesn’t usually make up the largest part of the plot.

Most heavily ethnic books will advertise themselves as such. They will let the reader know ahead of time which culture they could be diving into as they start to read. The synopsis plays a big role in helping the reader see where they are culturally.

What ethnic stories have you enjoyed in the past?

Expansion of Ethnic Literature

Ethnic literature is nothing new, as we have stated, but it is becoming more in demand by readers who see the opportunities such writings can give them. Audiences are expanding beyond the ethnicity of the author. More marketing is being poured into them. Ethnic literature is becoming a major genre with an ever growing readership.


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