Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Ranen Omer-Sherman

Second Committee Member

Tim Watson

Third Committee Member

Joseph Alkana

Fourth Committee Member

Ruth Behar


This project reverses the traditional directionality of ethnic studies by examining literary representations of ethnic returns – the returns of second-generation Americans of foreign descent to the land of their ancestors. It specifically focuses on Jewish American and Cuban American protagonists who travel between their natal and ancestral homelands, pointing to a counterintuitive affinity between their stories. Analyzing a wide variety of texts, from the highly controversial works by a prominent historian, Jan T. Gross, to literary accounts by Dara Horn, Tova Reich, and Ana Menéndez, I argue that Cuban American and Jewish American returns are based on rejection and ambivalence caused by the unresolved tension between gusanos and the islanders, and between American Jews and Poles respectively. The project attempts to be a work of “the scholarship of possibility,” as anthropologist Erica Lehrer calls it, in that it envisions literature as a source of reconciliation. This endeavor gains special significance months after the opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland, and weeks after President’s Obama first attempts at normalizing the relations between the U.S. and Cuba.


Jewish American; Cuban American; homeland; diaspora; return