Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Vincent Pérez

Second Committee Member

Gary Totten

Third Committee Member

Evelyn Gajowski

Fourth Committee Member

Jorge Luis Galindo

Number of Pages



This project examines how the U.S. ethnic authors Ralph Ellison, Maxine Hong Kingston and Junot Díaz reflect the dynamic, reciprocal process of transculturation by decoding popular cultural forms. Using strategies made available by cultural studies, hemispheric theory and neoMarxism, critical attention will be directed to each author’s major literary work: Ellison’s Invisible Man, Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey, and Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This dissertation further analyzes a hitherto overlooked area of U.S. multiethnic literary studies: the ethnic subject’s relationship to encoded popular culture forms and how they impact dentity formation. Recent scholarship has focused on the ethnic subject’s marginalization, which often assumes a passive, unidirectional interaction between the interpellated subject and the ostensibly naturalized cultural sign. Ellison, Kingston and Díaz depict how the ethnic subject successfully decodes and then recodes the popular cultural signs, adopting and adapting them to his or her emergent identity.

Ethnic subjects possess the agency to decode the cultural product – specifically, mainstream popular culture forms - and autonomously create their own meaning while incorporating it into their cultural identity. Overall, these practices reflect cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s notion that the encoded cultural sign gets processed through a circuit of meaning which can result in articulations unintended by the sign’s original coding. This dialogical process extends to all cultural influence, for the U.S. has historically been a contact zone where transculturation rather than acculturation prevails. The works of Ellison, Kingston and Díaz reflect transculturation by infusing both “home” and “root” ethnic popular cultural forms and allusions into their texts, a process that facilitates the decentered ethnic subject’s ongoing identitary recovery. Canonical authors such as Ellison and Kingston have been cognizant of popular culture’s immense influence on ethnic identity even while maintaining in their works the cultural sign’s open signification. Díaz demonstrates that this strategy is still very prominent in U.S. ethnic fiction. This project opens a space for more analyses of popular culture’s influence in multiethnic texts – both inside and outside of the United States. In doing so, it extends the reach of cultural and literary studies’ examinations to highlight media studies and “low” popular culture forms.


African American; Asian American; Cultural Studies; Identity; Mass Culture; Transculturation


American Literature | Comparative Literature | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Literature

File Format


File Size

1458 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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