Immigration: Let’s Get Personal

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On October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was unveiled. This gift from France symbolizes the commitment of the two countries during the American Revolutionary War. Almost immediately, the statue became the symbol of America’s willingness to take in immigrants from around the world, and Ellis Island became the gateway for over 12 million people entering the United States in search of a new life.

Today immigration is a highly complicated and hotly debated political topic; however, the stories of immigrants remain an essential piece of the American story. Teaching about immigration through the eyes of those that came here allows all of us to understand the reasons and journeys of those that traveled here (and still travel) to become new American citizens.

A search on the TeachersFirst website for resources with the immigration tag reveals 62 results. Another nine resources contain the tag for Ellis Island. These sites provide a variety of resources including book lists, interactive tours, and primary source documents.

My favorite resources for immigration are those that provide the story of immigrants in their own words. These sites share the emotions and background stories behind individuals and families coming here as immigrants and help to break down the large picture of immigration into smaller, understandable pieces.

  • My Immigration Story is a website from a Cuban-born author. Stories on this site tell of immigrants from recent years. Most stories are relatively short, yet provide deep insight into the lives of some of our newest immigrants. Their stories tell about their hopes for the future, fear about changes to immigration laws, and pride in becoming American citizens. Users of this site are encouraged to share their immigration story.
  • Immigrant Stories is another website sharing personal stories of immigrant families. Their stories are told through 3-5 minute videos using photos, text, and audio. This collection contains over 250 stories from over 50 countries preserved by the Minnesota Digital Library for future generations. Also, they share a Teaching Immigration curriculum for 8th grade through adult learners. Immigrant Stories also encourages viewers to upload and share their story through their story-making website.
  • The New Americans from PBS looks at the stories of immigrants and refugees in the 21st century. Videos and articles share the journey of recent arrivals from Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, and India. This unique perspective provides a look at the great diversity of immigrants including those coming from desperate situations and those with abundant technical skills arriving in the United States for better jobs.
  • This inspiring article from the New York Times shares how a group of students created their own story projects based on their immigration story. Share this with your students to help them understand the importance that every voice is important and has a story to tell.

Seeing and hearing the personal stories of immigrants inspires us to learn more about our family history. Try these sites for students to research their family tree:

  • My Heritage allows users to build an interactive family tree including images, videos, emails, birthdates, and other family information. Share this site with family members to gather and exchange information as you learn about your ancestors.
  • Geni is another genealogy tool to create a family tree. The unique features of Geni allow families to upload, store, and organize family photos and records. Share these records by event or individuals.

Learning the story of immigration through first-hand stories provides a perspective that may not be heard or seen in a textbook. Take advantage of these sites to teach students not just the meaning of immigration, but what it is like to be an immigrant. Have you found great resources telling the stories of immigrants? We would love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

About the author: Sharon Hall

Sharon Hall was a recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence in Math teaching. With over 15 years of classroom experience as a National Board Certified teacher, Sharon shares her content knowledge and reflections on ideas for basic classroom technology integration with us.

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