We approached learning about immigration in a non-traditional way this unit. We began by reading The Arrival, which is a book without words, and writing a narration for it. This activity reinforced everything I’d already learned about immigration, like how families were separated and hundreds of people would crowd on boats to America, only to end up unable to communicate their way through customs and struggle to get jobs. Eventually these immigrants settle down and may be reunited with their families. Despite it being a unique activity, the story was quite ordinary.
My previous knowledge of immigration began to expand when we read the “Unsettled Journeys” articles in the Baltimore Sun. The articles highlighted three students from Patterson High School who immigrated to America from different countries. I’d heard about Patterson’s population last year, but I really never understood what went on there. Reading the stories of people who are living in the same place that I am transformed immigration from a concept I’d learned about in history class to something very, very real. Reading the stories of local immigrants that are my age made me realize how lucky I am, especially when considering education. I was not aware that there is an age restriction for how long people can be in public school, so these immigrants have to learn everything I’ve learned since I was five in just a few years. One of the students the article talks about is named Monique, who came from a country that did not allow her to have any education at all. She could not even read or write in her own language. Often students barely know English and are pushed into classes with people like me, which really explains why immigrants are stereotypically working labor-oriented jobs that do not require the capability to communicate. People come for more opportunities, but an education is actually harder to achieve than it may seem.
The documentary I Learn America gave me more insight into the educational experiences of immigrants. The film highlighted five students at a high school in New York City specifically for international students. Out of the five students, I was especially interested a Polish girl named Sandra. It made me realize how much the differences in our culture can positively affect immigrants. Sandra started crossdressing when she moved to America, after realizing how accepting society is of differences here. I always thought that Europeans had a pretty similar lifestyle to Americans, but I think the growing acceptance of various gender identities in America distinguishes us from them. I can’t imagine how amazing it would be to go from not even realizing who you are to being encouraged to find out and be different. Her confidence was captivating. The way she adapted to the culture here and fully took advantage of it makes me feel good about the progress we have made as a society.
I’ve started to realize that many people have different experiences when coming to America, and the ordinary story I had been taught in the past is not always the case. Learning about immigrants on a personal level expanded what I knew about the immigration process. I’ve learned about the struggles that immigrants like Monique have, but I have also seen the benefits to joining a new society through Sandra’s story.