by Elliot Margolies, “Made Into America” Project Director
The most recent stories in the Midpen Media Center’s online archive of immigration stories are guaranteed to warm your heart. The authors are ninth graders from Everest School in Redwood City. The still-growing collection of stories – now part of our Made Into America project – can be found at: http://madeintoamerica.org/?s=Everest.
I was invited to collaborate with two innovative teachers at the charter school on a two-week intensive humanities unit about immigrants and refugees. Emily Lee, an English teacher and Nanor Balabanian, a History teacher are both immigrants themselves and Lee contributed her own family story documenting her father’s harrowing escape from Vietnam.
We worked with over 100 students on the art of interviewing, reporting, and writing. The students interviewed a family member and then wrote, re-wrote and submitted very moving portraits of risk, courage, fortitude, and dreams. The majority of the students are recent immigrants whose parents came to the US to escape poverty and plant the seeds for a better family future.
The most inspiring aspect of the workshop for me was when Nanor arranged a Skype interview with a Syrian refugee living in Beirut. The students practiced their newly acquired interviewing skills as their subject sat outside the restaurant where she works 13 hour days. She patiently answered questions in the chilly winter night, because there is no wi-fi in most people’s apartments. (The restaurant had wi-fi.) The students engaged in an experience that most professional reporters would give their eyeteeth to have as they learned first hand about the bombs and violence that drove her from her homeland.
Recently the teachers wrote a more detailed report of the curriculum for the online education magazine, Edutopia, published by the George Lucas foundation. They began with a statement that also captures the Media Center’s inspiration for the whole Made Into America project: “As we navigate a political landscape that is too often hostile towards immigrants, it’s a good time to remember that the vast majority of us are here as American immigrants.”
The Media Center launched the Made Into America project in May 2013. The archive receives over 3,000 visits per month. It’s been supported by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, California Humanities, and a Google Adwords grant. We hope you’ll come visit from time to time, leave a comment or two for our young Redwood City authors, and consider becoming a subscriber.