University News

MPC workshop explores historical, modern issues of immigration

Discussion examines evolution of American citizenship, exclusion, assimilation over time

By
Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 2015

Minority Peer Counselors Genesis Medina ’17, Regine Rosas ’17 and Ryan Lee ’17 facilitated the “There’s No Place Like Home” MPC workshop.

Minority Peer Counselors Chrys Tran ’17, Genesis Medina ’17, Regine Rosas ’17, Ryan Lee ’17 and Fernando Ayala ’17 facilitated “There’s No Place Like Home: An MPC Workshop on Immigration” in Wilson 101 Thursday.

The workshop featured a presentation focusing on contemporary and historical issues surrounding immigration in the United States. The presentation was divided into three parts: “Constructing Citizenship,” “Exclusion and Assimilation” and “Contemporary Issues.”

“It is important to be informed on why families immigrated 100 years ago, how the process is different now and how hard it is,” Medina told The Herald in an interview after the workshop. “We tend to be really harsh in the United States and use phrases like ‘alien’ and ‘illegal’ for people just trying to make a living.”

The workshop facilitators defined an immigrant as “a person who migrates to another country for permanent residence,” adding that the Internal Revenue Service defines an immigrant as an “alien.” The word’s usage ends up “devaluing obstacles” and “dehumanizing” individuals, facilitators said. Citizenship was defined as “legal entitlements to rights guaranteed by the Constitution and its later amendments” to those who are born or naturalized within the United States.

“Immigration is always thought of as voluntarily and deliberate, but migration in general is not voluntary for a lot of people,” Lee told The Herald. “Those people are not heard about. They’re not valued, and their experiences are not valued.”

The presentation put a great emphasis on the historical aspects of immigration, including the displacement of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans.

“To examine immigration, you have to examine every single ethnic group in America and how it was constructed,” Tran told The Herald.

Audience members were able to see visual examples of such historical points through the use of media, including a political cartoon of the Three-Fifths Compromise and a “Schoolhouse Rock” video featuring the song “The Great Melting Pot.”

“We have this idea that America is special and it’s the land of opportunity,” Lee said.  “But does that really work for everyone?”

Throughout the workshop, facilitators asked “turn-and-talk” questions to allow audience members to have discussions about and reflect on the information presented. Questions such as “Who constructs and defines citizenship?” and “What role does race play in shaping American beliefs and perceptions?” were open for participants to reflect upon in small groups.

“People don’t really understand why people come to this country and how hard it is,” Rosas told The Herald.

The “Move In/Move Out” portion of the workshop had students stand in a circle and take a step forward in response to each statement about immigration and cultural assimilation pertaining to them. The workshop facilitators encouraged participants to pay attention to the responses of others throughout the activity.

The facilitators emphasized the difficulty of obtaining American citizenship by asking five attendees to stand in the front of the room and read off of green-colored cards. The cards featured narratives of different people who want to immigrate to America — for example, a single mom who wants to provide her children with a better education. The audience was asked to guess the amount of years that each person in the narrative would take to acquire citizenship in the United States, with most estimates falling short of the true number.

The workshop and its facilitators helped participants develop a better understanding of U.S. immigration and its history.

“I think it’s important that Brown students are able to understand these deeper histories of this world of immigration that some students may not have to face or grapple with,” said Annie Furuyama ’18. “It’s such a large part of the American narrative that is not deeply interrogated.”

“It’s great to see that, at Brown, narratives that are typically silent at a national stage are heard, and people are given microphones to speak out,” Medina said.

The workshop was a part of the Brown Center for Students of Color MPC workshop series. The BCSC organizes such workshops to allow students to “focus on critical dialogue” that MPCs find necessary, the facilitators said.

 

A previous version of this article misquoted Annie Furuyama ’18 as saying the history of immigration is “such a large part of the American narrative that is not deeply integrated.” In fact, she said “interrogated.” The Herald regrets the error.

4 Comments

  1. rogerclegg says:

    Re assimilation: Here’s my top-ten list of what we should expect
    from those who want to become Americans (and those who are already Americans,
    for that matter). The list was first published in a National Review Online
    column [link:
    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/378393/e-pluribus-unum-roger-clegg ], and it is fleshed out in Congressional testimony [link: http://www.aila.org/content/fileviewer.aspx?docid=23115&linkid=164788 ]:

    1. Don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity.

    2. Respect women.

    3. Learn to speak English.

    4. Be polite.

    5. Don’t break the law.

    6. Don’t have children out of wedlock.

    7. Don’t demand anything because of your race or ethnicity.

    8. Don’t view working and studying hard as “acting white.”

    9. Don’t hold historical grudges.

    10. Be proud of being an American.

    • Iman Javay Jenkins says:

      I take issue with some of your statements. I don’t view speaking English as an essential part of being an American. Americans speak many different languages, and learning English, while convenient, isn’t necessary to survive. English has been used as a tool of coercive assimilation, and threatens to disconnect people from their culture(s). The US has laws that actively work against certain groups (like queer people) and should be challenged. The government’s job is not to regulate sexuality or enforce morality, and the decision to have children out of wedlock is a personal one. The argument of a potential tax burden prioritizes whose lives are valuable. The last four of your suggestions seem to be targeting people of color without analyzing the systems of oppression that create a climate of disadvantage. I do view respecting women (cis and trans, because trans women are so often not granted their womanhood) and being polite are things people should generally do, though I suspect the “don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity” is a thinly veiled white whine and active denial of white privilege.

      • ShadrachSmith says:

        So it is morally good to disparage white males?
        Why 🙂

      • I don’t think it is wrong to expect people to learn English to become an American. Traditionally, it has been our language for many years and I think it ought to be our national language. I don’t expect people new to our country to have perfect English, but when someone has been here for 15 years they ought to be able to speak English. And I don’t think that it disconnects people from their cultures. Europeans speak several languages of which one is usually English. That doesn’t make them any less Italian, French, etc. And we should all respect each other – male, female, LGBT. Respectfulness and politeness both don’t seem to be something that children are learning anymore regardless of their status in this country!

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