12 Ways Students Can Honor Immigrant Heritage Month by Taking Action
By Adam Strom
June is immigrant heritage month, a month set aside to help celebrate the contributions of immigrants to the United States. Stepping back, migration is foundational to the United States. Listed among the grievances in the Declaration of Independence is the complaint that the Government in England made it hard for people to immigrate to the colonies. Eight of the signers of the Declaration were immigrants themselves. Despite that, anti-immigrant prejudice is just as old. Erika Lee brilliantly narrates the history of anti-immigrant xenophobia in her book, America for Americans. I spoke to her in a blog for Share My Lesson when the book came out. You can find it here.
We might honor another tradition this month, that of immigrants and their allies taking action against anti-immigrant bigotry. It’s one that needs to be taught more in our civics classrooms. We encourage you to teach these stories. You can find several of them on our website and those of Share My Lesson’s partners. When it comes to immigrants standing up to bigotry, there are numerous examples throughout history and in recent times. Immigrants, often marginalized and vulnerable, have shown tremendous resilience and courage in the face of discrimination and prejudice.
Five stories to consider teaching:
- Emma Lazarus, a poet and a refugee advocate, whose poem “The New Colossus” has forever linked the image of the State of Liberty to immigrant rights.
- Rose Schneiderman and Clara Lemlich, and the other Immigrant Jewish and Italian women who led the fight for workers’ safety along with Anne Morgan, the daughter of J.P. Morgan, in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.
- Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers: Cesar Chavez, a Mexican American, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later known as the United Farm Workers) to fight for the rights of agricultural workers, many of whom were immigrants. Chavez organized strikes, boycotts, and nonviolent protests to advocate for fair wages, better working conditions, and an end to exploitation.
- The Dreamers Movement: In recent years, young immigrants known as Dreamers, who were brought to the United States as children, have been at the forefront of advocating for immigrant rights. Through organizations like United We Dream, they have organized protests, engaged in civil disobedience, and shared their personal stories to push for immigration reform and protection from deportation. Their story is beautifully told in this Latino USA and Futuro Media radio documentary.
- Refugee Activism: Many refugees and asylum seekers have become activists and advocates for human rights, speaking out against bigotry and advocating for their communities. For instance, Basma Alawee, an Iraqi refugee, often speaks about the collective power of refugees to make a difference in their communities. Here is a short lesson Re-Imagining Migration developed for her TEDx talk.
From learning to making history
These examples demonstrate how immigrants have actively resisted bigotry and discrimination throughout history. Their stories highlight the power of solidarity, resilience, and collective action in confronting prejudice and working towards a more inclusive society. However, that’s not the purpose of this blog. Instead of just celebrating history, our goal here is to offer guidance to our students, who, inspired by what they have learned about the history of immigrants and immigration, want to speak out and take action against anti-immigrant prejudice. As educators, we need to be careful not to tell students what to do or believe. We should, however, encourage them to understand and research attitudes and policies that impact immigration. That is part of good civic education and helps develop lifelong habits of civic engagement.
One challenge many young people struggle with is bridging empathy to action. What are authentic ways that they can make a positive difference?
12 ways for students to take action
Education, Empathy, and Awareness:
Students can educate themselves about the experiences of immigrants, their contributions to society, the reasons behind migration, and the challenges they face. This knowledge can help foster empathy and understanding and counter misconceptions, all of which are crucial in combating hate.
Creating Inclusive Spaces:
Students can work to create inclusive spaces within their schools and communities. This can involve organizing cultural exchange programs, celebrating diversity through events and activities, and promoting dialogue and understanding among different cultural groups.
Students can actively challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about immigrants by promoting accurate information and confronting biased narratives. They can engage in respectful discussions, share personal stories, or present facts that counter negative stereotypes.
Support, Allyship, and Solidarity:
Students can show support and solidarity with immigrant communities by actively standing up against discrimination, intervening in instances of bullying or harassment, and being supportive allies to those targeted when possible. They might attend cultural events, participate in volunteer activities, or join advocacy groups. By standing alongside immigrants and amplifying their voices, students can help combat discrimination.
Students can use their voices to speak out against anti-immigrant hate. This can include engaging in class discussions, giving presentations, writing essays or articles, and participating in public speaking events to share their knowledge and challenge discriminatory attitudes.
Organize Events and Campaigns:
Students can organize events and campaigns to raise awareness about the issues faced by immigrants. This may involve hosting guest speakers, organizing workshops, or creating art projects that promote empathy and understanding.
Social Media Activism:
Students can use social media platforms to raise awareness about anti-immigrant hate and share positive stories and experiences of immigrants. They can engage in respectful online discussions, share educational resources, and promote empathy and inclusivity.
Students can engage with their local communities to foster dialogue and understanding. This can include participating in community events, organizing intercultural exchanges, or partnering with local organizations to address immigrant-related issues.
Promoting Policy Change:
Students might make their own choices to advocate for fair and just immigration policies by engaging in peaceful protests, writing letters to elected officials, or supporting organizations that work towards immigrant rights.
Students can share their knowledge and insights with their peers by organizing workshops or presentations within their school or youth organizations. By educating their peers, they can create a ripple effect of empathy and understanding.
Engaging in Dialogue:
Students can initiate and participate in respectful dialogue about immigration issues. By engaging in conversations with classmates, teachers, and community members, they can help dispel misconceptions, foster understanding, and promote inclusive perspectives.
Using Social Media:
Students can utilize social media platforms to raise awareness, share stories, and challenge anti-immigrant narratives. They can promote positive messages, counter hate speech, and engage in online discussions that foster empathy and understanding.