Immigration: Learning to Empathize with Immigrants

As I mentioned in my previous blog post about immigration, two of my grandparents are immigrants, and I have been able to hear the stories of countless other immigrants through my mother’s job, and my visits to Guatemala. Even though I was born in Guatemala and moved to the United States when I was five, I don’t consider myself an immigrant because of my American parents. Also, despite my latino heritage, I am a white male and am rarely a racial minority in my life. While the study of immigration must include a study of historical times when there was a lot of immigration, policies regarding immigration, and also reasons why people choose to immigrate, there should also be a component of empathy. Because I have attended a Quaker school my whole life, I have seen the power in learning about someone’s background in order to understand where they are coming from and try to get a sense for the emotions they are feeling.

Learning how to empathize with immigrants takes a different kind of learning than the memorization of dates in facts. First we had to familiarize ourselves with the stories of immigrant high schoolers living in Baltimore and learn about the hardships they had to endure prior to coming to America, and the difficulty of going to school in a foreign language. I sometimes think I have it hard when it comes to school, but I can only imagine if I had to attend school in a language other than English, and then if I had to work a job at night to help support my family. Another activity we did for our class was read The Arrival by Shaun Tan. This book is a wordless picture book that shows the journey of an immigrant leaving his family and homeland and his struggles in a new land/ country. When I was told of the assignment I thought to myself “why are we looking at a picture book that doesn’t even have words in our 11th grade history class.” However, after completing the task and reflecting, I saw the genius in the story and understood that a wordless picture book is the best format for an immigrant story because anyone anywhere in the world can understand it. Also, the book includes illustrations of outlandish fictional Animals and machinery that try illustrate the unfamiliarity that immigrants feel when they reach a new country. Through our study immigration, I think that learning how to empathize with immigrants is more important than learning about the wave of immigration following the Irish Potato Famine or learning about the Chinese Exclusion Act because it has helped me to empathize with immigrants instead of looking at them as a statistic that is trying to steal American jobs.

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